LUXEMBOURG CITY — Ahead of Luxembourg’s national election, politicians are scrapping over how to tackle a growing drugs problem.
The EU’s richest country has a ballot Sunday that will see a battle for seats in the 60-member Chamber of Deputies and for a new prime minister, who could replace incumbent liberal Xavier Bettel.
Along with health care and the economy, security-related concerns — such as a rise in crime and drug use — have vaulted to near the top of the campaign agenda, as worried citizens point to a perceived degradation in the capital city.
“All we want is a safe place to live,” said Graziela Bordin, co-organizer of a recent anti-drugs protest in Luxembourg City.
Luxembourg is the latest European country to report a spike in the use of certain hard drugs, following similar reports in nearby Belgium and the Netherlands.
To the center-right Christian Social People’s Party (CSV), which is currently leading the race according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, security should be a top domestic priority.
“People are feeling in the last year that they’re concerned about security matters in Luxembourg, and the statistics show it very clearly,” said Claude Wiseler, co-president and lead candidate of the CSV.
“We have a government of three different parties — Liberal Party, Socialist Party, Green Party — that for the moment, they can’t agree and they have in this topic reached a deadlock on decisions,” he added, noting that residents are “not satisfied.”
CSV has been a heavyweight in Luxembourg politics for years, winning 21 seats in the 2018 elections. But the party lost its chance to govern when the Democratic Party (DP) teamed up with the Green Party (DG) and the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party (LSAP) to form a coalition, led by the DP’s Bettel. Together, the three parties control 31 seats out of 60.
Now the top jobs are up for grabs again — and politicians want to assuage voters’ fears about illegal narcotics.
In front of Luxembourg City’s Chamber of Deputies on a warm, sunny day last month, an energetic Laurence Gillen spoke into a megaphone to a sea of more than 200 people, many carrying colorful balloons and black and white signs reading “Save Gare” and “For a safe Luxembourg.”
The crowd had just arrived at the building for a peaceful demonstration to demand changes to Luxembourg’s railway station neighborhood, which residents, business owners and local politicians lament has seen an increase in crime, vandalism and drug-use.
LUXEMBOURG NATIONAL PARLIAMENT SEAT PROJECTION
For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.
“The action against criminality is one of the police’s priorities in said area,” said police spokesperson Catherine Weber in an emailed statement. “However, phenomena such as homelessness and toxicomania belong in the competency of various social stakeholders and cannot be resolved through police action only.”
Residents just want any sort of action, though.
“We want security, more cleanliness,” said Gillen, one of the organizers of the demonstration and a lifelong resident of the neighborhood.
While cannabis remains the most consumed drug — Luxembourg has legalized marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use — a health report earlier this year showed that the number of cocaine users has been increasing, surpassing that of heroin users.
At the event — born out of a WhatsApp group started by a handful of people which has quickly grown to include more than 700 residents — anti-drug activists also warned about the far right latching on to the problem to drive support for repressive policies ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Gillen said she saw some groups “jumping” on the issue and coming to the demonstration to promote their own campaigns, particularly far-right parties, which languish way behind in Luxembourg, according to polls.
“We make it clear that the extreme-right ideology is far from what we want for the neighborhood, mainly because we are a neighborhood where 85 percent of the population is made up of immigrants,” said Graziela Bordin.
Law and order
While conservative parties are focusing on law-and-order proposals to relieve residents’ concerns, the Greens want a more “holistic” approach that combines social reforms with security measures.
“Because it’s a serious problem, we have to take it seriously, but polemic won’t help us here,” said François Benoy, the lead candidate for the Luxembourg Green Party for the city of Luxembourg.
Many of the center-right CSV’s solutions focus on ways to improve the police’s work and presence: recruiting more officers, focusing on the digitalization of police, bettering their equipment, and increasing camera and video surveillance. Wiseler does not exclude the need for preventative work to address the roots of criminality, but he said preventative solutions alone are not enough.
The Democratic Party said in an emailed statement that a large part of the solution should include making the police’s day-to-day work easier and more efficient, but “the best way to help make cities, towns, and society in general more secure is prevention work.”
The Green Party, co-led at the national level by Djuna Bernard and Meris Šehović, is warning against what they call very “election-driven symbolic politics,” which focus on repressive measures to combat social and security issues that instead need a “holistic approach.”
Tom Weidig, vice president of the right-wing ADR, which pushes for harsher measures, said he is not surprised to hear this rhetoric.
“If I were a spin doctor for any of the parties in government, I would say exactly the same to divert blame from my parties’ failures,” he told POLITICO. “Over the last years, crime and general public disturbance have gone up significantly and the government is systematically talking it away and shying away from taking tougher measures and from making public all relevant statistics.”
Amid the fire and fury, whether Sunday’s election actually helps Luxembourg’s concerned citizens remains to be seen.