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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
EU apathy reigns in Luxembourg
By Arlene Gregorius
BBC, Luxembourg

In Luxembourg, the political class is agreed on the European Union Constitutional Treaty. The consensus is that it is a good thing.

But away from the world of politics, the planned referendum barely registers on people's radar screens.

Luxembourg skyline
Luxembourg is solidly behind the EU constitution
Do a quick search for "EU constitution" on the websites of the main newspapers and broadcasters, and what do you find? Nothing.

Luxembourg was one of the first EU member states to support and recommend the constitution. And now every parliamentary party is happy about it: from the governing coalition of Christian Democrats and Socialists, to the opposition parties (Liberals, Greens, and the ADR, a party fighting for better private pensions).

The only dissenting voice is a far-left party called "di Lenk" (the Lefties), who oppose the new treaty because they say it is too market-orientated and does not do enough for workers.

But this party has so little support, that they do not have a single MP.

Ordinary people seem to agree with the parliamentary parties, if they have a view at all. Many just accept new EU developments as a part of life and do not spend much time on them.

Side issue

In fact, one reason the governing coalition agreed that there should be a referendum at all is the hope that the resulting electoral campaign would raise awareness and stimulate a minimum of debate.

Voting in Luxembourg is compulsory, so people will have to decide whether to vote Yes or No. Cynics suggest that the biggest question for some voters might be where to go for their Sunday aperitif after they leave the polling station.

No one disputes that the outcome of the referendum is going to be a resounding "Yes" to the EU Constitutional Treaty
There is one issue, however, that could fire up conversation at dinner parties or cafe tables: the question of Turkey's accession to the EU.

There is no mention of Turkey in the EU Constitutional Treaty, so the referendum cannot decide anything on this issue.

But the opposition party ADR is against Turkey joining the EU and analysts say they might use the referendum campaign to get a higher profile for their stance on Turkey.

It could be a successful tactic, as there is a fair amount of unease among ordinary people about the prospect of Turkish membership.

Luxembourg is over 90% Catholic, and there are those who feel that Turkey, as a Muslim country, belongs to the Middle East, not Europe.

Also, Luxembourg's population is 33% foreign, and some worry that any future immigration from Turkey might be too much of a strain on the local infrastructure, and on the fairly harmonious cohabitation between the different nationalities.

Setting a date

No one disputes that the outcome of the referendum is going to be a resounding "Yes" to the EU Constitutional Treaty. It is not a question of whether, but by how much.

Referendums are rare in Luxembourg. The last one was before World War II, when parliament passed a law to ban the Communist Party. The government felt it should consult the country and the result was a clear "No" to what had become known as the "muzzle law". The law was withdrawn.

No date has been set for the referendum on the constitution, but it is certain to be during the first six months of next year, when Luxembourg holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

A possible date would be 8 May to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

A perfect symbol for what, for many, the EU is all about: peace among its member nations.




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