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Luxembourgers politic on a first-name basis

Political life in this small country has been likened to the direct form of democracy practiced in ancient Greek city-states. The electorate is so compact that virtually everyone is on a first-name basis with the leading political figures and all citizens receive a free complete report by mail of the debates in the Parliament.

The result has been a remarkably stable political picture characterized by more than 50 years of almost uninterrupted domination by the right-of-center Christian Social Party. The only break in this lengthy tenure was a five-year stretch from 1974 to 1979 when the government was made up of a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Socialists.

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This relatively brief interregnum came to an end last year when the Liberal Democrat- Socialist combine lost ground in the last national election and the country returned to its traditional pattern of government led by the Christian Social group headed by Luxembourg's elder statesman, M. Pierre Werner.

This reversal of fortune found the Socialists once again thrust into the opposition and the Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Gaston Thorn, another leading national figure, as the junior partner in the new form of coalition government.

The duo of Messrs. Werner and Thorn has conspicuously controlled the government scene in Luxembourg during much of recent history. Mr. Werner, and the younger Mr. Thorn, who has been the "boy wonder" of European politics long enough to also make him a seasoned veteran, have regularly swapped the posts of prime minister and foreign minister.

The more senior Mr. Werner has a lengthy record of prominence in not only national, but also international politics. In the early 1970s he had the distinction of being the author of two major proposals that helped chart the course for the European Common Market and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Werner plan for the European Community, largely bypassed because of the post-oil-crisis economic slump, called for full economic and monetary union between the EC member countries. Nevertheless, it served as the inspiration for the new European monetary system established by most of the community members in 1979.

Mr. Werner's recommendations also set the stage for the evolution of NATO into a new era of East-West detente and negotiation.

During his five-year stint in the dual role of prime minister and foreign minister, Mr. Thorn also played a leading role in the European Community political process. As one of the most experienced, intelligent, and witty of the European leaders during that period, he was more visible than most of his small-country colleagues and many of his counterparts from the larger European countries. In 1975 he also became the president of the United Nations General Assembly when it became Europe's turn to fill that post.

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Despite this international interest, they have also had to keep a close watch on their intimate electorate.

As an example of the importance he attached to keeping in touch with his compatrtiots, Mr. Thorn had not only the double barreled function of prime and foreign minister from 1974 to 1979, but also the portfolio of sports and fisheries minister, a duty that regularly took him from the halls of international power in New York or Brussels quickly back to earth for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a swimming pool in a Luxembourg hamlet.


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