Local Government in Luxembourg

Author:Angel-Manuel Moreno

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1. Brief historical evolution

The origins of the current municipalities in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg go back to the beginning of the XIXth century, with the exception of the old Charters (chartes d’affranchissement), which date from the Ancien Régime (XVIIIth century). The basic current legislation on the municipalities is essentially the Local Government Act (hereinafter, «the Municipal Act») of October 12th, 1988, which replaced the previous law of 1843.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg does not have intermediate political structures between the State and the municipalities, such as regions or provinces. The territory, it is true, is subdivided into three administrative districts and twelve cantons, but the latter entities do not include elected political structures, and are just territorial subdivisions with administrative functions.

Most of the municipalities still keep their current shape and extension since the beginning of the 19th century. However, since the 70s of the last century, and as a result of different governmental impulses, a process of fusions or mergers of municipalities have taken place in the country, the rhythm of which has increased over the years.

The main current political discussion turns around the project of municipal mergers, mentioned above. Other hot political issues in the domain of local government are: (a) The policy on drinking water, in the context of the applicable European directives; (b) the reform of the emergencies services, which currently is a competence shared between the State and the municipal sector; and (c) the financial situation of the municipalities. Apart from that, a general discussion on the optimal distribution of tasks between the State and the Municipalities, in the interest of an optimization of the management of the res publica, is also currently taking place in the country.

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2. Basic facts and figures

As said above, the only true local authorities in Luxembourg are the municipalities (Municipalités in French, Gemeng in Luxembourg language).1

Therefore, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg does not have intermediate political structures, such as provinces or regions. The municipalities are thus the only territorial structures next to the State.

Following a process of municipal merging that has taken place during the last decades, the number of the municipalities has been reduced from 126 to 106. Spread over a national territory of 2.587 km(2), Luxembourg municipalities are, in average, of very limited extension, and their population varies from about 300 to 100,000 inhabitants (in the case of the City of Luxembourg). The effort of merging municipalities, that has been encouraged by the Government, tends to attain the objective of having no more than thirty municipalities, with an average population remaining around 3.000 inhabitants, as this figure should meet a criterion of critical mass which allows an optimal management of the local community.

The structure of municipalities includes the city council (Gemengerot), which is a deliberative body, and the executive body, represented by the «collegiate body» or board of the mayor and the aldermen (Schefferot), although certain attributions belong exclusively to the mayor (Buergermeeschter).

The members of the municipal council are elected by universal ballot for a term of 6 years. The Mayor and the aldermen are appointed among the elected members: the mayor is formally appointed by the Grand Duke, and the aldermen are formally appointed by the Home Secretary, on request of the majority of the elected representatives. Both the mayor and the aldermen are responsible in front of the council, that is, the elected assembly (see below, point 5).

The municipalities are equal in rights and competences. The name of «Ville» («city»), which is used by some municipalities, is purely honorary and does not confer any special status. At present, out of 111 municipalities, 12 carry the title of «city» (ville). The «cities» (villes) do not benefit from a regime different from simple «municipalities», with the only exception that the city of Luxembourg (the capital of the country) has a direct communication with the Ministry of the Interior, and does not need to go to the Police Commissioner of the district, as the rest of municipalities do. Moreover, the city of Luxembourg, as the capital of the country, enjoys a special financial endowment granted by the State.

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3. Legal framework of local self-government

The Constitution of Luxemburg, of October 17th, 1868, as amended, includes a chapter specifically devoted to the municipalities, whose political and financial autonomy is recognised. Section 107, included in Chapter IX of the constitution, states that: «(1) the municipalities constitute autonomous communities, having a territorial basis. They possess legal personality and they manage their patrimony and their own interest by means of their own organs».

The provisions of the Constitution have been implemented by the Municipal Act (Loi Municipale) of October 12th, 1988 and, in special domains by particular statutes, for example the law of July 19th, 2004, concerning land use and urban development.

On the other hand, the Luxembourg signed without reservations the European Charter of Local self-government, from its opening for the signature in 1985. The legal ratification took place on 18 March 1987. The Charter, from its ratification, is considered to be a part of the internal legal order of the country. Being an international Treaty, it enjoys an authority that is superior to that of the domestic law (see, infra, point 10). It can be directly invoked against the Government and in courts, and the case law gives the Charter a «self-executing» effect.

4. Competences, powers and services of local authorities
4.1. Obligatory duties and responsibilities of local government

Those affairs which are considered to be of purely «local» or municipal nature were particularly defined by two decrees during the French Revolution, namely the decree of December 14th, 1789, concerning the constitution of municipalities and the decree of August 16-24th, 1790, on the judicial organization of the Grand Duchy, which remains largely in force.

Thus, articles 49 and 50 of the Decree of December 14th, 1789, concerning the constitution of municipalities establish that:

Art 49. «[c37][c4b][c48][c03][c50][c58][c51][c4c][c46][c4c][c53][c44][c4f][c03][c45][c52][c47][c4c][c48][c56][c03][c5a][c4c][c4f][c4f][c03][c53][c48][c55][c49][c52][c55][c50][c03][c57][c5a][c52][c03][c56][c52][c55][c57][c56][c03][c52][c49][c03][c49][c58][c51][c46][c57][c4c][c52][c51][c56]?[c03][c52][c51][c03][c57][c4b][c48][c03] one hand, those who are proper to the municipal power. On the other hand, those who relate to the general administration of the State, and which are delegated by the State to municipalities».

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for what concerns property, health, security and the quietness in streets and public places and buildings».

On the other hand, Chapter XI of the decree of August 16-24th, 1790, on the judicial organization, at section 3, provides that the goals entrusted to the municipal bodies are:

  1. All tasks relating to the safety and the convenience of transit in streets, places and public roads; the cleaning, the lighting, the collection of garbage, the demolition or the repair of the buildings threatened by collapse; the banning of everything risking to fall from windows or other parts of buildings, or which can hurt or damage the passers-by, or cause harmful exhalations;

  2. Punishing the offences against the public tranquillity. Preserving the peace and the public order in open spaces where people gathers, such...

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