Luxembourg

The Official Flag of Luxembourg

By Alicia Dorado

Luxembourg is currently ranked 19 out of the 180 countries included in the World Press Freedom Index of 2015. This index ranks levels of speech and press based on a “range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.” Since 2014, Luxembourg has experienced a somewhat dramatic fall in ranking as it went from 4 to 19, within a one-year span. Possible reasons for the 15-spot decline may include its bank secrecy rules and the country’s decreasing protection of hate speech, specifically, hate speech geared toward religion, race, and sexual orientation. While hate speech has increasingly become unprotected, citizens enjoy surplus privileges to constitutional freedoms of expression, beliefs, assembly, as well as privacy.

Historical Background

 The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, or just Luxembourg for short, was founded in 963 under the Netherlands as an independent state. Having had more than half of its land taken by Belgium in 1839, Luxembourg sought after full independence, which was later attained in the year 1867. Unfortunately, this claim of independence did not keep them from German control during both WWI and WWII. During these years Luxembourg experienced dramatic governmental and social change, which ultimately led them to join NATO and the European Economic Community as a means of relinquishing neutrality in the year 1949. Since then, it has found success in the steel industry and is now amongst the top three richest countries in the world. It is also the only remaining grand duchy to this date.

Luxembourg’s government is a constitutional monarchy, which acts as a parliamentary democracy. This system grants the freedoms of its citizens through a civil law system. Much like the United States, its government adheres to the concept of separation of powers, possessing executive and legislative branches, as well as a completely independent judicial system.   While there is a head of state, the Grand Duke, the constitution of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg guarantees all sovereign powers to the people. The Grand Duke serves more as a representation of independence and unity, while elected members of parliament represent the people themselves.

As a European landlocked country, Luxembourg’s population of approximately 520,672 citizens is quite diverse. It is no surprise that the border states Belgium, France, and Germany have greatly influenced the culture of Luxembourg. Common ethnic groups found in this country are the native Luxembourger, Portuguese, French, Italian, and German. Luxembourg also acquires three official languages, which include Luxembourgish, French, and German.

Free Speech

Luxembourg’s view on free speech is concisely articulated in Article 24 of the Constitution of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg where it reads:

“The freedom to manifest one’s opinion by speech in all matters, and the freedom of the press are guaranteed, save the repression of offenses committed on the occasion of the exercise of these freedoms. Censorship may never be established.”

In fact, there are many articles within its constitution that serve as protections for various forms of speech and expression such as religious practice (Article 19 and 20), right of assembly (Article 25), and freedom of petition (Article 27).

Because the Constitution of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg includes numerous articles protecting most, if not all speech, there have not been many instances of speech oppression within the country. This would serve as reasoning for its historically high rank within the World Press Freedom Index.

While Luxembourg places amongst the top 20 countries in regards to free speech laws today, it wasn’t always a land of such acceptance. During WWII, Luxembourg was invaded by Nazi Germany and stripped of its traditional governmental and cultural practices. During this time, Germans, with the help of militant forces, aimed to suppress any cultural influences aside from their own within Luxembourg. This included banning the use of the French language, cultural aspects, and traditions. The democratic parliament was also disregarded and replaced with German law under Nazi control. It wasn’t until the end of the war when Luxembourg was liberated from German forces and urged to regain their democratic power. These experiences greatly influenced the strong adaptations of speech freedoms found within their constitution.

Since then, Luxembourg’s attitude toward speech has been increasingly positive, however, their protection of speech has not been perfect. In recent years, the state funding of religious institutions has been strongly criticized by the pubic. Many are concerned about the overwhelming 95.6% of this type of funding going directly toward the Catholic Church. And while the majority of Luxembourg citizens associate themselves as Roman Catholic, the minority protestant, Jewish, and Islamic followers believe they are lacking equal support and representation. In educational settings, students also have to choose between studying Roman Catholic religion, or ethics, with no other religious area of study available. This has also prompted recent implementation of criminalizing hate speech, specifically speech against religious, ethnic, or cultural ideologies. Many believe that their religious rights are being infringed upon, and this currently remains a social issue.

Free Press

 Much like its attitude toward free speech, Luxembourg has taken pride in its acceptance for free and unrestricted press. Article 24 of the Constitution of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg also describes that:

“No publisher, printer, or distributer may be prosecuted if the author is known, if he is a Luxembourger, and resident in the Grand Duchy.”

The government actually heavily supports mass media entities within Luxembourg. Both legislative and executive branches prioritize upholding information security as well as the continuance of high-performance telecommunication research. By doing so, the government has established a flow of diversity within each of its media entities.

Luxembourg is especially famous for two very important broadcasting sources within Europe. These include the RTL group, which is one of the leading European television and radio broadcasting stations, as well as SES, again, a leading communication and broadcasting provider. Luxembourg also heavily engages in print media, having multiple unrestricted periodicals, newspapers, and magazines. Many of these print media sources are translated into multiple languages, allowing a more diverse audience to read them.

While there hasn’t been many instances where citizens felt their press rights were being violated, there has recently been some concern over informational and privacy freedoms. Many criticize the lack of legislative interest in freedom of information. Today, independent press councils are responsible for dealing with ethical concern or complaints about media sources, which to some, is quite the inconvenience. Since 2006, when the Office of the Public Prosecutor searched the offices of the Broadcasting Center of Europe, many have been concerned about corporate and individual privacy to general sources. This is still currently criticized as politicians have continuously kept economic information away from its people.

Critical Comparison

 Though the United States of America has been dubbed “The Land of the Free,” it may want to take a look at Luxembourg’s attitude toward free speech and press to improve within these categories. According to the World Press Freedom Index of 2015 sponsored by Reporters Without Borders, the United States ranks #49 out of the 180 surveyed countries in the world. While that rank may appear impressive, one may wonder why there are 48 other countries above it. Both Luxembourg and the United States inherently possess positive attitudes toward free speech and press, however, one has more constitutionally established freedoms than the other. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution serves as the determinant of its legal approach to free speech and press as it states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

An issue with this amendment is that it is short, simple, and often taken under various interpretations. The Constitution of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, however, has individual amendments for each of the mentioned freedoms found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. These individual amendments are found to be more concise, direct, and objective, leaving no room for outside interpretation or abridgements.

Considering its more complex constitutional approach to these freedoms, Luxembourg has generally experienced less speech and press controversy, however, they do experience some difficulties very similar to those found within the United States. For instance, both Luxembourg and the U.S. have an overwhelming majority religion practiced amongst their citizens. In Luxembourg it’s Roman Catholicism and in America it is protestant/evangelism. Many citizens from both countries find that these dominant religions are given special advantages over others, which to many, appears to violate freedom of expression. Each country has also experienced the issue of governmental suppression of information, as well as governmental collection of information. These countries have been mutually criticized for obtaining personal information from individuals without their consent and or knowledge.

Even though it has a more intricate collection of constitutional rights, there are certain rights more protected in the United States than in Luxembourg. As an example, Luxembourg has increasingly begun punishing citizens for particular uses of hate speech. America on the other hand, protects all forms of speech, including hate speech. For instance, Americans can make racist or hateful slurs about others freely while in Luxembourg citizens may be punished for such speech.

Conclusion

 All in all, both Luxembourg and the United States of America appreciate and celebrate freedom of speech and press. However, Luxembourg ranks higher than America in that it: 1) contains more thoroughly developed free speech/press constitutional rights 2) protects speech in its every form 3) allows no practice of prior restraint of published texts and 4) fully denies censorship. Though America has aimed to abide by these same ideas, it has historically and presently proved to be slightly more oppressive than Luxembourg in these respects, causing its ranking within the World Press Freedom Index of 2015 to be significantly lower.

 

Sources of Information:

“Luxembourg.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

“Politics and Institutions.” – Luxembourg.lu. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

“Luxembourg – Annual Report 2002 – Reporters Without Borders.” Luxembourg – Annual Report 2002 – Reporters Without Borders. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

“Reporters Without Borders.” Reporters Without Borders. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

“Luxembourg.” Freedomhouse.org. Freedom House, n.d. Web.

Elliott, Mark, and Helena Smith. Lonely Planet-Belgium and Luxembourg. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2013. Print.

Clancy, Thomas. Countries of the World: Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. N.p.: CreateSpace Independent Platform, 2011. Print.

Dippel, Horst, Oleg Subbotin, Anna Tarnowska, Thomas Riis, Werner Heun, H. T. Dickinson, Ilse Reiter, András Cieger, Paul Vogt, Fred Stevens, Philippe Poirier, Jörg Luther, Berg, Peter A. J. Van Den, Stéphane Caporal, and Olivier Vernier. Constitutions of the World from the Late 18th Century to the Middle of the 19th Century: Sources on the Rise of Modern Constitutionalism: Europe. N.p.: n.p., 2008. Print.

Reid, Andrew. Luxembourg, the Clog-shaped Duchy: A Chronological History of Luxembourg from the Celts to the Present Day. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2005. Print.

The Constitution of the United States with Index and the Declaration of Independence. Malta, ID: National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2005. Print.

 

This essay was last updated April 30, 2015.

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