Juncker begins fight to form new Luxembourg government
Political horse-trading got underway Monday in the EU's richest state as Europe's longest-serving leader Jean-Claude Juncker, his wings clipped despite coming out top in a weekend vote, sought to form a new Luxembourg government.
However, after nearly 19 years in power, the 58-year-old has a rival pretender to contend with — 40-year-old Luxembourg city mayor and Liberal Party leader Xavier Bettel labelled on Monday by RTL Radio Letzebuerg as the emerging “kingmaker”.
“We claim priority,” Juncker said after his conservative Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) secured 33.7 percent of the vote, before tendering his formal resignation to Grand Duke Henri, the head of the European Union’s wealthiest per capita country.
After a final cabinet meeting on Monday morning, Socialist Party leader and outgoing economy minister Etienne Schneider said a first-crack mandate was expected to be awarded on Wednesday, following a Tuesday round of talks between Henri and all the main party leaders.
The CSV has won every election bar one since it was established in 1944, but was down more than four percentage points on 2009 polls and lost three seats, taking a total of 23 in the 60-member parliament.
Official figures showed the Socialists in second place on 20.3 percent and the Liberals with a sharply improved 18.2 percent. These parties each won 13 seats, the Greens taking six, down one.
Those three parties could theoretically come together to deny Juncker — although on the campaign trail, Juncker said he would be prepared to govern in a two-way coalition with either the Socialists or the Liberals, each of whom could secure him the necessary majority.
The election had been brought forward by seven months after the discovery of misconduct in Luxembourg’s pint-sized secret services.
Juncker’s former coalition with the Socialist party splintered over misdemeanours by the SREL spy agency, from illegal phone tapping to dodgy dealing in luxury cars.
The premier also came under fire for concentrating too much on his role as head of the eurozone finance ministers during the Eurogroup’s debt crisis.
Juncker, who has spent nearly half his life in government, told AFP he did not “rule out” the possibility that a coalition could be formed against him.
Surveys have shown a younger generation of politicians increasingly picking up support, notably Bettel, in the AAA-rated, high-earning and low-tax haven wedged between Germany, France and Belgium.
“We have won the day,” Bettel told AFP on election night. The voters have “clearly given us a mandate to go back into government, or to form a government.”
Asked about coalition permutations, Bettel said: “We were elected on a manifesto and we will see where we can achieve the greatest part of our goals — it’s not ‘with whom’ but how and what that counts.”
A message on Schneider’s Facebook page said it was “time for change”.
“If it’s possible to carry out… real reforms aimed at modernising the state and giving it a new impetus, then yes, I’m in favour of a three-way coalition,” he said.
However, an editorial in the Quotidien daily said Schneider had not made the breakthrough the left had hoped for amid rising unemployment of up to nearly seven percent.