Bankers flee­ing Brexit can help make Lux­em­bour­gish great again

Gulf Times Business - - BUSINESS -

None of the can­di­dates vowed to build a wall around Luxembourg to keep out Bri­tish bankers flee­ing Brexit.

But un­less they’ve al­ready learned Lux­em­bour­gish, hun­dreds of im­mi­grant fi­nanciers will be clue­less about party man­i­festos as the Grand Duchy pre­pares to go to the polls to­day.

That’s be­cause a sub­tle change has vir­tu­ally cast aside other lan­guages in the coun­try’s election cam­paign­ing, as well as much of pub­lic life, tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated by French. It’s what passes for pop­ulism in a coun­try whose peo­ple tend to be rel­a­tively sat­is­fied with life.

“Lux­em­bour­gish helps peo­ple who want to live here long-term,” said Roy Red­ing, a mem­ber of the right-of-cen­tre ADR party, which is seek­ing to add to its three seats in the 60-seat par­lia­ment. “It’s to­tally nor­mal, if I move to a dif­fer­ent city I have to un­der­stand and some­how speak that lan­guage to in­te­grate.”

Nes­tled be­tween Bel­gium, France and Ger­many, the tiny na­tion of just over 600,000 cit­i­zens has be­come the world’s sec­ond big­gest fund mar­ket and an at­trac­tive hub for multi­na­tion­als such Ama­zon.com. Its mul­ti­lin­gual­ism and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism are part of its at­trac­tion, with lo­cals be­ing able to switch with ease be­tween French, Ger­man and English and their na­tive Lux­em­bour­gish.

Cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing more than 900 new Bri­tish dual na­tion­als, vote on Sun­day af­ter five years of a govern­ment that didn’t just bring about a tram, a con­struc­tion boom and freeof- charge in­ter­na­tional schools, but also presided over an up­surge in pride in the lo­cal lan­guage – as well as a fear for its sur­vival.

The na­tion’s dal­liance with iden­tity pol­i­tics sur­faced in 2015 when Prime Min­is­ter Xavier Bet­tel’s new coali­tion of Lib­er­als, So­cial­ists and Greens or­gan­ised a ref­er­en­dum ask­ing whether non-Lux­em­bourg­ers who have resid- ed in the coun­try for at least 10 years should be al­lowed to vote in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

The re­sult was a re­sound­ing “No” from al­most 80% of the pop­u­la­tion.

“I felt re­ally kind of re­jected be­cause it was a mas­sive state­ment that said, we tol­er­ate you, but...” said Jil­lian Cook, a Lux­em­bour­gish-speaker who moved from the UK in 1990. She is vot­ing in her adopted na­tion for the first time since ac­quir­ing dual na­tion­al­ity last year.

The fol­low­ing year came a pe­ti­tion ask­ing for Lux­em­bour­gish to be made the main na­tional lan­guage - a pol­icy of the ADR. It got a record-break­ing 15,000 sig­na­tures.

The ADR would like to abol­ish the “Fran cop honiza ti on” of the coun­try and also wants to cre­ate a min­istry for Lux­em­bour­gish and raise the bar for na­tion­al­ity lan­guage tests, which the party says are too easy.

“What does it mean to have Luxembourg na­tion­al­ity?” asks Red­ing. “It means hav­ing the right to vote. And how can I vote if I can’t fol­low the de­bates in par­lia­ment, which are and will be in Lux­em­bour­gish? If that ever changes, I will move to the UK.”

The rip­ples have lasted and the main­stream par­ties this year opted for an al­most en­tirely Lux­em­bour­gish election cam­paign, at least when it comes to the hun­dreds of cam­paign posters em­bla­zoned on walls, lamp posts and road­sides.

Even the govern­ment’s main par­ties chose slo­gans that are a play on words of the lo­cal lan­guage. Bet­tel’s lib­er­als DP want to have a “Zukunft op Let­ze­buergesch,” mean­ing a fu­ture in Lux­em­bour­gish or in the Luxembourg way. The so­cial­ist LSAP chose “Letz speak about pol­i­tics.”

The lan­guage is spo­ken by two thirds of the pop­u­la­tion and more than 90% of young peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry in June.

With 48% of the res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion be­ing for­eign, lan­guage is “one of the ways to help with in­te­gra­tion, but it shouldn’t be ex­clu­sive,” said Michael Chamier, an­other Brit who ap­plied for the Luxembourg na­tion­al­ity post- Brexit, af­ter liv­ing and work­ing there since decades. “It’s a small coun­try and one of its big­gest as­sets is its mul­ti­lin­gual­ism.”

While vot­ing is manda­tory in Luxembourg, those for­eign­ers aren’t al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in na­tional elec­tions un­less they sign up for cit­i­zen­ship.

A change in law a decade ago al­lowed for dual na­tion­al­ity, and yet an­other re­form by Bet­tel’s govern­ment last year trimmed the years to five from seven when for­eign res­i­dents can ap­ply.

Since the 2016 Brexit ref­er­en­dum, the num­ber of Bri­tons seek­ing Luxembourg dual na­tion­al­ity has risen rapidly.

That year, 128 Bri­tish peo­ple ac­quired the na­tion­al­ity, com­pared to 75 the year be­fore.

The num­ber grew to 384 in 2017 and be­tween Jan­uary and Au­gust this year, 264 Brits be­came dual cit­i­zens, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Jus­tice.

Still, the oblig­a­tory lan­guage test re­mains a key con­di­tion. While mak­ing it eas­ier to qual­ify for a lo­cal pass- port, Bet­tel’s up­dated na­tion­al­ity law cre­ated such a rush that the main lan­guage learn­ing in­sti­tute has been over­whelmed.

“We were over­run last year,” said Karin Pun­del, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tut Na­tional des Langues. “The num­ber of de­mands to get into the tests ex­ploded.”

Ahead of the elec­tions, par­lia­ment voted unan­i­mously for a com­mis­sioner and lan­guage cen­ter solely to pro­mote the im­por­tance of Lux­em­bour­gish.

The govern­ment also cre­ated hun­dreds of smart­phone emo­jis, with the red, white and blue col­ors of the na­tional flag as back­ground.

They may not help to pass the na­tion­al­ity test or un­der­stand fu­ture election cam­paigns.

But for new­com­ers who can barely muster a “moien” or “good morn­ing” they pro­vide a ba­sic ini­ti­a­tion to vi­tal vo­cab­u­lary such as “Grompere­kichelcher,” a potato pan­cake, and ways to ex­press de­light at fi­nally get­ting into a lan­guage class such as “mega” or “tipp topp.”

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