For years, Luxembourg has been known like the sewage system through which millionaire tax revenues of multinationals were lost. The sink is far from closed, but the disembarkation of the liberal Xavier Bettel in 2013, prime minister with the support of socialists and ecologists, has brought a new narrative to the country, a prosperous state of 600,000 inhabitants – little more than the city of Malaga – with an area smaller than the province of Álava, wedged between Belgium, France and Germany.
Yes during Bettel's first term gay marriage was approved or subsidies were drastically reduced to religious communities, the legislative menu for the second has not declined: The Government has committed to decriminalize production and legalize cannabis use for recreational use, stop charging for the use of all public transport including train, bus and tram, and raise the minimum wage 100 euros to 2,100 euros -the highest in the EU-. As a cherry, authorize two more days of vacation per year. "With the 100 euros we will buy cannabis to smoke in the two days of vacations", fantaseaba a user in social networks.
The ambitious social agenda may surprise in a traditionally Catholic country where both abortion and euthanasia are also legal. The Church is pragmatic and focuses its work on defending the rights of refugees over ethical battles. Opposition to the reforms has been virtually non-existent. Suffice it to say that the homosexual marriage law began to be transacted with the center-right government of Jean-Claude Juncker.
The Prime Minister himself, Xavier Bettel, 45 years old, did not take long to make use of it: he married his husband, the Belgian architect Gauthier Destenay, two years after it came into force. Together with the Irishman Leo Varadkar, he is the only homosexual head of government in the EU. "We are very Benelux in the moral field", says Diego Velázquez, journalist of the Luxemburger Wort. Holland and Belgium, the other two members of that club, are characterized by more disruptive social policies compared to other European partners. To that accumulation of policies considered advanced, Luxembourg adds another gall especially annoying for Donald Trump: it is the country of NATO with lower military expenditure in relation to the size of its economy.
From the Government they explain that the gratuity of the public transport responds to social, environmental criteria and of improvement of the traffic. That is, there will be economic savings, less emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and an increase in the use of trains, trams and buses that will lighten the hellish traffic jams that confine drivers for hours. On paper, the play seems perfect, but his critics do not see it as clear. The price of transport was already very affordable before, and free for young people and low-income people. Nothing guarantees that those accustomed to using the car will stop doing it to save a few euros. And the fact that about 190,000 workers living in Belgium, France and Germany cross the border every day makes the decongestion of roads unlikely.
"It's a poisoned gift," says Mylène Bianchy, president of the Syprolux union. Although it seems hard to believe, your organization is favorable to keep the payment. To the argument that the most vulnerable sectors are already exempt from scratching their pockets, Bianchy adds others: the work of the reviewers is in danger, the number of ticket offices will be reduced and that will make it more difficult to acquire international tickets to neighboring countries, and the State will leave to enter 30 million euros per year at a time when new investments are needed to increase the capacity of the saturated Luxembourg network, conceived for a country with a much lower economic activity.
The free total model has already been tested in other cities such as Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, where travel by public transport grew between 4 and 5% annually, but the number of cars did not decrease. In Luxembourg, there were 100 million journeys in the public mobility network in 2016. "The law jeopardizes the timeliness, comfort and reliability of transport, and we fear that free access will lead to a lack of respect for and increase cases of vandalism, "argues Bianchy.
The speech of its opponents presents it as an aesthetic change, without real impact for the pocket. The cost of living has expelled thousands of people who prefer to live in nearby towns in Belgium such as Arlon, which are cheaper. In Luxembourg two parallel worlds coexist: a private sector nurtured by foreigners and a purely local public one. The openness of the Luxembourgers is less evident when it comes to work. In 2015, 78% voted against granting the right to vote to foreigners. They feared it would be the first step for them to be able to compete with them in civil servant positions.
The date on which passengers will be able to board trains, trams and buses without going through a cash register is still not fixed. Nor is the day known when the coffee shops they will begin to fill with the dense smoke of marijuana. It is only known that it will be sometime during the five-year term that Bettel has ahead. For those who are thinking of attending the inauguration, bad news: only residents in Luxembourg can buy cannabis. "We do not want that kind of tourism," government sources say.
The drip of countries that lift restrictions on the recreational use of cannabis is on the rise. A little over a month and a half ago, Canada became the first G-7 country to legalize it. Before, Uruguay approved to leave the production, distribution and sale in the hands of the State, and allowed its marketing in pharmacies. In Holland from the age of 18, it is possible to acquire in a coffee shop up to 5 grams of hashish daily for personal use. In Amsterdam it is also sold to foreign tourists, in the rest of the country it depends on each municipality. The Luxembourg model aims to decriminalize its production and recreational use for residents, but it is still to be finalized.