The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has been an independent sovereign state since the Treaty of London of 19 April 1839. Luxembourg is a parliamentary democracy in the form of a constitutional monarchy. The crown of the Grand Duchy is hereditary in the Nassau-Weilbourg family. Luxembourg also has a distinctive characteristic: it's the only Grand Duchy in the world.
In 1919, the revision of the Constitution and the introduction of universal suffrage marked a turning point in the political life of the Grand Duchy. Before this date, the right to vote was subject to a poll tax, in other words a certain amount of tax paid, and restricted to the male population aged 25 and over. After the the revision of 1919, all male and female citizens who had reached the age of 21 were given the right to vote. In 1972, the voting age was reduced to 18.
Luxembourg is a democratic state. Under the Constitution, the nation is the source of sovereign power and the Grand Duke takes the constitutional oath before the representatives of the sovereign nation when acceding to the throne.
The nation exercises its sovereignty indirectly via its representatives, who are elected to the Chambre des députés (Chamber of Deputies), Luxembourg's parliament.
Luxembourg's institutions are organised according to the principle of the separation of powers. In Luxembourg's institutional context, this separation is soft as there are many links between the executive power and the legislative power.
Legislative power is exercised by the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Deputies passes laws according to the procedural forms set out by the Constitution and specified by its in-house rules of procedure. It shares the right of initiative in legislative matters with the Grand Duke, who exercises it through the government.
The Grand Duke is the head of state. Under the Constitution, the Grand Duke holds the executive power. As such, he ensures the implementation of laws, making the regulations required.
In practice, however, this task is performed by the government, which takes the decisions and initiatives required.
Moreover, the Grand Duke represents the Grand Duchy at international level.
The Constitution provides that judicial power is exercised by the courts and tribunals. They are independent in the exercise of their functions. There are two branches of jurisdiction in Luxembourg:
- a judicial branch dealing with civil disputes, disputes of a penal nature and disputes regarding political rights;
- an administrative branch which rules on disputes with the authorities.
A Constitutional Court rules on the conformity of laws with the Constitution.
Constitution and laws
The first Constitution was drafted in 1841, two years after the independence of Luxembourg in 1839. The current Constitution was implemented on 17 October 1868, but has been revised several times since then.
The Constitution is the supreme legal rule of the state. It proclaims the fundamental rights and sets out the state's major principles of operation.
The law is a rule of law which is adopted by the legislative power and is imposed on all citizens after enactment by the Grand Duke and publication in the Official Journal of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
While the Constitution is more rigid and its revision procedure is more laborious, laws are modified more often. A law may only be modified by another law. The Council of State may draw the government's attention to the opportunity for new laws or new regulations or modifications to be introduced into existing laws and regulations.
A law may be initiated either by the Chamber of Deputies or the government. The first case is a parliamentary initiative known as a 'proposition de loi'; the second case is a government initiative known as a 'projet de loi'. 'Propositions de loi' (parliament bills) are initiated by parliament while 'projets de loi' (government bills) are initiated by the government.