Petition passes parliament: can these activists ban smoking on terraces?

A petition launched by former teachers-union president Daniel Reding recently reached the necessary threshold of 4,500 signatures, in order to be debated in parliament. With only a narrow 4,550 signatures, the Committee on Petitions will first investigate the signatures before then organising a public hearing on said question. Reding is asking for a complete ban on smoking on terraces for the sake of public health, particularly for children and pregnant women. Such a law would follow the smoking ban indoors, which came into effect in Luxembourg in 2014.

The Luxembourgish parliament offers the opportunity to every resident from the age of 15 to petition parliament for any policy he or she wishes to endorse. Once posted via the parliament’s website, the petition will be analysed for eligibility by the committee, which checks if the signatures were acquired correctly (a petition can gather signatures online and on paper), and then invites the petitioner(s) to parliament for a public hearing with the MPs who sit on the Petitions Committee.

Not every petition is eligible for reasons that are self-evident. Petitions need to be clear and concise. The action it advocates cannot be contrary to the Luxembourgish Constitution. And it needs to be within the realm of capabilities of the Luxembourgish state. For example, a petition couldn’t ask for the resignation of Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president, but it could ask that the government calls for his resignation. The petition allows for advocacy of political messages, as well as specific policies.

Ever since its introduction, this system has seen remarkably popular, with multiple public hearings being held, ranging from the question of legal cannabis to the importance of the Luxembourgish language.

However, the procedure has also received criticism. Despite the publicity for the political issues in question, there is no real outcome of the public hearing. Nothing obligates MPs to hold any type of vote or table a bill that would deal with a given policy. On the other hand, the way Luxembourgish politics works, it is the awareness that can have an impact on the government’s position. For instance, the public hearing on the importance of the Luxembourgish language sparked the government to announce further measures for the cultural support of the national language.

The fact the petition demanding a ban on smoking on terraces received the required number of signatures is surprising, given that the 2014 smoking ban indoors was also hotly debated throughout the country. However, in the 2013 vote in parliament, only four MPs opposed the measure in parliament. A ban on smoking outdoors would set a significant precedent in Europe, which does not yet have such legislation anywhere, even though the German state of Bavaria has been discussing it for years.

The Petitions Committee of the Chamber of Deputies (Chambre des Députés) confirmed this week that the petition met the requirements necessary. The chairman of the committee, Marco Schank (CSV) indicated that, for a variety of reasons, the public debate will not be held under after the elections on 14 October. As all other debates, it will be publicly broadcasted. We shall see if the debate is worth the wait.

This article was first published by the Luxembourg Times.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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