Using the democratic process
Lesson from Luxembourg
The story so far
Luxembourg's small, single-chamber Parliament (Chambre des Deputés) has sixty Members. Last week offered a good opportunity to see Luxembourg democracy in action.
At stake is the future of the 20-year-old Conductive Education association Schrëtt fir Schrëtt (Step by Step) and its group of twenty children. This has been to no small extent funded by the state of what appears to have been an informal basis. Attempts to regularise this relationship have been unsuccessful. The association would like a relationship through private-school status, but the law in Luxembourg states that schools for disabled children cannot be established as private schools. Recently the Ministry of National Education has ruled that the present funding arrangement will have to cease by the end of the school year.
Luxembourg law also rules that a public petition can trigger Parliamentary attention if enough people sign it. This is a lengthy process, each stage a nail-biter and a cliff-hanger for the petitioners:
- appropriate wording has to be derived
- the resulting petition has to be accepted
- the Petition is then officially published and is open for signature, in paper form and on line
- the Petition would then have had attract 4,500 signatures before it would be considered by the Chamber of Deputies
- in the event Schrëtt fir Schrëtt collected 13,200 signatures, all of which were validated, well in excess of this target (and note that the total population of Luxembourg is only 543,202)
- last Wednesday was D-Day for this stage of the process, the day appointed for consideration by the Petitions Commission.
Following its private deliberation, the Petition Commission ruled –
The plea for a legal basis forSchrëtt fir Schrëtt, received by politicians during the open debate this morning, should have consequences. The Committee on Education should grasp the first opportunity, at its meeting of 27 April.
Much of this has been reported in Conductive World, blog and Facebook
The day (13 April)
The petition had been presented in the name of Maggy Wagner-Duchène. Up to five others of those who had signed the petition would be permitted to attend with her. Five did.
The public proceedings were televised live:
This broadcast is currently archived on line, in full. I do not know how long this record will remain available. Even if you speak no French it is still interesting to look in on this, to see the setting, the dignity of the proceedings, and what Maggy had to do
It is fascinating to watch the public face of another democracy at work, to see what looks to be the same as one is used to back home and what is clearly not. The Commission hearing was held in the room of the small unicameral Parliament, ornate, what the Brits would call 'Victorian', with most of its seats laid out facing each other – so far so familiar to me. But there were also seats at right angles, facing the length of the Chamber, an immediate physical clue of something different from what is familiar to me at the Palace of Westminster.
Maggie Wagner and her five colleagues sat on seats on one side of the Chamber, facing across to 18 elected Members on the other side (given the total of sixty Members in all, this seems rather a good turn-out for a debate on special education, at least by UK standards). The cross seats were occupied by the President of the Petition Committee and the Minister of Public Education, along with a handful of who I guessed would be officials.
Following the President's brief introduction Maggie led off with her prepared exposition of Schrëtt fir Schrëtt's case,. Her presentation included holding up children's pictures. Proceedings were respectful and serious.She had some twenty minutes. The girl done well. The five Petitioners who went with her did not speak. When she was done the Members opposite had opportunity to comment and to question her.The clearly took the matter seriously and treated her with respect. That done, it was the Minister of Public Education's turn.
The President summed up, the people from Schrëtt fir Schreët left the Chamber, and the public part of the debate as now over.
The President's announced the outcome (above) later in the day.
There are still photographs
26 Flikr photos have been shared by the Chambre des Deputés.
What a service it does provide its citizens!
Why bother about Luxembourg?
Luxembourg is of those tiny country of which we know very little. Most people involved with Conductiove Education in any role in the rest of the world have little reason to think of it at, and no immediate reason to care. So why bother with the fate of that small group of children, their parents and those who work for them? Whatever the long-term outcome of their struggle with the Ministry of of Public Education, what possible bearing might any of this have of other people's struggles to create and sustain viable conductive services in other national settings?
The world of Conductive Education has had little recent experience of national-level politicking for Conductive Education. Watching the Luxembourg story unfold suggests that Schrëtt fir Schrëtt has been making a good job of playing its hand. It has therefore seemed potentially beneficial to others to publish what is happening in Luxemburg for what might be learned from it. Different constitutions interpret and express citizens rights in different ways, and Conductive Education in the liberal democracies may yet require all the help and example that it can find should similar circumstances arise elsewhere.
One important feature in the case of Luxembourg is that it is with the Ministry of Public Education that Schrëtt fir Schrëtt is in conflict – not some other Ministry, like Health, nor social and health insurance companies. It should be instructive to see what arguments might be advanced at some further stage of this continuing saga if ministry officials and their professional advisors are involved.
The meeting of the Committee on Education recommended to discuss this matter further (above) is scheduled for next Wednesday, 27 April