#COVID19-How local and regional authorities respond to the crisis:the case of Luxembourg

Responses from Luxembourgish municipalities

Luxembourg is composed of 102 municipalities (‘communes’) responsible for providing public services. Since the start of the pandemic (symbolised by the adoption of a state of emergency on 22.03.2020), municipalities have had to adapt their services.

The Ministry of the Interior and SYVICOL (an association of Luxembourgish cities and municipalities) are responsible for the coordination of these measures on a national level. Measures taken so far include the distribution of 3.5 million masks across households in Luxembourg, including cross-border workers from France, Germany and Belgium (i.e. about 200,000 people). Additionally, anyone insured under the Luxembourg social security system can be tested for the coronavirus in Luxembourg, including cross-border workers.

On a municipal level, SYVICOL collected responses to the health crisis from local authorities in Luxembourg, with the aim of establishing an overview of municipal responses. The City of Luxembourg was the first to make its pandemic plan available to all the Luxembourgish municipalities, as a model for municipal continuity plans.

Emile Eicher, SYVICOL’s president, commented that “this enabled the municipalities to adapt quickly to the new situation.” Mr. Eicher also highlighted that the local authorities should continue to maintain this dynamic and that SYVICOL continues to fulfil its role “as coordinator and link with the government.”

Following the pandemic plan adopted by the City of Luxembourg, municipalities have established a “security and continuity plan” (Plan de sécurité et de continuité). It allows a distinction to be made between essential and non-essential services, in order to determine how the continuity of infrastructure - public transport, energy and water supply, roads, administrative services - can be ensured in the current situation.

Additionally, a plan to protect vulnerable citizens has been laid out. Measures include a grocery delivery service, meal delivery service, medication delivery service or transport to the nearest pharmacy, as well as helplines that have been introduced to protect the elderly, isolated or vulnerable people.

Responses on a national level

On a national level, a crisis unit (‘cellule de crise pandémie’) under the presidency of the Minister of Health, Paulette Lehnert, has prepared the gradual transition from the containment strategy to the implementation of additional measures.

In March, the principle of offering medical teleconsultations to patients was put in place for the protection of a fragile population at risk of severe complications. The Ministry of the Economy has also presented a bill introducing a new aid scheme to support SMEs affected by an exceptional and unforeseeable event.

Since March, border controls with the neighbouring countries have heavily affected Luxembourg’s economy (e.g.  cross-border workers, supply chain). Germany was the first to reintroduce border controls on 16th March 2020; however, these were lifted on 16th May 2020.

Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, the head of Luxembourg’s diplomatic service, welcomed the decision of the German government to lift border controls at the Luxembourgish and German borders: “This decision is also an important signal regarding the gradual restoration of the Schengen area. This should now be one of the main priorities of the EU.”

Minister Asselborn also highlighted, in a conversation with Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, "how important the free movement of people is for everyone in this region,” especially in view of the high number of cross-border commuters - a quarter of them from Germany - who travel to their place of work in Luxembourg every day. Border controls on the French-Luxembourgish borders will however remain in place until further notice.

Luxembourg introduced exceptional measures to accommodate its cross-border healthcare workers. Free temporary accommodation was offered for cross-border healthcare workers and their families in hotels or holiday homes in Luxembourg, and the costs are covered by the Luxembourgish state.

Overall, 2000 rooms have been made available for this purpose across Luxembourg. Luxembourg’s healthcare system relies heavily on healthcare workers who work in Luxembourg but live in the border regions. These measures can accommodate healthcare workers residing in Belgium, Germany and the Grand Est region of France. 

Cross-border work and tax matters

Luxembourg’s economy relies on cross-border workers from France, Belgium and Germany who cross the border daily to work in Luxembourg. Forty-six percent of the Luxembourgish work force comes from the border regions of France, Germany and Belgium.

The currently enforced remote working – for employees who can – is a challenge from a fiscal point of view. By working in Luxembourg, they pay taxes in Luxembourg and can spend a restricted number of days working outside Luxembourg (as agreed in bilateral state agreements: 29 days with France, 19 days with Germany, 24 days for Belgium). Where these days are exceeded, taxes should be paid in the country of residence for the days spent working there. In March, the Ministry of the Economy of the Luxembourg government has reached an agreement with its neighbouring countries. As they agree that the current situation is a case of force majeure, teleworking days provided by cross-border workers from their homes in France, Belgium or Germany are not to be taken into account in the calculation of the maximum number of teleworking days foreseen for each, so that taxation is not impacted.

Cross-border public services: the case of the Schengen Lyceum at Perl

The ESPON CPS project has found 579 cross-border public services along European borders, of which five are education and training services. The Schengen Lyceum is one of the five cross-border education and training services, and it is an example of how a new service can be developed to facilitate a truly joint education with joint service management.

The Schengen Lyceum at Perl is a Luxembourgish-German school situated on the German side of the Luxembourgish-German border. The school is part of the Interreg Greater Region programme and is co-financed by Luxembourg and the German state of Saarland. Students have classes in German, French and Luxembourgish, and come from Luxembourg, Germany and France.

Between 16th March and 16th May 2020, border controls were in place from Luxembourg to Germany, which also had an effect on the life of students at the Schengen Lyceum at Perl. As students were able to start returning to schools in both Germany and Luxembourg from May 4th, measures had been introduced by the school to facilitate students’ access to the school while border controls were in place between Germany and Luxembourg.

Each student living in Luxembourg and France received a border-crossing pass issued by the school. Students travelling with the school bus, however, did not need to carry a border-crossing pass. The school buses of the Schengen Lyceum, operated by Luxembourgish public transport providers, operate across borders.

Therefore, measures to facilitate border crossing for students are an important part of their daily journey to school. The example of the Schengen Lyceum at Perl and its school bus system shows the need for links between two cross-border public services, such as education and public transport.

More information

ESPON is collecting evidence on how national and local actors are reacting to the COVID-19 crisis. ESPON is open to host any other authors covering the ESPON countries