Catholic Grand Duke of Luxembourg stripped of his law-making power
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a constitutional monarchy, and the Grand Duke is its head of state. Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, leader of the country’s Christian Socialist Party, will now propose a change to the constitution to downgrade the role of the Grand Duke to promulgating laws with his signature rather than approving them, giving him a purely ceremonial duty in line with the most other European constitutional monarchies. They are going to remove the term ‘sanction’ from article 34 of the Constitution and replace it with the term ‘promulgate’. The Grand Duke has indicated that he will not stand in the way of any change to the constitution.
By refusing to sign the euthanasia Bill into law, the unelected Catholic Grand Duke has clashed with his elected Catholic Prime Minister, who is of the opinion that the Grande Duke ‘has overstepped his role’. Interestingly, Prime Minister Juncker personally opposes the euthanasia Bill but believes in the supremacy of Parliament. Neither Christian conscience nor the Pope of Rome may interfere with the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It is an ages-old conflict, and the Prime Minister intends to propose an amendment to the country’s constitution which will reduce the Grand Duke’s role to rubber-stamping parliamentary decisions, instead of deciding whether or not to approve them.
The Grand Duke’s assertion of faith has tipped the tiny nation and founding member of the EU into the worst constitutional crisis in its history. The Luxembourg royal house has tried to block a decision by parliament only once before, when the Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide refused to sign an education Bill in 1912. She was forced to abdicate in 1919 for fraternising with her German occupiers during the First World War.
Luxembourg’s euthanasia Bill has been controversial since 2001. It will permit patients with ‘grave and incurable’ conditions die at the hands of a doctor if they ask repeatedly to be euthanised and acquire the consent of two doctors and a ‘panel of experts’. Medical and physician groups have opposed the bill, though, and so have many citizens of this traditionally staunchly Roman Catholic nation.
It follows similar laws in the Netherlands and Belgium, where King Baudouin - Henri's uncle - abdicated for a day in 1990 to avoid signing a Belgian abortion law. The current Belgian king, Albert II, has given assent to Belgium's recent euthanasia and homosexual-marriage laws over his private Catholic beliefs.
It is a warning to all those who favour the abolition of the Act of Settlement 1701. Whatever one thinks of Her Majesty the Queen and however one derides the Church of England, the allegiance is undivided. Her Majesty rules with the consent of Parliament and the people, and performs a constitutional role as Head of State and Supreme Governor of the Church of England which is woven into the fabric of the UK’s law-making process. When Her Majesty grants Royal Assent to a parliamentary bill, ‘La Reine le veult' - it is she who wishes it, free of any external interference. One may not always agree with her – and Cranmer does not – but she is Protestant and answerable to God alone for the exercising of her faith and the decisions of her conscience. The power to withhold Assent remains as one of Her Majesty’s reserve powers, and one of the means of ensuring no over-mighty executive rides roughshod over her subjects, of whose liberties and traditions she is guarantor and guardian.
Luxembourg’s Grand Duke has paid the inevitable price for placing his private Christian conviction over his public political duty. His decision is laudable, and one might sometimes wish Her Majesty the Queen might do the same. But the fact the she does not may be laid at the door of Buckingham Palace alone, resting assured that there is no interference from any foreign power. However much one might admire the orthodoxy of the present Pope, like the karma chameleon, popes of varying hues come and go. Were the tension once again to be introduced of papal interference in the country’s law-making process, and questions raised about which master the Queen is serving, it is quite possible and highly likely that she also would be stripped by Parliament of her participation in the legislative process.
Cranmer would find it unacceptable that a Monarch who swore to uphold the Protestant Reformed Religion might occasionally abdicate for a day in order that her Coronation Oath might be systematically undermined. Oaths have a long scriptural tradition going back to Genesis (8:21). They are sworn on pain of divine or preternatural wrath. It is a strange oath indeed which may be sworn upon the Holy Bible in the name of God as a sacred witness to all people for all time, yet occasionally and conveniently set aside purely for political reasons of convenience.