Parents at the European School in Luxembourg have challenged plans to impose daily commutes of over 3 hours on pre-school and primary children selected for a new out-of-town school on the basis of their language, nationality and property status. Representing a large number of those parents, the European School Non-Discrimination Campaign is currently preparing legal proceedings to be served on the school authorities in September.
The campaign is seeking a reversal of the so-called ‘vertical split’ of the school, under which favoured language groups are to remain at the Kirchberg site, where most of the parents work in the EU institutions. The less-favoured groups, consisting mainly of Italians, Greeks and those from neighbouring new Member States, have been assigned to a new school in the outlying town of Mamer. Language groups present on both sites (English, French and German) have been divided up so that richer officials living close to Kirchberg will retain the privileges of the work-located school, while those living in lower-cost areas are now obliged to undertake an even longer commute. Typically, children in the less-favoured groups will have to commute first to Kirchberg and then get a supervised bus through peak-hour traffic.
The parents are confident that the vertical split decision will be struck down in court on grounds of unlawful discrimination. ‘No objective reason has been given to divide the children on the basis of their language, nationality or postal code. We want them to be treated equally, with all young children remaining on the Kirchberg site. This is the only way to ensure a reasonable work-life balance. The Mamer site should be reserved for secondary school children, who can travel to school on buses without supervision.’
The parents claim that the authorities are rushing to open the school in September in spite of outstanding safety issues, to achieve a fait accompli. A private study carried out on behalf of the parents reveals many serious flaws in the current transport plan, including:
(1) An assumption that only 20% of parents will use their car, arriving at the school at a uniform rate between 7.30 and 8.30 am. In fact, the level of car usage will be much higher, with most arriving at the same time, 15 minutes before the school opens.
(2) The study suggests that the poor design of the access infrastructure and shortage of parking spaces will cause a self-blockade and gridlock at the roundabout, with an estimated additional 600-1000 cars expected on the narrow main road.
(3) The plan is based on an ‘empty roads’ hypothesis, which does not reflect the reality of peak hour traffic in the locality.
(4) No provision is made for delays caused by flyover works at the site.
The campaign is approaching local political parties to support its call for a road safety audit:
‘The new mobility plan is being presented to the public two months before the school is due to open and lacks credibility. A safety audit will give us time to investigate the real issues and to win our non-discrimination case. Then we can keep our younger children in Kirchberg and effectively eliminate the need for private cars going into the school.’
The campaign demand for a ‘horizontal split’ is supported by parents and trade unions in the EU institutions. Recent correspondence with the Commission reveals that the only resistance to the equality demand comes from the Luxembourg Government itself. It is believed that property developers influenced the original decision to locate the new school in Mamer and that their interests now militate against a purely secondary level European School – insisting on crèche, primary and after school care facilities at the school forces those parents who can afford it to move to the area, driving up prices and facilitating the development of new apartment blocks. The campaign spokesperson believes this is what has led to controversial and unorthodox transport arrangements for the children affected, aged 3 to 18.
‘The fact is that most of the EU workers targeted by the discriminatory split cannot afford to move to Mamer. This leaves two serious questions to be answered: First, what were the motivations that led to a European School and European Commission crèche and after school care facilities being built outside of Luxembourg-Ville, in contravention of the Decision of the Member States of 8 April 1965, Article 9 (confirmed in Edinburgh in 1992)? And second, is it acceptable that large amounts of public money should be wasted on unethical, badly supervised transport for young children simply to allow developers in Mamer to maximise the return on their investment?’