Guido Lessing


1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

Commitment to European integration

The key topics in the electoral campaign were the fight against unemployment, the economic crisis, the preservation of social rights, climate protection, data safety and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Basically, all politically relevant forces from Luxembourg represented in the European Parliament are pro-EU. The defence of what is commonly called the European model of welfare state was in fact part of the electoral campaign, due to the fact that Europe is mostly considered to be part of the answer to a globalized world putting pressure on the achievements of the social state. This does not mean that the Commission's economic policy is overwhelmingly welcomed, but there is no relevant party saying that the achievements of the Luxembourgish welfare state can be better defended outside the Union.

Luxembourg recognizes independent Kosovo

The Vice-Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn, made a statement in the Luxembourg Parliament to explain the Grand-Duchy’s position concerning the Kosovo conflict. This statement was followed by a debate on Kosovo, the EU–Serbia relations and the Western Balkans, where the political parties expressed their positions which, in very large parts, are similar to the government’s policy[1].

Ratification process should be continued

Luxembourg parliamentarians approved the Lisbon Treaty with 47 votes in favour of the text of the treaty on May 29th. Three deputies abstained and one voted against the text. The grand duchy thus became the 15th member state to support the treaty. According to the speakers of the parties voting in favour, the treaty, “does not only reform the functioning of the European Union’s institutions and strengthen democracy, but also enables more efficient joint action. The treaty will also allow the European Union to face challenges relating to globalisation and environment.

Juncker first ‘President of Europe’?

Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn affirmed already in November 2007, even before signing the Lisbon Treaty: “In Luxembourg, the parliamentary ratification is to due to take place in first half of 2008” . Since all was said in the 2005 referendum campaign, no ‘nay’ votes other than those of the small Populist Party ADR (10% of the electorate) are expected. There is no intense public debate taking place at this moment on the ratification and the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Luxembourg Parliament (Chambre des députés) organizes forums and discussions with political and social organisations, youth groups and students on the contents of the Lisbon Treaty , although there are very few debates compared to the many that were organized before the referendum. Detractors of the Lisbon Treaty and adepts of a no–vote in the July 2005 referendum are trying to find a broader consensus after controversial discussions. They denounce these hearings as a mere propaganda show since European leaders wish the treaty to be ratified as quickly as possible .

Trouble in paradise

Jean-Marie Majerus
The German Press Agency (dpa) released an astonishing headline on 28 April 2010: “Uproar in paradise – crisis splits Luxembourg.”[1]
The Grand-Duchy’s economy, already badly shaken by the banking crisis in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, did not have to wait for the consequences of the Greek crisis to learn that new unhappy times were dawning. Being accustomed to growth rates of 4 to 9 percent over the last years, always meeting the Maastricht criteria without a problem, Luxembourg now had a “paradise lost” feeling. The beloved “Luxembourg model” seemed to guarantee a never-ending economic growth success story.

More political courage deemed necessary

Jean-Marie Majerus
In general, the Luxembourgish population is very sensible concerning the climate change topic. Several environment protection associations, such as Mouvement écologique, Greenpeace Luxembourg, and other pro-ecology organisations, have united their efforts with 30 other NGOs, such as Caritas, Action-solidarité-Tiers-monde, among others, to act together against climate change[1] and create a Luxembourgish pro-climate lobby called “Votum Klima.” Leaders of this pro-climate alliance talked to Prime Minister Juncker and the Ministers for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure Wiseler and Schank. Votum Klima cannot accept the Copenhagen conference results.[2] The reduction of CO2 emissions plan endorsed by the EU and the USA is totally insufficient. Votum Klima criticised Juncker and the other European political leaders for their lack of perseverance and political courage. Prime Minister Juncker acknowledges the criticism by the environment lobby and declared that he would like the EU to stick to its original 30 percent CO2 reduction goal. Nevertheless, he is well aware that this aim will be very difficult to reach, as a lot of partners only want to commit themselves if all the others do the same.

Initial reluctance replaced by strong leadership

Jean-Marie Majerus
Luxembourg’s political class, as well as its Prime Minister and President of the Eurozone, seemed to ignore – at least at the beginning of the year 2010 – the real size of the Greek crisis. Jean-Claude Juncker declared on 5 March 2010: “I don’t believe that the country [Greece] needs help from outside.”[1] Luxembourg’s public opinion had no understanding for xenophobe, populist headlines as they appeared in German popular press: “Greeks are lazy, corrupt and underdeveloped!”[2] Luxembourg’s population also knows that European solidarity has its limits and it still remembers the loud and unfriendly, if not insulting, statements of German politicians made two years ago when Luxembourg’s fiscal policy was their focus.

Positive stance towards Iceland – public opposition to Turkey

Jean-Marie Majerus
Luxembourg’s government has a positive attitude concerning the Icelandic application for EU membership. However, Iceland, as every other candidate state, has to pass the normal accession procedure. In fact, this will be much easier since Iceland, as a member of the Nordic Union, is already a member of the Schengen Information System and the European Economic Area. As Eurobarometer polls show, Luxembourg’s population has no problems admitting Icelanders, which might not only be explained by the presence of an Icelandic community in Luxembourg, but also because Icelandic Airways used Luxembourg’s Findel Airport as a hub for its continental European flights. The bad performance of some Icelandic banks in the most recent financial crisis did not really jeopardise this positive approach.

Large member states stand in the way of Jean-Claude Juncker as first President of the European Council

Jean-Marie Majerus
In Luxembourg, most politicians, as well as public opinion, were happy with Herman Van Rompuy’s nomination as Belgian Prime Minister. He seemed to be the right man in the right place, able to give this neighbouring country the prospect of finding a viable compromise on how Walloons and Flemings could continue living together in peace and mutual understanding.
In the eyes of the Luxembourgish community, the natural candidate for the post of President of the European Council could not have been anybody other than Jean-Claude Juncker. However, in the weeks preceding the decisive Brussels Council, the international press revealed rumours and speculation announcing that Juncker would not be the first President of the European Council. During the decisive Brussels Summit in December 2009, Jean-Claude Juncker could have asked for a vote because “a large majority of delegations were ready to support my candidacy.”[1] One major member state, however, was not keen to support him, but “my friend Van Rompuy did not meet any opposition at all.”[2] Thus, in order not to risk a split in the Union because of his person, he decided to withdraw his candidacy and support his friend Van Rompuy. These rather sad events “left a bad souvenir, but no bitterness,”[3] according to the Luxembourgish Prime Minister.

Luxemburg’s banking sector hit by financial crisis, unforeseen constitutional crisis

Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Européennes Robert Schuman
Little Luxembourg was badly shaken both by the global financial crisis and by the home-made constitutional crisis in the last quarter of 2008.
The international financial crisis nearly threw into bankruptcy the two biggest private banks of the country. Both banks represented not only national pride in finance matters: a long expertise and a high prestige doped with ‘triple A’-ratings. “Dexia-Bil”, the oldest bank of the Grand Duchy, and “Fortis” formerly “Banque Générale du Luxembourg” are of focal importance for the national economy. Had they disappeared, the consequences for the national economy could not have been worse, as Jean-Claude Juncker put it in a TV address to his fellow citizens.[1] In both cases, heavy losses of the Belgian or French mother agencies brought their Luxembourg daughter agencies big trouble. Only a concerted action by the Belgian and Luxembourg government and at a certain moment also by the Dutch government – did save those two banks from bankruptcy. A strong public intervention could persuade new investors to take participation in the banks’ capital. Hence, the Luxembourg state became a major shareholder of the banks and could rely on accurate public reaction to sign public bonds in order to finance the operation, at least partially.