Geoff Thompson: Looking Ahead through 2016

Now that the Christmas and New Year festivities are behind us it's time to look forward to the next 12 months.

2015 may have brought Luxembourg the EU Presidency and the second year of the three-way coalition government, but the larger picture also saw Luxembourg affected by the refugee crisis and fall-out from international terrorism.

At the end of 2015 Luxembourg started planning for the influx of refugees primarily from civil wars in Syria and Iraq, with four refugee centres being planned for Diekirch, Junglinster, Mamer and Steinfort. Other infrastructure modernisation initiatives will continue by way of various civil engineering projects in the cities and towns to support capacity growth. One change to the country's social fabric is that rural areas will see a further erosion in services, with 35 post offices to close; this on top of the various train stations which started to lose staff from 2015.

Economics

While global GDP is expected to be 3.5% in 2016 (it was 5% before the 2008 economic crisis) and 2.0% in Europe, here in Luxembourg it is expected to be 3.4%.

One key to economic growth is to get public finance under control, others involve the EU external border issue and the Brexit potential, both affecting Europe as a whole. The economic situation in China as well as the issue of the Fed raising rates in the US will also have a bearing on European economics in 2016. Nevertheless, European business leaders are optimistic for 2016.

In Luxembourg, the Chambre de Commerce is planning to provide the underlying platform for business growth with the launch in late 2015 of the House of Training, and the Higher Institute of Economy, the House of Entrepreneurship and the House of Fintech to come in 2016. Corporate taxation is also due to be reformed in 2016. And the Minister of Finance is predicting higher VAT income in 2016 to offset the losses regarding eCommerce-related VAT which is now charged in relation to the country of delivery.

And 2016 will see the 3-way coalition government in its 3rd year of power; this will be the crucial year of its tenure when it will need to convince the electorate that its programme of government is, in fact, bringing it back to balancing the books and reducing the need for austerity.

Construction

The Nordstad will continue to grow; the A7 is now open to traffic and the new railway station in Pfaffenthal will be constructed, with the funicular rail shuttle up to Kirchberg benefitting passengers as well as alleviating congestion during peak travel periods at Luxembourg-Gare somewhat. The other side of the valley will see the opening of the Pfaffenthal-Pescatore lift-passage.

Staying on transport, Luxembourg ville will be disrupted with retail trade and traffic affected as the tram network is installed - at least planning foresight in Kirchberg will reduce the disruption there due to additional tram lanes already constructed. The city will also witness the Royal Hamilius project rising from the giant hole in the ground that once housed the underground car-park, La Luxembourgeoise, the police, the Bierger Centre and others.And progress will continue on the new ING Luxembourg headquarters opposite the train station.

While 2015 saw KPMG, EY, Arendt & Medernach and other significant employers move to new buildings in Kirchberg, it will see more new projects underway in 2016, with the Infinity project in Kirchberg seeing a 25-Storey residential tower constructed. Work is also expected to start on another tower for the European Court of Justice and the Batiment Jean Monnet, one of the original buildings in Kirchberg to house the European Commission, is to be replaced. Kirchberg will also see more affordable housing projects come to fruition too, as well as the opening of the new BGL BNP Paribas headquarters.

Esch-Belval also continues to grow, with 2016 seeing Luxembourg University moving more of its faculty staff there; the overall effect will see the former industrial location complete its transformation now that the shopping centres, restaurants and cinema complex are joined by more academia as well as various institutes and other private sector entities continuing to move there.

The new European/International school is due to open in Differdange in autumn 2016, with construction too on the Opkorn commercial centre adding to the ongoing transformation of Luxembourg's 3rd largest city. On the education front, the latest new building at St George's International School in Hamm is expected to open before the summer recess, a fitting finale to the school's 25th academic year celebrations.

The Cloche d'Or will also continue to be developed with work starting on the new Auchan hypermarket as well as on the new National Stadium, the site of which is just the other side of the motorway between Cessange and Gasperich. And in Findel the move to the new headquarters of Luxembourg Air Rescue will be completed.

FinTech & Entrepreneurship

The Grand Duchy has evolved from an agricultural economy to one based on the steel industry to the current financial sector reliance forming the basis of its economic growth. While the satellite communication industry is also doing extremely well, the financial sector continues to evolve.

The traditional financial sector will see the arrival of additional services being developed for a client base that expects additional digital services. Further regulation is coming (AIFMD, BEPS, etc.) which Luxembourg must embrace and leverage, using them to its advantage - just like they have been doing with the Chinese banks which continue to set up their European operations in the Grand Duchy.

2016 is being labelled as the "Year of Disruption for the Financial Sector"; I prefer to look at things from a "glass half-full" than a "glass half-empty" perspective, and believe that new products and services will hit emerge on the financial service sector, but not affecting Luxembourg's financial service sector too much. Yes, the sector will still evolve, with family offices and wealth management possibly seeing the most (percentage) growth, but the core fund management offerings will remain, with regulation shaping the future of the market, awaiting leadership to leverage the opportunies presented.

The FinTech (r)evolution continues unabated and is surely more than just a rebranding of traditional ICT firms working on financial projects. The government will continue to support the growth of an entrepreneurship culture in the Grand Duchy with incubators such as Nyuko and Technoport gaining momentum, and creativity and freedom of expression promoted by a variety of players to encourage a change in mind-set. After all, between 70-75% of Luxembourg nationals currently work for the civil service...

This burgeoning sector will be supported by the growing R&D activities throughout Luxembourg.

Travel

As well as the likes of Starbucks opening at Luxembourg airport, new airlines will start using the airport during 2016 including Aegean (to Athens from 19 May), LOT Polish Airlines (to Warsaw from 1 March) and HOP! (to Lyon from 21 February), offering more choice to passengers.

And Luxair and LuxairTours will add new routes, including to Reykjavik in Iceland (in March), Zadar in Croatia (from 2 May), Chania in Greece (from 5 May), Venice in Italy (from 29 April) and Naples in Italy (from 27 March).

Sport

With 2015 seeing the Rugby World Cup in England in the autumn, all eyes will turn to France in 2016 in June and July for the European Championship Finals being contested by 24 teams, the largest number ever. Outdoor screenings of matches will surely be organised for Luxembourg city centre and other locations; notably there are no matches scheduled for 23 June but there there are 4 scheduled for the evening beforehand when the Grand Duchy's eve of the national day celebrations will be in full swing.

While August is traditionally very quiet across the Grand Duchy, the Olympic Games will happen between 5 - 21 August at which a small number of Luxembourg athletes are expected to qualify to compete.

Other

The world will see other things happening too, including the US Presidential Election and TTIP negotiations. And Luxembourg will keep its fingers crossed to see if Brand New Testament will make the final short-list for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars ceremony in February; the film industry in Luxembourg has seen significant improvements in quality productions over recent years, especially in the animation sector.