(L-R) Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign & European Affairs; Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations; Credit: MAEE

On Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 March 2023, Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, participated in the Foreign Affairs Council and the General Affairs Council of the European Union (EU), respectively, in Brussels, Belgium.

Monday morning saw EU Foreign Ministers discuss Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. Minister Asselborn mainly addressed issues related to accountability, stressing the need to continue to support the investigations carried out by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC): "Accountability for all international crimes committed in Ukraine remains a priority for Luxembourg. […] I would also like to reaffirm our commitment to the work on accountability for the crime of aggression. The establishment of an international centre responsible for prosecuting the crime of aggression against Ukraine is a first concrete and visible step, pending the establishment of a special court." He added that the future special court for the crime of aggression must be able to try those most responsible, including Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. He also reiterated that the EU must continue its efforts to raise awareness among third countries, such as Moldova and Georgia, to counter Russian disinformation.

On the subject of Tunisia, Minister Asselborn expressed concern over the authoritarian drift and the risk of economic collapse in the country. Regarding Iran, he noted that Luxembourg welcomes the adoption of additional sanctions against eight individuals and one entity responsible for serious human rights violations.

In the afternoon, EU Foreign Ministers were joined by the Defence Ministers, including Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, François Bausch, to discuss EU military support to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Minister Asselborn took part in the General Affairs Council in Brussels. After an exchange of views on the Presidency's summary report on the Council's contributions for the European Semester 2023, the ministers responsible for European Affairs discussed the preparation of the European Council meeting on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 March 2023.

Regarding competitiveness, the single market and the economy, Minister Asselborn highlighted that the single market must be at the heart of the economic resilience of the EU, its open strategic autonomy and its social dimension. Together with a robust and open trade policy, it must be the cornerstone of the EU's response to the global challenges linked to the competitiveness of EU industry and in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), he said. Regretting that regulatory fragmentation continues to lead to prohibitive costs, which particularly harm European SMEs, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister highlighted the need for rules based on the fundamental principles of harmonisation and mutual recognition, which respect the cross-border dimension and the interdependence of European economies. "We need to complete the internal market to create the foundations for a true digital single market and strengthen our environmental action, among others on renewable energies and the circular economy," he emphasised.

As part of the preparations for the European Council, Luxembourg had submitted, together with other Member States, a series of joint proposals aimed at deepening the internal market. Faced with multiple crises and with a view to achieving the EU's ambitious long-term objectives, it was recalled in this context that a fully operational single market could serve as an effective shield to overcome internal and external shocks. In this respect, industrial policy and the deepening of the single market were seen as complementary and should go hand in hand.

Subsequently, the ministers had an exchange of views on relations between the EU and the United Kingdom (UK). Luxembourg reiterated its full support for the European Commission and is now counting on the proper implementation of the agreements concluded to enable both sides to move forward and build a positive relationship.

A working lunch with the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, Olha Stefanishyna, was an opportunity to exchange views on Ukraine's European prospects and reforms for its rapprochement to the EU.

A country-specific discussion on the specific rule of law situation as part of the annual Rule of Law Dialogue was also on the agenda. In this context, Luxembourg welcomed the fact that all Member States took part in country-specific discussions within the framework of a first round of exchanges. This exercise encourages Member States, according to Luxembourg, to continue their efforts to ensure that citizens can fully benefit from their rights. Luxembourg reiterated its commitment to the continuation of this dialogue and close exchanges with the European Commission to draw up regular reports on the situation of the rule of law in the EU.