Laos-Luxembourg signing ceremony; Credit:

On Thursday 8 February 2024, day four of Luxembourg's Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Xaviel Bettel, visit to Laos in south-east Asia, the visit saw the minister and delegation in the capital city, Vientiane, for a more formal part of the visit.

Meetings with Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs

First up was a meeting with Laos' Minister of Foreign Affairs, after which Minister Bettel awarded two honorary distinctions to Laos' Former Minister of Health, Dr. Ponmek Dalahoy, who was appointed Commander in the Order of Merit, and also to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Saleumxay Kommasith, who was awarded the Grand Officer in the Order of Merit.

After lunch, Minister Bettel also met with the Prime Minister of Laos, Sonexay Siphandone, for a 30-minute discussion; at the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the minister and delegation met with the Lao PDR - Luxembourg Partnership Commission. Afterwards, when asked by, he said that while he does not divulge what is said in such bilateral meetings, his stance did not deviate from previous lines. He said he recognised that Laos has a difficult economic situation and inflation is high, with a 15% drop in buying power which he recognised as being "huge". He stressed the importance of continuing development aid.

Faculty of Law and Political Science at the National University of Laos

After transferring to the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the National University of Laos, the minister and delegation were shown how the University of Luxembourg collaborates with the National University of Laos. In an informal discussion, Professor Stefan Braum of the University of Luxembourg explained to Minister Bettel and the delegation how and where the rule of law is important (to be applied), e.g. in environmental matters. He also raised the issue of capacities. Professor Braum talked with and explained that he normally travels to Laos three to four times annually, each time for a week to ten days, in relation to the LuxDev collaboration with the University of Luxembourg where he is based.

Since 2010, the Luxembourg Development Cooperation Agency (LuxDev) has been committed to supporting the Lao government in strengthening how laws are followed and decisions are made, with the aim to promote access to justice for everyone. The Laos Luxembourg development cooperation works at the central and local level by strengthening the academic environment at key institutions; training justice and financial sector professionals in a wide array of fields including the Criminal Procedure Code, anti-corruption and money-laundering, and transnational crime; establishing and supporting 32 Legal Aid Offices on district and provincial levels; disseminating legal information, services and campaigns; enhancing the legal rights, etc., of prisoners; improving the production of reliable statistics; and training professionals of the financial sector on topics such as risk management and anti-money laundering.

As of 2023, the total number of faculty members is 98, of whom 39 are female. The total number of Bachelor students enrolled is 1,179, of which 697 are female, and the total number of Master students enrolled is 189, of whom 46 are female. 

Around 150 people, including both faculty staff and students, attended an academic seminar at the faculty. With an introduction by Professor Stefan Braum setting the context of Luxembourg Development Cooperation. Minister Bettel thanked the faculty for the invitation and referenced the relationship between Laos and Luxembourg. He made a point of mentioning that he is accompanied by two members of the Luxembourg parliament, one representing the government and one the opposition, therefore promoting transparency. He reviewed the itinerary of the last last few days in Laos where he has been delighted to see how Luxembourg's support on the ground. He mentioned that in some countries one is not allowed to be and express who we are, restricted by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.; he stressed that it is good to be different. He stressed that injustice is something worth fighting for. We may not have the same way of like, but it is important to have a justice system, referencing his eleven years as a lawyer before becoming a politician. The same rules for all is very important. "A strong legal system is the backbone of the country" he stated, emphasising that the law is the same for everyone.

Laos' Minister of Education and Sports, Associate Professor Dr Phout Simmalavong, then spoke and mentioned that the relationship between the two countries is very strong. He explained that it is very important to have a high quality of human resources to have a rule of state; he also referenced the good dialogue that Minister Bettel had earlier in the day with Laos' Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

At the end of the academic seminar, Laos Minister Simmalavong made a presentation to Minister Bettel.

This was followed by an exchange with a couple of students, Ekasith Vanmany and Patthana Sombout, during which they confirmed that they have benefitted from LuxDev support by way of the library and other buildings, as well as classroom supplies.

With the event open to questions from the floor (all in English), one addressed the issue of budgets. Minister Bettel replied by stating that it is a matter of (state) budgets; he also mentioned that some people from right-wing politics in different countries argue against spending money on development aid, when there are important issues at home. He referenced Luxembourg stopping/pausing development aid to countries in the Sahel area (Mali, Nigel and Burkino Faso) as the political systems in those countries are changing, and not for the better. On how Luxembourg languages works in different languages, Minister Bettel explained that the civil law is in French, the fiscal law is in German and the parliament operates in Luxembourgish. On a question on education in rural areas, especially in law, the question was id Laos is on the right track. Minister Bettel advised the Laos government to make cuts in social policies as education is the future of the country. He also acknowledged that in rural areas, not everyone can know everything. He added that people can use technology to access such information, to check one's rights, etc., rather than, for example, having judges in every village. On challenges Luxembourg may have, Minister Bettel mentioned that Luxembourg has a State Council which has introduced a number of laws, including changing the way judges are nominated, as well as laws on divorce and abortion, as examples. 

Signing Ceremonies

The last item of business on the packed four-day itinerary was a signing ceremony. Minister Bettel and Laos' Minister of Planning and Investment, Khamjane Vongphosy, signed two agreements:

- the first an amendment of the protocol of the Health Programme and respective budget increase for the supply of B-Medical refrigerators for the Lao Red Cross, and a contribution to the third La Social Indicator Survey (LSIS). This programme budget allocation is to be increased by €3,308,139 which includes (a) collaboration with the Laos Red Cross, (b) €200,000 to support the third phase of the Lao Social Indicator Survey (LSIS III), and (c) re-allocation of €1,106153 un-utilised funds from the former health programme LAO/027.

- the second an amendment to the Rule of Law Programme and respective Budget Increase to include and extend the Inter-university Cooperation between the National University of Laos and the University of Luxembourg. This inter-university cooperation budget allocation is to be increased from €1.396 million to €2.457 million through a budge increae of €1,061,379. In addition, the ROLAG programme budget us to be increased by €2,457,379 to icnlude the entire budget of the inter-university budget until 2027, to a total of €11,457,379 (€9 million + teh above €2.457 million). The way forward also includes the merging of the two programmes at an operational level and onboarding of the joint ROLAG and team.