On Tuesday evening, the American Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg (AMCHAM) held a meeting with politicians standing in this year's European Elections, at ING Luxembourg.
The event took the format of a "town hall meeting" starting with short presentations from each of the MEP candidates present and moving on to an intense Q&A session with the audience. Each candidate then had one minute to conclude the discussion.
The English-language event brought together some 100 people, many of whom are foreign residents in Luxembourg, who wanted to learn more about the various political parties' positions in the lead up to the elections and participate in a relatively informal but engaging debate with their potential political representatives.
Eight of the ten Luxembourg parties with candidates running in the European Elections were present on this occasion. These were: Déi Lénk, represented by Carole Thomas; ADR, represented by Fernand Kartheiser; DP, represented by Monica Semedo; CSV, represented by Christophe Hansen; Piraten Partei, represented by Marie-Paule Dondelinger; déi Gréng, represented by Meris Sehovic; VOLT, represented by Julia Elisabetta Pitterman; LSAP, represented by Nicolas Schmit.
Déi Lénk's Carole Thomas, who is very active in trade unions in Luxembourg (OGBL and local union in Dudelange), was the first to address the audience. Born one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ms Thomas began by highlighting the many advantages offered by an EU without borders. However, she also confirmed her conviction that EU politics have failed the majority of citizens in recent decades and expressed the need for "an EU for the many and not the few".
For his part, ADR candidate Fernand Kartheiser, who has been an MEP since 2009, argued that his party was the only one providing voters with a "European" approach to the future, i.e. an EU that focuses on nations, one in which those nations "work together but do not lose their identity". Mr Kartheiser also attempted to dispel the "myth" of what is today referred to as "populism" and "nationalism".
Former journalist and television host Monica Semedo, an MEP candidate for the DP, started by explaining her motivations for standing in these elections: Luxembourg and the opportunities it offered both her parents when they moved there from Cape Verde and herself. Ms Semedo stated that she wanted the same opportunities for all adults and children across Europe and that this could only be achieved by remaining united and showing people that the EU cares. As well as advocating a European identity, she argued that "if you live Europe, you can only love it".
CSV candidate Christophe Hansen, who replaced Viviane Reding as an MEP in 2018, firstly wanted to "debunk the myth of negative perceptions of the EU", arguing that, especially after Brexit, the image of the EU has improved across the member states. Whilst he conceded that the EU "is not, never was and probably never will be perfect", Mr Hansen highlighted the significant achievements to its name.
Piraten Partei representative Marie-Paule Dondelinger, a retired mother of three who has worked in both the public and private sectors, began by emphasising the achievements of her party in the 2018 national elections (two elected MPs). She called the Pirates the "first and only data party" in Luxembourg. Ms Dondelinger concluded by referring to the EU's "democratic deficit" and calling for more direct citizens' involvement in European decision-making.
For his part, Meris Sehovic, déi Gréng candidate and Young Green's spokesperson, began with the statement: "I want to save the planet with you". Highlighting the recent student movements for climate action, he mainly focused on the significant climate crisis currently facing humanity. In this context, Mr Sehovic emphasised the importance of the next five years in the EU, not least in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2050. He concluded with his conviction that ecology and the economy "are not mutually exclusive".
VOLT candidate Julia Elisabetta Pitterman was next to take the stage. The only non-Luxembourgish, female candidate on the list, Ms Pitterman began her speech with four words: "diversity, community, opportunity, destiny". She explained that these were some of the responses received when her party asked citizens to summarise what Europe means to them in just one word. Her own word was "hope", namely the hope that new generations change politics. Whilst Ms Pitterman discussed a disenchantment among the public, she emphasised that "politics remains undetached from their future" and that global problems require pan-European action.
Finally, LSAP candidate Nicolas Schmit, an MEP and member of the Luxembourg Government since 2004, emphasised the privileges of European voters in "voting for the only transnational union in the world". Despire a loss of trust among citizens in recent policies, Mr Schmit called for a strong identity in order to face current challenges together. He argued that only a united Europe that takes strong decisions and "brings trust back to the citizens" could survive in a world of "big entities", such as globalisation.
It was then the audience's turn to ask the candidates questions. In response to one question on the non-federalist nature of EU law-making, Fernand Kartheiser, Nicolas Schmit and Christophe Hansen agreed that the involvement of the member states in this process only added to its legitimacy. The latter added, however, that the European Parliament should have more legislative power. For their part, Julia Elisabetta Pitterman and Meris Sehovic argued that the current system lacks efficiency, accountability and, at times, transparency.
In response to a question regarding social mobility, Monica Semedo highlighted the importance of recognising qualifications at all levels of education across the member states, a belief that Julia Elisabetta Pitterman shared. For his part, Nicolas Schmit argued that recent developments have seen social mobility worsen rather than improve, stating that the EU "needs to put big investment in people" if it is to survive. Carole Thomas offered a less optimistic view, arguing that until social injustice and inequality are resolved, social mobility does not exist for many people. She concluded by highlighting the need for "public investments and strong social states" in order to ensure the opportunity for social mobility for all.
The event ended with a networking cocktail where audience members could continue their discussions with the politicians present.
Due to the success of this meeting and those of previous years, the AMCHAM hinted at the possibility of making this an annual event where the public can more regularly learn about the political decision-making process in Luxembourg and the EU.