Luxembourg Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Jean Asselborn today outlined the main priorities and challenges of foreign policy in the Grand Duchy.
In his speech, Minister Asselborn addressed several topics related to Luxembourg foreign policy, namely the EU, trade, Brexit, Benelux and relations with the Greater Region, migration, security, human rights and women's rights.
The Luxembourg Foreign Minister began his speech by reiterating the importance of working together with the rest of Europe to reach national goals and defend national interests. In this regard, he emphasised the need for "a strong Europe and a rule-based world order" during these very challenging times. Jean Asselborn went on to recall the importance Luxembourg places on the respect of fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe and beyond.
He emphasised that the upcoming European elections (26 May 2019) are essential for shaping the future of the EU. He also confirmed Luxembourg's commitment to a stronger EU and more efficient institutions in light of rising nationalism and populism. In this context, Minister Asselborn claimed that the statement "Nationalism is war" (quoted from former French President François Mitterrand) rings truer than ever today. It is for this reason that he emphasised the mistake that would be leaving things as they are in the EU, especially now when it is faced with so many internal and external challenges. Minister Asselborn similarly cited the need for solidarity in face of these challenges, namely Brexit, nationalism and populism, as well as reflecting on the role of 2008 financial crisis in these developments. Finally, the Luxembourg minister highlighted the need for a more social Europe with fairer wealth distribution, especially in the era of "fake news". He also briefly discussed the need for a "modern and ambitious budget [...] to fulfil our common political ambition" in the EU, one priority of which is the environment.
Regarding trade, Minister Asselborn cited the need for a strong European trade policy for competitive products and job creation. He emphasised the necessity of the "maintenance of a rule-based multilateral trading system" and highlighted Luxembourg's proposals for improved transparency in the World Trade Organisation. Jean Asselborn also commented on the impossibility of a TTIP-like free trade agreement with the USA without American support for the Paris Climate Agreement. He then went on to praise the actions of young environmental activists, notably Greta Thunberg, in the fight against climate change, to which Luxembourg remains committed.
On the issue of Brexit and the likely extension of Article 50, Minister Asselborn expressed the need for No Deal preparations on the part of the EU. He especially emphasised the importance of protecting citizens' rights (some 2000 Luxembourgers currently reside in the UK, whilst some 6000 Brits reside in Luxembourg) in such a scenario. Whilst he confirmed that it is now up to the British court to proceed with the process, Jean Asselborn suggested that the main parties support a softer Brexit. For its part, Luxembourg has been preparing for months for a No-Deal scenario. The Luxembourg Foreign Minister commented: "For the case of a No Deal, the government has decided that the British, who on 29 March 2019 already live here, can continue here after the Brexit, even if they do not yet have their documents as third states." Such a procedure would have a transitional period of one year before the arrival of new documents.
Minister Asselborn similarly discussed Luxembourg relations with the Greater Region and within Benelux, assuring that "cooperation with the Benelux countries remains an important vector of our foreign policy action" in Europe and abroad. He also addressed new alliances and EU enlargement, more specifically talks with candidate countries Serbia and Montenegro. Jean Asselborn similarly expressed the hope that enough progress will soon be made to begin discussions with Albania and Northern Macedonia. Despite a standstill in negotiations between the EU and Turkey, the Foreign Minister reiterated the importance of the latter as a "strategic partner" for Luxembourg.
Regarding migration, Minister Asselborn lamented that EU member states remained divided on the matter. He emphasised that whilst Schengen borders were important, the EU has not broken its commitment to legal migration, based on quotas. He similarly denied comments that the refugee crisis was over, adding that the post-European elections institutions need to find a common policy to resolve the situation.
Moving further away from Europe, Jean Asselborn discussed current issues on the continent of Africa, as well as the situations in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, Iran, Jemen, Syria, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Venezuela and Nicaragua. He then elaborated on relations with the USA, noting President Donald Trump's policies in the fields of healthcare, climate protection, international security, peace in the Middle East, North Korea and world trade. However, Minister Asselborn reiterated the importance of the USA as a partner for Europe, not least in terms of historic common values. He similarly emphasised the central role played by NATO in Luxembourg's security.
Finally, Jean Asselborn addressed the issues of human rights, as well as feminist foreign policy in the Grand Duchy. The coalition government has proposed the latter as a means of achieving gender equality. Commenting on this concept, Minister Asselborn explained: "A feminist foreign policy means, first and foremost, that the rights of women, as with human rights, should be recognised and systematically used to ensure that the fundamental rights of women and girls are guaranteed. These fundamental rights include both political and economic rights, and also the right to sexual self-determination".