Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, delivered the annual declaration on foreign and European Policy in the Chamber of Deputies (Luxembourg’s parliament) on Tuesday 8 November 2022.
He began by condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which also constitutes an attack on the values defended by the European Union (EU), more particularly peace, democracy, the rule of law and multilateralism. He also reaffirmed Luxembourg's full support for Ukraine and stressed that it was the Grand Duchy's responsibility, together with its European and international partners, to defend the universal values of freedom and independence, equality and humanity.
Impact of the war on Luxembourg and its foreign policy
Minister Asselborn recalled that Russia's military aggression against Ukraine has also led to a paradigm shift in Luxembourg's foreign policy. For the first time in its history, the Grand Duchy has provided weapons and defence equipment to a country at war – for €72 million, or 16% of Luxembourg’s defence budget. In addition, as a member of the EU, Luxembourg participates in the joint effort under the European Peace Mechanism (EPM), through which €500 million have been made available to support the Ukraine on six occasions.
Welcoming people fleeing the war in Ukraine
Since the end of February 2022, Luxembourg has granted temporary protection status to 4,500 people having fled the war in Ukraine, granting a right of residence until March 2024. In his capacity as Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Jean Asselborn thanked all the national actors involved in the reception of these war refugees. He also recalled the importance of strengthening reception capacities in Luxembourg to be prepared in the event of new influxes of refugees.
EU sanctions against Russia
Minister Asselborn praised the solidarity and cohesion shown by the EU in the context of sanctions packages (eight in total) targeting Russia. He highlighted the importance for the EU and its member states to remain united on this issue in order to be able to maintain pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, while ensuring that the measures can be supported in the long term, if necessary, by the EU. Regarding the implementation of sanctions at national level, Minister Asselborn mentioned the work of the interministerial committee for monitoring restrictive measures in financial matters.
European energy security
Minister Asselborn indicated that the war has acted as an accelerator of the changes already started for the benefit of the energy autonomy of the EU vis-à-vis Russia. The EU embargo on Russian oil and petroleum products, which will come into force in December 2022 and February 2023, is part of European efforts to reduce the EU's dependence on imports of energies from Russia.
In the context of the energy crisis, Minister Asselborn addressed the need for European countries to reduce their energy consumption. He described the rapid adoption of the Fit for 55 package, with which the EU wants to implement its climate objectives, as one of the best responses to the climate crisis and the current energy crisis. Similarly, Luxembourg is committed at European level to an accelerated deployment of renewable energies, in line with the proposals made by the European Commission within the framework of the REPowerEU plan.
Minister Asselborn recalled that Luxembourg and the EU are evolving in a multipolar world marked by new regional rivalries and changing power relations which endanger the international trading system. At European level, he mentioned the key role played by the internal market, adding that the single market must be strengthened, particularly in cross-border living areas. He also argued that Europe requires an open and sustainable economic model, which relies primarily on a strong network of international trade partnerships, especially with countries that join the rules-based international trading system.
Rule of law
Considering that respect for democratic principles and values guarantees security and peaceful coexistence, Minister Asselborn emphasised the importance of the implementation of the conditionality regime within the framework of the European budget, a mechanism making it possible to condition the payment of European aid on respect for the rule of law.
Luxembourg's Foreign Minister noted that the war in Ukraine has brought new impetus to the EU enlargement process. On 23 June 2022, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova received the status of EU candidate countries.
For Minister Asselborn, the accession process is the same for all candidates and only reforms related to respect for the rule of law, the independence of justice, good governance and the fight against corruption determine how quickly countries move along the path to membership. In this context, he noted that Luxembourg supports the prospect of enlargement of the Western Balkans and continues its commitment to anchoring the values and principles of the EU in the region. At the same time, in the context of Russia's war against Ukraine, Minister Asselborn recalled that full alignment with the EU's common foreign and security policy, including sanctions against Russia, is an essential component of the EU accession project for candidate countries. He also addressed the absorption capacity of the EU and the need to reform the functioning of the institutions in an enlarged EU, emphasising that the EU will have to ensure the right balance between the enlargement process and the process of integration.
Conference on the future of Europe
Returning to the proposals made within the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, Minister Asselborn noted that Luxembourg insists on taking seriously the proposals of European citizens, many of which can already be implemented under the existing treaties. Among the proposals of European citizens was the facilitation of decision-making within the European institutions and in particular, in certain cases, the modification of voting methods within the Council. In this sense, Minister Asselborn indicated that Luxembourg supports qualified majority voting in the common foreign and security policy.
Luxembourg: European capital
Minister Asselborn then spoke about Luxembourg's active headquarters policy. Like the first meeting of the High Authority of the former European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Court of Justice celebrated its 70th anniversary in Luxembourg in 2022. Recalling the importance of respect for the rule of law, the minister also mentioned the work of the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) and the recruitment in 2022 of more highly specialised staff. Finally, he noted that the Court of Appeal and the Unified Patent Court will contribute next year to further fleshing out the European legal pillar in Luxembourg.
He also mentioned that, in the financial field, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) will open a regional office in Luxembourg, thus consolidating the position of the Grand Duchy in the field of sustainable finance.
Similarly, Minister Asselborn recalled that for digital technology, the third main pillar of headquarters policy, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has decided to open its first "Delegation for cyberspace" in Luxembourg.
Impact of the war on the European security architecture
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister stated that the European security architecture, which is based on the three pillars of security, democracy and human rights, has been disrupted by Russia, which has withdrawn from the Council of the Europe and is currently blocking normal functioning at the OSCE. He expressed his conviction that the European security and defence policy must turn towards strengthening the complementary cooperation between the EU and NATO.
With regard to the fight against impunity, the OSCE plays a key role, according to Minister Asselborn, by invoking the Moscow mechanism which is activated in cases where member states do not respect their obligations in the field of democracy, rule of law and human rights, to document the facts. Efforts are also being made by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague by opening an investigation against Russia concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Ukraine. Recalling that Luxembourg financially supports the ICC in its work, Minister Asselborn insisted that there could be no peace without justice.
He also referred to the first summit of the new "European Political Community", on 6 October 2022 in Prague, during which 44 European countries, with the exception of Russia, met to exchange on the opportunities for convergence and the development of concrete cooperation projects in many areas of common interest.
Minister Asselborn then spoke of the role played by the United States (US) in the current multilateral system. He welcomed the improvement in transatlantic relations since Joe Biden's administration took office, while expressing his hope that he could continue to count on a reliable transatlantic partnership after the midterm elections taking place in the US.
Faced with the crisis of multilateralism and the different interpretations that some states may have of the application of human rights, Minister Asselborn reiterated Luxembourg's firm commitment to universality, inalienability, interdependence and indivisibility of human rights. He referred to the United Nations (UN) resolution aimed at condemning the annexation by Russia of Ukrainian territories, which was adopted thanks to the vote of 143 Member States. Faced with the non-negligible number of abstentions, the Minister pleaded for a more pronounced commitment and dialogue with these Member States, some of which find themselves in a difficult geopolitical situation due to a certain dependence on Russia.
After recalling the importance of the Eastern Partnership and the importance for the EU to remain engaged in this region, Minister Asselborn focused on China, particularly with regard to its relations with Russia and the US. Referring to China's position in the face of the war in Ukraine, he recalled that China also has an interest in seeing Russia stop waging war.
The minister then underlined that there are, on the one hand, real disagreements with China, in particular with regard to human rights. On the other hand, China remains a key player and a partner in a number of areas, for example in the fight against climate change. Minister Asselborn affirmed that Luxembourg will continue to address all subjects within the framework of a critical and constructive dialogue. The defence and promotion of human rights, particularly in the Xinjiang region, are an integral part of this dialogue.
Regarding the commitment to human rights, Minister Asselborn discussed Luxembourg's work in the context of its mandate on the United Nations Human Rights Council. He mentioned the resolution, presented by Luxembourg, aiming to establish a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia. The adoption of this resolution was historic insofar as it is the first time that a resolution has been voted on the human rights situation in one of the permanent member countries of the United Nations Security Council, thus emphasising that human rights must be respected everywhere.
Recalling that respect for international law and multilateralism are of existential importance for small states, Minister Asselborn strongly regretted the violations of international law committed by Russia, which harm not only the multilateral system, but also Russia itself.
Minister Asselborn once again emphasised that the current global food crisis was triggered by Russia's war of aggression, not by sanctions taken in response to the war. He expressed deep concern that this food crisis is having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable countries, especially since these have already suffered greatly from the COVID-19 pandemic. He thus highlighted the importance for the EU to strengthen its communication with our partners in the different regional groups.
He also congratulated the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, on his efforts which made it possible, with the help of Turkey, to extend the agreement on cereals. This agreement made it possible to transport millions of tonnes of cereals to people in need.
The war currently reigning on the European continent should not, however, make us forget that there are many other conflicts in the world, warned Minister Asselborn. In Africa in particular, food insecurity and inflation have aggravated existing humanitarian crises, compounded by the worst drought in 40 years, especially in the Horn of Africa. With regard to West Africa, and in particular the Sahel, where Luxembourg has been particularly committed for many years, Minister Asselborn noted with concern the multiplication of military coups, such as in Burkina Faso and Mali.
Horn of Africa
Minister Asselborn welcomed the agreement on a ceasefire reached by the warring parties in South Africa on 2 November 2022. He expressed his hope that this positive step could translate into an improvement on the ground in the coming weeks. Indeed, millions of people currently depend on humanitarian aid in Ethiopia, in a context marked by famines, droughts and diseases.
Turning to recent developments in Iran, Minister Asselborn paid tribute to Mahsa Amini, Niloofer Hamedi, Elaleh Mohammadi and the thousands of other people imprisoned or killed by the Iranian police in the context of the current demonstrations. The minister expressed his full solidarity with Iranian women who demand freedom and equality. For its part, Luxembourg will continue to call on the Iranian authorities to put an end to this brutal repression and to support the various efforts undertaken at European and international level to protect human rights defenders. It is with this in mind that Minister Asselborn and his European counterparts recently adopted sanctions against eleven individuals and four entities involved in the repression and are preparing to adopt new sanctions in the coming days.
Israel and Palestine
Minister Asselborn deplored the growing repression which the Palestinian population have to face. He regretted the repeated bombardments of the Gaza Strip, whose population is in the largest open-air prison in the world. Reviewing the latest developments, including issues related to the peace process, ongoing colonisation and growing tensions, he described a vicious circle that makes the two-state solution de facto impossible. Without a just and lasting political solution, there will remain an eternal occupation which is the source of repeated conflicts, he stated.
Syria and Yemen
Minister Asselborn recalled the importance of not forgetting the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. The situation in Yemen is considered the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad has destroyed his own country, with the help of Russia, according to Minister Asselborn, in order to stay in power. The minister thus stressed the importance of holding accountable the perpetrators of war crimes – everywhere in the world.
Regarding Afghanistan, the Minister noted that, contrary to what the Taliban claimed when they took power in 2021, the situation of girls and women, who are deprived of their right to education, has not improved. Luxembourg is committed to improving the situation of women in Afghanistan, he said, adding that since 2021 and until the end of October, 210 Afghans have obtained international protection in Luxembourg.
Faced with the increase in recent months of migratory flows towards the EU, Minister Asselborn reaffirmed once again the urgent need for the EU to agree on an orderly, automatic and compulsory management of migration. Luxembourg will continue to be fully committed to advancing these issues, he said, adding that solidarity must be paramount, both with refugees fleeing their countries and with European countries of first entry.
Minister Asselborn then noted that the current global upheavals require, even more than in the past, that we regularly review our operating methods in order to have the necessary means to assume our responsibilities at the international level and at the same time to be able to defend our interests. Adapting our diplomatic network is one of them. With this in mind, the minister announced that the Permanent Representation of Luxembourg to NATO will be separated from the bilateral Embassy in Belgium, thus allowing two separate Ambassadors to focus more on the work at NATO one side, and on the many aspects of bilateral relations with Luxembourg's Belgian neighbour on the other. The minister also announced that the decision has been made to open a resident embassy in Seoul, South Korea.
Finally, Minister Asselborn noted that 24 February 2022 constituted a real paradigm shift for the international order and especially for Europe. Such developments have illustrated once again how precious and indispensable the peace project that is the EU is, according to the minister. One of the lessons to be learned from this is the need to invest even more in peace in the future: to protect our fellow citizens, our way of life, our values and ideals of tolerance and respect. In this sense, the current situation can be an accelerator for several projects already started, such as the energy transition, the strengthening of resilience, the reduction of dependence, the protection of infrastructures and the strengthening of defence, noted Minister Asselborn, adding that unity within the EU was essential for these changes to be a success. He also emphasised the importance of protecting the rule of law, both in Luxembourg and in the EU as a whole.