Ambassadors Archive 1

Luxembourg: Ambassador Arlette Conzemius

A Country at the Heart of Europe

By Hugh S. Galford

Greeting us in her temporary offices in the Watergate, Ambassador Conzemius is eager to stress her country's standing in the world, a standing that is easily overlooked. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, bordered by France, Belgium and Germany, is, as the Ambassador notes, 'at the heart of the Western European area.' Yet even given its central location-geographically and institutionally-Luxembourg is often a forgotten country.

Luxembourg, Ambassador Conzemius says, 'was for much of our history an invasion country.' Inhabited from before the Roman period, Luxembourg has been conquered by its neighbors time and again. The Romans, French and Germans each brought its territory into their domain. Luxembourgers, the Ambassador says, 'took a lot from other people, but made it our own identity. The only way for us to survive was to take and make it our own.'

From the Moselle vineyards bequeathed by the Romans, to the linguistic and cultural influences of France and Germany, Luxembourg has absorbed external tastes and practices. But by making them their own, Luxembourgers now find themselves at the heart of the new Europe. Today, the Ambassador says, 'Luxembourg is part of the system. We were founding members of the UN, NATO and the EU. We try to work with our partners to try to find solutions.'

Following World War II, European nations founded the EU. 'A continent wracked by war,' she says, 'is now a peaceful place. The greatest contribution of the EU has been peace. We learned to work together in a multilateral framework. Now we need to extend that lesson, through a dialogue between nations and cultures, and to avoid a 'clash of civilizations.''

Peace in Europe has allowed Luxembourg to become a prosperous country. Originally based on steel production, Luxembourg has worked to diversify its economy. 'More and more,' the Ambassador says, 'Luxembourg is developing its service sector, the media and internet services.' The country has only been very recently hit by the worldwide economic recession. 'We are facing the world's issues,' Ambassador Conzemius says. 'It's the difference between small and large angle view. Nonetheless, Luxembourg is rather better off-it is stable, welcoming to foreign workers, without major problems.'

Ambassador Conzemius emphasizes Luxembourg's support of Europe's open borders and acceptance of foreigners. 'This is our policy,' she says, noting both humanitarian reasons and the country's need for workers. In 2000, Luxembourg had a growth rate of 8 percent, followed by 5 percent growth in 2001. 'Now we have a slowdown, but the economy still needs more people to work.'

The country, she notes, 'developed over the years with the help of foreigners. We don't want to close our borders. We're a small country, and need integration.' For most of the post-War period, Luxembourg accepted immigrants from other European countries-Italians and Portuguese topping the list. Today, most of the refugees entering Luxembourg are from the Balkans.

The Ambassador informs us that approximately 38 percent of Luxembourg's population are foreigners. In the capital, this figure tops 50 percent with the financial community and European institutions located there. European Union workers number between 6800 and 8600 in Luxembourg City, giving it a 'very cosmopolitan atmosphere.'

This atmosphere is one of the main attractions for visitors, whether from elsewhere in Europe or America. 'Luxembourg is a special place, with it's own identity,' she says, 'so many are surprised to see the diversity we have.' The City of Luxembourg, founded in 963, was originally a fortress, the walls of which still stand. Medieval castles dot the countryside, and there is a great emphasis on nature and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and nature trails. Visiting Luxembourg is a rewarding endeavor: one can hike the trails of the south's rolling hills, staying in hotels along the way-where the hotels transfer your luggage from one stop to the next. For the gastronome, Luxembourg has the highest concentration per capita of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Moselle wines--remember the Romans?--are delightful, and almost impossible to find outside Luxembourg. 'They are produced in very small quantities, and drunk in very large quantities,' the Ambassador explains, smiling.

Yet this gem is largely unknown to Americans, a situation the Ambassador hopes to ameliorate during her time in Washington. 'I want to promote relations between the US and Luxembourg on all levels: cultural, economic and travelers--in both directions,' she says. She notes that mainstream America does not know much about her country. 'There are exceptions--veterans and their families, for example, and some students--Miami University has a branch in Luxembourg.' There are also Luxembourgish communities in the US, immigrants from the 19th century when one-third of Luxembourg's population emigrated, mainly in the Midwest. She notes that Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, is of Luxembourgish descent.

There are also long-standing business connections between the two countries. At the end of World War II, American companies invested in Luxembourg, forming the center of industrial development there. Many of these investors, the Ambassador says, are still there. Even with US companies and banks in Luxembourg, Ambassador Conzemius says, 'we need to create more relationships, so we can move toward a broader knowledge in general between our countries.'

The political relationship between the US and Luxembourg is deep-rooted and warm, she notes. Luxembourg was liberated during both World Wars by Americans, and Luxembourgers still remember and honor the losses suffered by the American forces in their country, notably during the Battle of the Bulge. At the start of the Second World War, it was decided that Grand Duchess Charlotte should leave the country. By way of Portugal, she came to the US, purchasing what is now the country's Embassy on 2200 Massachusetts Avenue (currently under renovation) and forming Luxembourg's Government-in-Exile. Her son joined US and Canadian forces and fought to liberate his country.

Luxembourg's close ties to the US have been called upon since the September 11, 2001, attacks on Washington and New York. Luxembourg, the Ambassador says, was 'shocked' after September 11. 'We wanted to bring our contribution to the war on terrorism through NATO and the EU.' Specifically, Luxembourg's contribution has been on the financial front.

'Luxembourg is the seventh largest financial center in the world. We have been working with the US, UN and EU to track and freeze assets that could be used by such groups.' She admits that this has been a sensitive issue. 'We might freeze the assets of an important person. And there are legal issues-we must be sure of what we're doing.' Nevertheless Luxembourg decided that they needed to act decisively. 'Some accounts have been unfrozen,' the Ambassador says, 'due to lack of evidence. We are also working with the EU to develop new policing, intelligence, a convention for extradition to the US, and air security.'

In addition to international terrorism, Luxembourg's major issue is the expansion of the EU. Our interview occurred December 12, 2002, the day of the EU's Copenhagen Summit to decide the issue of candidate countries' accession to the Union. During our interview, Ambassador Conzemius voiced her confidence that the last difficulties would be overcome.

The great open question centered on Turkey, which was in the end told that accession talks could begin in December 2004. Ambassador Conzemius noted that since the 1960s, Turkey has had a partnership--a 'close association'--with the EU. Regarding Turkey's accession, she said that although it was a large, important country to have in Europe, there were 'strict criteria. We need to see how far they go with reforms and Human Rights improvements.' All candidate countries must harmonize their national legislation with EU law. 'There are 80,000 pages of EU laws that countries must accept.'

The importance of the European Union to Luxembourg cannot be overstated. Ambassador Conzemius says one only need to look at her country's history to see why this is so. Despite the fortress foundation of Luxembourg, the country has long had a nebulous identity. Several leaders headed the Germanic Holy Roman Empire in the 15th century. Over the centuries, the area of Luxembourg was part of the Habsburg Empires (both the Spanish and Austrian), and the French Empire. It was invaded by Germany twice this century.

Although Luxembourg became a sovereign state in 1839 in the Treaty of London, the 19th century saw the area under the sway of its larger neighbors. Even in the wake of World War I, 'Luxembourgish' identity was so ill-defined that a referendum was held whether to relinquish independence and become part of France or Belgium.

'We are part of the whole European history,' the Ambassador says. 'We could have disappeared. Now, we're the only surviving Grand Duchy in the world.' Luxembourgers, she says, are reserved ('we are Nordic in many ways'), no-nonsense, very pragmatic and open to the world. Because of the many influences on the country, it is difficult to define a 'typical' Luxembourger. 'Our people are aware of their heritage, and proud of our identity.'

The major factor of their identity is their language, 'the only thing that differentiates us from our neighbors.' While French is largely used in national government, and German at the local level, the common language is Lëtzebuergesch. Once only a spoken language, there is now an effort to promote it in the schools and the press. 'Luxembourg puts a lot of emphasis on languages,' the Ambassador says. 'The educational system is based on languages: Lëtzebuergesch, German, French and English.'

It was only during the 20th century that everything came together to foster the development of a true identity. 'We really don't have heroes,' the Ambassador says. For Luxembourg, World War II was the defining moment. It was then that the country decided that it did want to remain free and independent. The European Community--now the European Union--was seen as a crucial means to this end.

Ambassador Conzemius says that she 'grew up feeling European. We know we are from Luxembourg, but we can experience Europe more easily--we can get out of our small space.' Even so, the EU engenders debate in Luxembourg. 'Some say that if you join the EU, you lose your identity,' the Ambassador explains. 'But others say that by joining and participating, you are stronger--you now have a voice.' She falls firmly into the latter camp. 'We now have our voice. Previously, we were just invaded.'

Luxembourg's experience of the new Europe has, she says, been very positive. 'We must agree to give up part of our sovereignty--for example, converting to the Euro--in order to gain.'