1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Russian Isolation is Not a Solution

The Lux­em­bourg Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Jean Assel­born, made a dec­la­ra­tion in par­lia­ment (11 June 2015) in which he point­ed out that, if the inter­na­tion­al iso­la­tion of Rus­sia should last, that this would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Sanc­tions can­not be a solu­tion to the Ukrain­ian con­flict. Assel­born insist­ed on the fact that Rus­sia did vio­late inter­na­tion­al law by annex­ing the Crimean Penin­su­la, but under­lined that new rela­tions should be cul­ti­vat­ed with Rus­sia. The lat­ter should not be built on out­dat­ed foun­da­tions but should take into account the fact that the EU must resume the dia­logue with Rus­sia. “We must cre­ate a new basis of coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia to keep peace and a cer­tain lev­el of nor­mal­i­ty.” This quo­ta­tion from Min­is­ter Assel­born is con­firmed by the Min­is­ter for Econ­o­my and Trade, Eti­enne Schnei­der, who is very well aware of the fact that Luxembourg’s finan­cial sec­tor and its indus­tries, espe­cial­ly in the chem­i­cal and steel sec­tor, are affect­ed by the con­tin­u­ing eco­nom­ic sanc­tions. Luxembourg’s invest­ment fund sec­tor is close­ly linked up with the Russ­ian economy.

The for­eign pol­i­cy speak­er of the biggest oppo­si­tion par­ty, the Chris­t­ian Social People’s Par­ty (CSV), does not dare attack the EU-Rus­sia rela­tions pol­i­cy pre­sent­ed by Min­is­ter Assel­born, who is, among oth­ers, also the most pop­u­lar mem­ber of the Lux­em­bourg government.

More­over, Min­is­ter Asselborn’s posi­tion on the EU-Rus­sia rela­tions is also ful­ly sup­port­ed by the Green Par­ty, which is a mem­ber of the present Lux­em­bourg coali­tion gov­ern­ment. Iso­lat­ing Rus­sia is nei­ther a solu­tion for Min­is­ter Assel­born nor for the Greens. Lux­em­bourg and the EU should not con­ceive a Euro­pean pol­i­cy project with­out tak­ing into account Rus­sia and its inter­ests. Just like the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, the Greens do not like the fact that Rus­sia has vio­lat­ed inter­na­tion­al law by occu­py­ing the Crimean Penin­su­la, but that it should not be for­got­ten that Lux­em­bourg is also work­ing and nego­ti­at­ing with oth­er coun­tries which do not respect inter­na­tion­al law either.

The con­ser­v­a­tive, pop­ulist oppo­si­tion Alter­na­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic Reform Par­ty (ADR) does not want to iso­late Rus­sia either. It wants the EU to nego­ti­ate with Rus­sia on an equal foot­ing. The ADR is the only polit­i­cal par­ty crit­i­cal of the present EU pol­i­cy con­cern­ing Rus­sia. This par­ty regrets the Ger­man-French hege­mon­ic posi­tion. The ADR refus­es to accept the fact that the oth­er 26 EU mem­ber states feel oblig­ed to fol­low the Fran­co-Ger­man line. The ADR clear­ly sup­ports the idea of strength­en­ing the posi­tion of High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Fed­er­i­ca Mogheri­ni. In the eyes of the ADR, it is she who should real­ly be lead­ing the EU nego­ti­a­tions with Russia.

Disappointment with Eastern Partners Coupled and Desire for Better Relations with Russia

Unlike the Baltic States, Poland, or Swe­den, Lux­em­bourg, and even lead­ing Euro­pean mem­ber states — such as France and Ger­many — do not real­ly want to jeop­ar­dize their rela­tions with Rus­sia too much against the back­drop of the Ukrain­ian con­flict. In Lux­em­bourg as well as in the oth­er EU mem­ber states, the vio­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al law and the annex­a­tion of Ukrain­ian ter­ri­to­ry are being strong­ly con­demned. But there is grow­ing oppo­si­tion against the eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Rus­sia, which have proven to be inef­fi­cient in lead­ing to their pre­de­fined goals. The rela­tions with East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries depend on the eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty and the human rights per­for­mance of these coun­tries and on the omnipresent and para­mount inter­ests of Rus­sia. Lux­em­bourg and its EU part­ners are some­what dis­ap­point­ed about the poor per­for­mance of the demo­c­ra­t­ic reform process in some of the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. Lux­em­bourg politi­cians of all par­ties con­demn the author­i­tar­i­an behav­iour of the lead­ers of some of these countries.

Emphasis on Individual Approaches to Individual States

The inter­ests of EU mem­ber states on the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga, 2015, were far from being con­sen­su­al. Every mem­ber state should have the right to deter­mine its own posi­tion in this mat­ter, accord­ing to Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Jean Assel­born, who was nev­er­the­less able to deter­mine one point of agree­ment accept­ed by all EU mem­ber states: that the East­ern Part­ner­ship is not direct­ed against any­body else. This is a polite way of describ­ing the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tions with Rus­sia when bear­ing in mind the Ukraine con­flict and the East­ern Part­ner­ship of the EU. Some east­ern part­ners like Belarus, Azer­bai­jan, and Arme­nia are tempt­ed by clos­er eco­nom­ic rela­tions with Rus­sia and its Eurasian Eco­nom­ic Union. Assel­born tries to put the East­ern Part­ner­ship pol­i­cy of the EU on a low­er lev­el when he affirms that East­ern Part­ner­ship means good neigh­bour rela­tions in the first place and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly imple­ment a first step towards an EU enlarge­ment policy.

In 2009, the East­ern Part­ner­ship was found­ed to bring east­ern Euro­pean coun­tries such as Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, Geor­gia, Moldo­va, and Ukraine clos­er to the Euro­pean Union. In these coun­tries this agree­ment raised many hopes and desires which proved to be unreach­able, at least from a short- and medi­um-term per­spec­tive. Min­is­ter Assel­born knows that pub­lic opin­ion as well as the polit­i­cal par­ties in Lux­em­bourg sup­port his posi­tion, although the main Lux­em­bourg news­pa­per, the Lux­em­burg­er Wort, some­what regrets that Ukraine and Geor­gia did not receive a per­spec­tive of visa-free cir­cu­la­tion or even an EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive at Riga.

Strong Support for EU Army

In 1954 Lux­em­bourg was ready to join the Euro­pean Defence Com­mu­ni­ty, the first “Euro­pean army”. Ever since, suc­ces­sive Lux­em­bourg gov­ern­ments have strong­ly sup­port­ed the idea of Euro­pean mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion and a com­mon for­eign and defence pol­i­cy. Since the end of the Cold War the tiny Lux­em­bourg army (1000 men strong) has been involved in many peace-keep­ing mis­sions (e.g. in Croa­t­ia, Koso­vo, Bosnia, Afghanistan …) either under UN or NATO leadership.

Jean-Claude Junck­er, the Lux­em­bourg-born Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, put for­ward the idea of a Euro­pean Army in a Ger­man news­pa­per in March 2015. This propo­si­tion received mixed reac­tions in Europe. Accord­ing to the results of the last Euro­barom­e­ter, 49 % of the Lux­em­bourg­ers approve of this idea (46 % in EU28) and 48 % dis­ap­prove of it (47 % in EU28). As a com­mon defence pol­i­cy had already been estab­lished in the Lis­bon treaty, the Lux­em­bourg gov­ern­ment react­ed pos­i­tive­ly towards the Junck­er propo­si­tion, and so did the Ger­man gov­ern­ment. But the Lux­em­bourg Min­is­ter for Defence, Eti­enne Schnei­der, sees the cre­ation of a Euro­pean army only as a very long-term project. The ben­e­fits of syn­er­gism and coop­er­a­tion in the mil­i­tary domain are warm­ly wel­comed, espe­cial­ly to improve mil­i­tary effi­cien­cy and to reduce defence costs. A Euro­pean army should be com­ple­men­tary to NATO infra­struc­ture, and unnec­es­sary, redun­dant struc­tures should and could be avoid­ed. How­ev­er, Min­is­ter Assel­born is con­vinced that at this point most EU mem­ber states are not ready to accept the cre­ation of a Euro­pean army.

The Lux­em­bour­gish Green Par­ty, the Left, and the Com­mu­nist Par­ty as well as the sec­ond largest nation­al news­pa­per, the Tage­blatt, strong­ly opposed any idea of a cre­ation of a Euro­pean army, where­as the oth­er par­ties have a more ‘wait-and-see’ attitude.

2. EU Enlargement

Opposition to Further Enlargement in the East

Lux­em­bourg Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Jean Assel­born, could not promise his Ukrain­ian coun­ter­part Luxembourg’s sup­port for a Ukrain­ian EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive. He would have been in total con­tra­dic­tion with Lux­em­bourg pub­lic opin­ion that is opposed to an enlarge­ment of the EU in East­ern Europe, espe­cial­ly in Ukraine. But Ukraine could nev­er­the­less be sure of Luxembourg’s full sup­port when imple­ment­ing real reforms in admin­is­tra­tion, econ­o­my, and soci­ety. Fight­ing against cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment in the admin­is­tra­tions is wide­ly sup­port­ed. Lux­em­bourg cit­i­zens have had a lot of sym­pa­thy for Ukraine ever since the Cher­nobyl nuclear dis­as­ter. Human­i­tar­i­an aid pro­grams for Ukrain­ian chil­dren in need have a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion in Lux­em­bourg and are still going strong. In 2015, Ukrain­ian civ­il ser­vants from the cri­sis response team were trained in Lux­em­bourg to help clean up the sys­tem from within.

The Ukrain­ian far-right and fas­cist move­ments, how­ev­er, which are active in the fight against pro-Russ­ian sep­a­ratists, are seen as an obsta­cle to clos­er rela­tion­ship with Ukraine, espe­cial­ly among left-wing par­ty sympathisers.

There is a wide­spread mood in Lux­em­bourg to restrain from fur­ther EU enlarge­ment to the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. Rea­sons are either admit­ted open­ly or giv­en only behind closed doors. The fears of over­stretch­ing the inte­gra­tion capac­i­ty of the EU and the unwill­ing­ness of get­ting med­dled up in nation­al­is­tic armed con­flicts are often put for­ward to jus­ti­fy the oppo­si­tion against EU enlarge­ment to the East­ern Part­ner­ship. The armed con­flict in East Ukraine and the dis­as­trous eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try at large in gen­er­al have seri­ous­ly strength­ened the posi­tion of these already dom­i­nant views.

Complicated Relations with Turkey, Mixed Outlooks in the Balkans

In the spring of 2015 the Lux­em­bourg Par­lia­ment vot­ed in favour of a res­o­lu­tion denounc­ing the 1915 Armen­ian geno­cide. As a con­se­quence, the Turk­ish ambas­sador was called home for report. But it is gen­er­al­ly admit­ted that the cool­ing down of Lux­em­bour­gish-Turk­ish rela­tions should not per­sist since it is harm­ful to both coun­tries inter­ests. In any case the Lux­em­bour­gish pres­i­den­cy should not be put under pres­sure. The mutu­al inter­ests of con­tin­u­ing the coop­er­a­tion and nego­ti­a­tions are too impor­tant to be halt­ed by a stand-off due to his­tor­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal reasons.

The eco­nom­ic rela­tions between Tukey and Lux­em­bourg are improv­ing con­stant­ly, e.g. in logis­tics, in air traf­fic and in infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy. A grow­ing num­ber of Turk­ish and Lux­em­bour­gish com­pa­nies have start­ed coop­er­at­ing and are prof­it­ing from a win-win situation.

Togeth­er with the Min­is­ter for Econ­o­my and Trade, Eti­enne Schnei­der, the Lux­em­bourg Cham­ber of Com­merce is inter­est­ed in con­tin­u­ous­ly devel­op­ing Luxembourgish–Turkish trad­ing rela­tions. On the oth­er hand, Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs Jean Assel­born con­fess­es that the enlarge­ment pol­i­cy con­cern­ing Turkey is one of the most dif­fi­cult ones. Assel­born is nev­er­the­less con­fi­dent that a reopen­ing of the EU nego­ti­a­tions with Turkey will be pos­si­ble under the Lux­em­bour­gish pres­i­den­cy. In this con­text, espe­cial­ly Chap­ter 17, deal­ing with the Eco­nom­ic and Mon­e­tary Union, the issue seems to be very prob­lem­at­ic. Final­iz­ing the nego­ti­a­tions on Chap­ters 23 and 24, in which human rights are being tack­led, is cur­rent­ly under veto by Cyprus.

Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans of all Lux­em­bour­gish polit­i­cal par­ties wel­come the results of the June 2015 Turk­ish elec­tions. Regard­ing the enor­mous prob­lems left over by the pre­vi­ous pres­i­den­cies, Min­is­ter Assel­born acknowl­edges that a restart of the nego­ti­a­tions with Turkey will be a great chal­lenge for the Lux­em­bour­gish pres­i­den­cy. These facts have also been rec­og­nized by the Green Par­ty, which sup­ports Min­is­ter Assel­born in this most dif­fi­cult job.

The pop­ulist Alter­na­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic Reform Par­ty (ADR), how­ev­er, refus­es to endorse the con­tin­u­a­tion of the enlarge­ment nego­ti­a­tions with Turkey. This par­ty, as well as the major­i­ty of vot­ers in some Euro­pean coun­tries, sim­ply oppose the fact that Turkey might one day become a full-fledged mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union. To under­line its oppo­si­tion against Turk­ish EU mem­ber­ship, the ADR again rais­es the Cyprus issue, which is far from being resolved so long as the Turk­ish government’s posi­tion remains unchanged, accord­ing to the ADR for­eign pol­i­cy speak­er, Fer­nand Kartheiser.

The analy­sis of the West­ern Balka­ns sit­u­a­tion reveals some pos­i­tive and some neg­a­tive aspects. Lux­em­bourg par­lia­men­tary and pub­lic opin­ion as well as the nation­al press large­ly sup­port the Min­is­ter Asselborn’s approach. A large part of the Lux­em­bourg pub­lic is not ready to accept any fur­ther enlarge­ment of the EU whatsoever.

Accord­ing to For­eign Affairs min­is­ter Assel­born, Ger­many and Great Britain worked hard to find a solu­tion for Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina, but there is still a very long way to go. Lux­em­bourg con­tin­ues to sup­port these efforts, in par­tic­u­lar, as a large Mus­lim Bosn­ian com­mu­ni­ty has been liv­ing in Lux­em­bourg since the end of the Bosn­ian War. Assel­born also sees some hope for Koso­vo and Ser­bia, although the Green Par­ty finds that Ser­bia is not respect­ing inter­na­tion­al law. Assel­born affirms that Mace­do­nia is in the worst posi­tion in the West­ern Balka­ns right now. Euro­pean nego­tia­tors have made some seri­ous mis­takes in assess­ing the Mace­don­ian sit­u­a­tion, as Assel­born puts it. Mace­do­nia received EU can­di­date sta­tus very ear­ly, but noth­ing real­ly hap­pened after that. This means that the EU insti­tu­tions have almost no influ­ence at all to calm down the present con­flict sit­u­a­tion with ris­ing ten­sions between com­mu­ni­ties and a gov­ern­ment unwill­ing and unable to cope.

Assel­born reg­is­ters pos­i­tive signs in Alba­nia. How­ev­er, in his eyes, Mon­tene­gro seems to be in the best posi­tion. Thus, Mon­tene­gro may be the first coun­try in the West­ern Balka­ns to ter­mi­nate the acces­sion nego­ti­a­tion procedure.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.