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 The latter should not be built on outdated foundations but should take into account the fact that the EU must resume the dialogue with Russia.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.