When the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, was a student he spent several months at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. Here, he enjoyed jumping into his car at the weekend and exploring his host-country and its neighboring states – only to discover that borders were completely closed down at events such as football games because border guards were busy following the live broadcast. Not to mention the sanitary shower his car had to pass in order to be allowed to drive through the Greek neighborhood.
Xavier Bettel is a fan of Europe.
It’s not only anecdotes from his times as exchange student which prove his passion for the Union and its open borders; it’s also his agenda for the Luxembourgian Council presidency that’s decisively pro-European – and liberal. His country took over the rotating Presidency in July and with Brussels back in full swing after the summer break it was high time for a midterm review. The Liberal Breakfast co-hosted by FNF Europe and the ALDE Party was a timely occasion for this.
Solving the migration crisis is an obligation for Europe
From migration, the conflict in Ukraine and Brexit to climate change and the financial transaction tax, Bettel seemed to leave out no topic affecting the European Union today. On the refugee crisis, the Prime Minister emphasized Europe’s obligation to take care of people fleeing their countries to find a safe place to live. “Imagine someone would ask you to pack a bag and put your whole life in it,” he said to address the refugee’s plight of having to leave behind their homes.
He admitted that the EU had underestimated the number of people fleeing to Europe but made clear that this was no excuse to balk at tackling the issue. “I would be ashamed to sit at a table where we don’t find a solution to deal with this crisis,” the Prime Minister said and that it was irresponsible of politicians to play with citizen’s fears to make political capital. He warned that negative communication and an unsuccessful integration policy could create parallel societies – something to be countered by bringing citizens and refugees closer together, for example through a host family scheme.
International cooperation beyond foreign policy
On ending conflicts in the Middle and Near East as well as Ukraine Bettel made clear that an open doors policy is needed. “We need Russia on board to solve the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine,” he said. To tackle the conflict in Syria, the Prime Minister made clear that an UN mandate would be the best option to go, while the minimum would be to enter into a strong cooperation with the Muslim countries in the region. He highlighted that it was important to prevent a scenario in which the “Christian North” would be engaging against the “Muslim South.”
Yet, the need for international cooperation and global rules goes beyond the area of foreign policy. Speaking about the climate change conference in Paris in November, Bettel said it was vital to prevent further “environmental dumping,” i.e. companies moving their activities to Asia or the US where environmental regulations are less strict. “We need to make progress,” the Prime Minister said, asking “which planet do we want to leave to the next generation?”
A better Europe through fairness and open communication
On EU internal affairs and Brexit, Bettel said he fully agreed with making the Union more efficient, but any solution to resolving the question of a Brexit had to be a win-win situation for both sides. “I cannot imagine the EU without the UK,” he stressed. At the same time, he regretted that the benefits of Europe seem to be taken for granted – not only in the UK but in many countries: things like going to the doctors abroad, studying in a different countries and having cross-border friendships are no longer perceived as success stories but as pure normalcy.
The Prime Minister showed himself worried in the face of populist movement’s continuous growth in Europe. “It’s important to give answers to people,” he underlined once more, stressing the need for open communications in Europe and moving closer together: “It’s an important moment for Europe. We need to show that we are about more than money and economic advantages; we need to show solidarity in human dimensions, too.”