Small Luxembourg. Big Europe


Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Credits: AFP

1 July through 31 December, the European Union is presided over by Luxembourg – a phenomenal example of international diplomatic acclaim without power and influence.

The idea that territorial size should not predetermine a country’s role in international relations was one of the main ideas in the evolution of the EU. In January 2003, then Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated the following: “From the point of view of a small country, the ideal would be for foreign and security policy to be a common EU matter. This would bind the large countries to a common line. And the smaller countries could gain greater influence on the international scene.” [1]

Several years later, these wishes found embodiment. In accordance with the Treaty of Lisbon of 2007, the European External Action Service was established, which took over the planning and implementation of a common European foreign policy. In addition, the European Union continues to genuflect in the direction of small states. “My experience shows that presidencies from small countries are very much involved in the success of reforms,” stated the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz in particular in January 2015 [2]. It would seem that the dreams of small states have come true.

However, the new political weight and constant encouragement have not changed their geographically orientated self-perception. Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, and several others never let slip any opportunities to remind the rest of their territorial size. In this sense, Luxembourg is no exception. The common theme of all analytical articles about its foreign policy is speculation on how much the influence of the Grand Duchy corresponds to the size of its territory.

True, its main distinguishment from the other countries is in the answer to that question. “Global player” was the epithet that the June issue of the magazine Forum gave Luxembourg on the eve of the assumption of its presidency [3]. “It is widely recognized that Luxembourg’s influence, especially in European affairs, exceeds its size,” expert Mario Hirsch wrote in a May article for Carnegie Europe [4].

The only weak point of these characteristics is the lack of concrete examples. Influence is the ability to force others to change their position. For all the world fame of Luxembourg’s financial system, it has never been an instrument of foreign policy influence. It is also difficult to count as specific examples those individual episodes recalled by observers in Luxembourg with such pleasure: support for the operations of the USA in Afghanistan in 2001 and the refusal to support the USA in Iraq in 2003. Who noticed it then? These and other instances speak only of the fact that Luxembourg tried to act independently and not that its position influenced anyone else’s.

Mario Hirsch says that Luxembourg wields influence without having power. However, the real paradox here is that Luxembourg has neither influence nor power. It has no weight or leverage with which to influence something. But it is well-known, and being well-known is acclaim. It is namely the country’s international acclaim that allowed Luxembourg statesman Gaston Thorn in the 1980s and Jean-Claude Juncker in our time to hold high posts in Europe. It is very similar to competitive sports when individual players from smaller clubs join grand-teams, where they bring fame to all sides. In this context, the words of Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn are now becoming quite clear: “There is no Luxembourg foreign policy, but European.”





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Source: Official website of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg