Grand Duke of Luxembourg

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Madame President – dear Ms Brasseur – the Grand Duchess and I wish to express our deep gratitude for such a warm reception and your cordial words of welcome.

Madame President, Mr Secretary General, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to address the elected representatives of more than 800 million inhabitants of a continent that extends from the Atlantic to the Urals, and beyond. That honour is accompanied by great pride, because I am called to address familiar faces that occupy prestigious positions. For those who may be concerned about the place taken by my compatriots in the institutions of the Council of Europe, I hasten to add that the situation is soon to end because both Ms Brasseur and Judge Spielmann will be terminating their missions, having given the best of themselves to the benefit of the general interest. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. To those who might congratulate themselves on those changes, I respond, slightly maliciously, by saying that Luxembourg also has the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the present semester. However, the legitimate satisfaction that we may feel as Luxembourgers carries little weight compared with the load of responsibility that some of our compatriots have to bear.

The troubling times in which we live call for virtues such as service towards others, altruism and abnegation. It is not a time for celebrating individual glories. Although our government and its administrations have invested considerably in preparing a programme for a presidency centred on the European Union working, first, for the wellbeing of its citizens, the sudden refugee and migrant crisis has caused upheaval in political agendas. The ongoing flow of refugees fleeing war, massacre or insalubrious camps is deeply destabilising for all those who exercise responsibilities and for public opinion. Urgency bids us to act fast. The magnitude of the phenomenon obliges us to find common solutions together. What is at stake requires us to act beyond the instant situation in order to address the roots of the problem, and the challenges are considerable.

“This crisis is a great touchstone of our ability to show solidarity in Europe and remain true to our common heritage”

I will not describe a problem that is difficult to grasp because of its great complexity. Instead, I will limit myself to two comments. First, I note that, after having for centuries been a land of emigration, our continent is now called upon to attract immigration in the coming decades if it does not want to experience inevitable demographic, and then economic, decline. Many countries, whose representatives I acknowledge today, will in the coming years undergo a decline in population, which in some cases may be considerable – even reaching 25%. As with economic deflation, the downward trend in demography will entail disastrous consequences. Only the contribution of new populations might lessen that effect. Each state, pursuant to its history or geography, has its own preconceptions of immigration, with more or less voluntarist policies, but that does not alter the fundamental facts.

Secondly, the refugee crisis reveals Europe’s extraordinary capacity for solidarity while remaining faithful to our common heritage. We should co-operate more closely in times of difficulty and crisis to show that what binds us is far more important than what may divide us. We should establish a path towards the genuine community of destiny that we aspire to obtain for our continent. Responses to the migrant crisis concern us all, well beyond the limits of the European Union, which is why the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is the apposite venue to debate the matter. All member States of the Council of Europe, who are also faithful partners of the European Union, must contribute to the resolution of the immediate challenges, as well as contributing more sustainable solutions. The question is not only one of effectiveness but of principle. Indeed, the values of the Council of Europe are the fundamental guide of our action. It is important that, in the present context, Secretary General Jagland calls a series of councils among the 47 member States of the Council of Europe on the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers with a view to guaranteeing the respect of their human rights.

Let us not forget that the refugees used to live a peaceful and often comfortable life before civil war drove them to abandon everything and take to the road, buffeted by fate. When people face such distress, our moral and legal duty is to treat them with respect and dignity. The fear of the alien is the worst of enemies. Refugees are people just like us. The values that we defend may not ebb and flow according to the circumstances. It is for that precise reason that they have been elevated into principles.

Madame President and distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Europe is known throughout the world as the fatherland of humanism. Humanism is the 1 000-year-old fruit of our Greco-Latin civilisation and our Judeo-Christian roots. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are their contemporary and legal expression. That triptych is at the basis of the actions of the Council of Europe and provides its patent of nobility.

In 2002, when I addressed your eminent Assembly, I said: “What I find most attractive in the Council’s approach is its faith in the future and its obstinate belief in what is best in human beings. The oldest political organisation on our continent steers clear of the purely spectacular and carries on quietly working for the common good. It has been doing so with considerable patience and perseverance, and with all the qualities of a builder, for more than fifty years. Its assets are persuasion, dialogue, co-operation and assistance.” Those sentences have preserved all their pertinence.

Today, as yesterday, Luxembourg wishes to be an exemplary partner within the Council of Europe. Its values echo within our country due to our tormented history. Our inhabitants feel deep within them what the respect for democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights has contributed to the country. We, too, intend to strengthen those three pillars in our present and future action within these institutions.

We can contribute what is unique to us. First, there is our openness to others, which has been proven by our capacity to integrate tens of thousands of immigrants and political refugees over decades. That has led to our often being considered a laboratory for a new Europe. Next, there is our plurilingualism – an old advantage that is still valuable in a continent where the learning of the languages of neighbouring countries progresses slowly.

We accept our role seriously and with humility. Thus, the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have led to fundamental changes in our legislation, such as when we reshaped our administrative courts. Likewise, the monitoring reports of the Council of Europe receive all our attention.

To seek to be a deserving pupil is to have the capacity to listen and learn in order to make progress. It is not about having knowledge, but about being ready to change. Since we have to make fundamental principles tally with moving realities, that can guide us in the best attitude to adopt in constructing the Europe of the future. The value of your actions, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, emanates from exchange and discussion, which ultimately lead to new ideas. The priority is not to be right, but to reason together and engage in dialogue, so as to move forward.

In 2014, in this very place, Pope Francis expressed the wish that our continent, in rediscovering its historical heritage and the depth of its roots, should return to the youthful spirit that made it so fertile and great. That is the finest objective that there can be for our old Europe; it must surrender its weapons. I hope that your institution and the Assembly will contribute to the radiance of a Europe that is ever young and always ready to reinvent itself. That ambition we owe to ourselves and to the rest of the world.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you very much for your words of support for our actions, and for your personal undertaking to uphold the values of the Council of Europe. I recall, in particular, the strong passage in your speech on the challenge of migration that awaits us. We must work on it together because human dignity is at stake. We must take that message to our national parliaments in order to find solutions and concrete actions. We thank you infinitely for that.

His Royal Highness has agreed to respond to questions from the leaders of the political groups. The first speaker is Mr Agramunt on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain) (interpretation)

Your Royal Highness, I congratulate you on your anniversary as Grand Duke of Luxembourg. You referred to the crisis of refugees in Europe that we have seen over recent months. That phenomenon has gained the attention of European society and European leaders. As you are the head of State of a member State of the European Union, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, may I ask how your country is coping with the integration of all the people who are coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (interpretation)

Thank you for your congratulations. Fifteen years is quite some time!

If I may, I will put your question in the historical context in Luxembourg, so that you can understand the position of my country vis-à-vis the refugees that we are witnessing today. In the 19th century, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was a very poor country and there was a great flow of emigration. Almost a third of the population left the Grand Duchy to go to the United States of America or Brazil. In all, 60 000 people left. America was the continent that attracted the greatest number of migrants. The issue of migration has not arisen recently; we have had the phenomenon for hundreds of years, possibly more. We must recall that Europe used to be a continent of enormous emigration. At the time, we considered ourselves fortunate to find a country of shelter and asylum such as the United States of America.

With industrialisation, we found minerals and iron in particular in the southern part of the country. As a result, the migratory flow – the demographic curve – fluctuated and we experienced the opposite trend: we had waves of immigration to our country.

First, Italians came to work in our mines. Our delegation today includes Mr Mars Di Bartolomeo, who is the Speaker of the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies, and he is living proof of that wave of immigration from Italy at the beginning of the previous century. Italians came to work in our steelworks and mines. A second wave of immigration was Portuguese. We now have about 100 000 citizens of Portuguese extraction in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which represents almost a fifth of our population. In the 1990s a further wave of immigration came from the Balkans, this time around as a consequence of war there. Several tens of thousands of refugees from the former Yugoslavia were welcomed to our country. Today 49% of the population resident in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg are foreign. In addition, 160 000 border workers cross the borders to work in the Grand Duchy every day.

In other words, we have experience of immigration and of integration. As far as I am concerned, social cohesion is one of the most essential issues to settle. How do you organise integration? You do it through schools, language or languages, employment and jobs, and acquisition of nationality in the host country. For some years now we have had a law that allows for dual citizenship, or dual nationality, once someone has been resident in the country for seven years. So as things stand we have a lot of experience of integration, which is why we can welcome the new wave of refugees into our country. I am very proud of my country, of our political authorities and of our people, because they have welcomed the refugees with open arms. The new wave of migrants have come from parts of the world with difficult economic situations and terrible conditions of war. We have welcomed them with open arms.

How do we organise their reception? Here I pay tribute to our minister for integration and family affairs – madame, you are present in the Chamber – because you have worked unstintingly to find solutions. Many municipalities and communes in our country have opened multi-purpose centres to allow refugees to find at least a temporary place of abode and to provide them with assistance and the welcoming warmth that our country wants to give them.

Finally, in our experience immigrants are often highly motivated people. They want to do well and they work extremely hard. In fact, some children have arrived in our country and they work really well at school – they work hard and acquire new languages quickly. In addition, it is a real cultural asset for Luxembourg to have these people with us. Luxembourg would not be the developed economy that it is today if we did not have this contribution and effort by all the immigrants who have come to our country. Thanks to the influx, our population, which now comes from the whole rest of the world, is one of the youngest populations in Europe. We are very young and among the most dynamic. I want to make it clear that we should not be afraid of those who come from outside our borders; they are an asset of value for all of us.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) (interpretation)

Good afternoon, Your Highness. I thank you for the opportunity and I ask you to explain to us republicans why we have a monarchy in our democratic era?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg

Thank you for that question. I point out that you come from Switzerland, which is one of the oldest republics in the world, so I understand the legitimacy of your question – or I almost understand it. You are, however, putting me in a slightly embarrassing position, because I am both judge and defendant. I will certainly not defend monarchy, because I am at the centre of the system, but I will make one or two comments on your question.

Some republican regimes are democratic, but others are not. Some monarchies are democratic, but others are not. In Europe we have about 10 monarchies, which is quite a big figure, but they are all constitutional or parliamentary monarchies. At least in Europe, we cannot separate the idea of monarch from the idea of democracy; on the contrary, they tend to go together and can be combined well. You can ask the Luxemburgers present in the Chamber, but I think they will say that the system works.

In addition, look at where democracy comes from. Who is the mother of democracy? England. What is England, the United Kingdom? It is a monarchy. I do not see that there is any problem there. Secondly, to come back to Luxembourg, my grandmother was supported in a plebiscite. In a referendum, there was 90% support for Luxembourg as a Grand Duchy, so she had a democratic basis for her position. One more example is in Spain. What did the King do when there was a military coup? He kept the democratic institutions – so monarchy can defend institutions in a democracy. That is my answer to your question.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you, sir, for your reply. You said that you were both judge and defendant. If one accepts a mandate in the Assembly, one has always to declare a conflict of interest, so you have complied with the recommendations for our members.

I now call Mr Xuclà, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Mr XUCLÀ (Spain)

Sir, I wish to welcome you on behalf of the Liberal group of the Parliamentary Assembly. Luxembourg’s affairs are now directed by a Liberal prime minister, so I welcome you to this home of the defence of human rights and democracy. As you said, the deep, tranquil force of Europe is creating this pan-European institution that goes beyond the 28 members of the European Union to reach 47 member States.

Your country is an example of plurilingualism. You have your own language, but the President, Mrs Brasseur, spoke in her opening address in her own language and you are fluent in French and German. Luxembourg is an example of how a country can be governed with different languages. The university of Luxembourg, for many years directed by a good friend of mine, Professor Tarrach, also constitutes an example of how that is possible. Will you tell us how we could extend plurilingualism in our other European States?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (interpretation)

This is a fascinating question, especially when we are building up the European Union and exchanges between us are becoming increasingly important. I shall begin by telling you a little story that is rather symptomatic. A few years ago, perhaps even 25 years ago, President Mitterrand came on a State visit to Luxembourg. At the gala dinner I was seated next to a minister in the Mitterrand government – I shall not mention the person’s name. We spoke about education and language. I explained to him the rather particular situation of Luxembourg and how we called upon children at a very young age to listen to different languages, which allowed them to learn languages far more easily. The French minister responded, “You know, French people are totally unable to learn a language other than French; it’s impossible for them”. I said, “That is not possible. Why should Luxembourgers be more intelligent than the French?” He did not much appreciate that reply.

The story shows that, in the mentalities of some of our countries, people perhaps do not have access to the possibility of imagining that they can be capable of learning a new language. In Luxembourg we are obliged, perforce because of our size, to learn at least the languages of our neighbours, German and French, alongside Luxembourgish, which is our national language. To this we add a fourth language, English, the international language. I shall give you a family example. My spouse here speaks six languages fluently, I speak only four, our children speak five to six languages, and this is perfectly normal. In Luxembourg we constantly move from one language to another during the day: we read and speak in German, then in French and then English. These are the mental gymnastics that we have learnt.

Luxembourg has always supported the initiatives of the Council of Europe in the field of languages. I also believe that linguistic diversity in Europe is very important; you, as a Spaniard and as a Catalan, know what that represents. It is part of culture. I believe that our brains are sufficiently supple and intelligent to allow us to learn at least one or two extra languages, and we will increasingly do so in future. We are going to see ministries of national education in Europe looking increasingly into this matter. We can also see that parents are interested in their children learning foreign languages. This is important for communication in Europe.

Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom)

Madame President, on behalf of the European Conservative Group I thank His Royal Highness for his speech and his very full answers to these questions. He has demonstrated the benefit of requiring seven days’ advance notice of questions. Our question is this: does His Royal Highness agree that keeping a strong sense of national identity within the individual countries that belong to the Council of Europe is fundamental to ensuring the future security and democracy of our continent, and how is this to be achieved?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg

Thank you very much. Yes, I have to prepare for seven days to answer these kinds of questions!

(The Grand Duke continued in French.)

In my view, democratic security in Europe is first and foremost a collective effort and a shared responsibility between the member States of the Council of Europe. National identity, however, is a positive notion when it comes to culture, language or tradition. There is nothing finer than cultural diversity in Europe and we are fortunate to have it; each country is so different. Take Great Britain. It is different from Luxembourg or Italy, but what a tremendous asset it is. We absolutely must seek to preserve this cultural diversity as there is no doubt that it constitutes the value of our continent, but we have common values too, and that is where we have to be firm. These values are the values of the Council of Europe – democracy, the rule of law and human rights, which constitute the three pillars of the Council – and these comprise the acquis, which in my view is undoubted. We have to work together in order that these values be shared by all the 47 countries of the Council of Europe.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Madame President, it is true that we sent our questions in writing in advance. That is not our normal procedure but, coming from the Netherlands, I am aware that being the head of State of a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy is not the easiest job on earth, so I appreciate very much that the Grand Duke is answering our questions. I hope that in the near future the Queen of Great Britain will come and address our Assembly under the same conditions.

My question is as follows: since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the strength of the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly has always been the membership of nearly all the European countries, from small countries such as Luxembourg and the Netherlands to the big ones: Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, however, relations here with the parliament of Russia have been put on hold, while in the United Kingdom in recent years there has been growing criticism of the functioning of the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, countries such as Azerbaijan refuse to implement the Court’s verdicts. Also, we have recently seen that in Ukraine part of the European Convention on Human Rights has been put on hold. How do you, as the head of a State that was a founding member of the Council of Europe, envisage the chances of overcoming this growing divide among the Council of Europe member States? How might we rebuild the Council’s strength in the near future?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (interpretation)

If I may, I shall answer your question by drawing an analogy. I cannot really enter into the detail of all the debates and the Council of Europe’s difficulties vis-à-vis some of the member States. I am sure that you will understand my predicament.

It seems to me that the Council of Europe should be seen as a big family. What happens in a family? In a family, sometimes its members behave in a way that is perhaps not entirely appropriate – they distance themselves and depart from the general rules that normally apply within a family, or argue with other members of the family. Within a family, you have the father and the mother, and the parents should always make sure that a dialogue is maintained with the person who might be acting differently under particular circumstances. Dialogue is essential if you want to preserve family unity.

Why is it, at the end of the day, that we set up these major international organisations, whether it is the United Nations, the European Union or the Council of Europe? The first reason was to maintain peace. Think of the United Nations, for instance. It is an enormous structure – absolutely gigantic – and yet it is essential because it means we have diplomacy behind the scenes. This behind-the-scenes diplomacy is often far more important than what happens within a debating chamber such as this one. Dialogue is essential, be it within a family or elsewhere. I would argue that we should always do our utmost to find a place where we can come together and exchange our points of view. In fact, I spoke to Madame Brasseur about this earlier. She has been extraordinary because she really has tried to reach out to countries that are having problems, to meet their leaders, and to come up with options for a compromise.

Be that as it may, the Council of Europe has a moral authority, and that is key – essential. It is backed up by its legal arm, the European Court of Human Rights. These two components make your Organisation a very strong institution. Very often, not necessarily always, little by little, step by step, you are able to bring back into the fold the countries that have departed somewhat from the common ground. How long did it take us to become democrats? These countries have to be afforded a little bit of time so as to make sure that they can really anchor this culture of democracy properly. It is very important for them, too, to be here in the Council of Europe in order to learn everything that democracy has given us.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Sir, thank you for having responded to the questions of Assembly members. Yes, Mr Chope, they were framed ahead of time, but we have the good fortune to have a representative of a monarchy who was kind enough to respond to them. I would like to reiterate Mr Kox’s invitation of the Queen of England to come here to respond to our questions. Sir, I thank you for your speech and for the manner in which you responded to the questions. To conclude, I would like to say something in Luxembourgish, which you all understand – villmols merci.