My friend Jean,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ech sinn ganz fro’h hei ze sinn. Merci fir d’Invitatioun.
Luxembourgish is not an easy language. Please forgive my dreadful pronunciation!
I find it really impressive: Difficult as we find your language, ladies and gentlemen, the people of Luxembourg are virtuosos in the languages of Europe.
I myself have turned on a talk-show on television and been amazed at the gifted German politician explaining Europe with such eloquence and passion only to look more closely and realise it was not a German politician but in fact my friend Jean - Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister!
Jean, you seem to be a more popular guest on German television now than your German counterpart! That’s not bad going!
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is not just between Jean and myself that a firm friendship has been established. Our two countries enjoy close ties at countless different levels.
Every day, more than 42,000 people from Germany commute to the Grand Duchy, including incidentally about 4000 Luxembourg nationals who live on the German side of the River Mosel. The municipality of Paschel near Trier even has a mayor from Luxembourg. For me, this is a wonderful symbol of the friendship between our countries. And for Europe growing closer together!
Our solid economic relations play an outstanding role here.
Luxembourg may be the EU’s second smallest country, but it is also its strongest economically - based on per capita GDP! For Germany, the Grand Duchy is a key partner. As far as foreign trade is concerned, Luxembourg is, for example, for us almost as important as the huge country Canada.
Except it’s not as cold!
Looking the other way, Germany is Luxembourg’s most important trading partner by far. This is especially pronounced in heavy industries and highly specialised sectors: the metal and car industries, HGVs, shipping and aeronautical industries.
But that is only one side of the story. Trade between our countries is certainly not just about large businesses. Particularly in the border region, many SMEs and freelancers are working together closely.
The Luxembourg Chamber of Trade plays a decisive role at all these levels of cooperation.
That is why I would like to congratulate you most warmly, President Wurth, and your staff on the 175th anniversary of the Chamber.
In 1841 with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, the economy and the Chamber of Trade faced challenges on a similar scale to today. Back then, it was steam engines moving economic development forward.
Today, there is less soot and smoke, and more bits and Bytes driving the change. It is digitisation. The Chamber of Trade and its member businesses made a success story of the Industrial Revolution. I have every confidence that you all will be just as successful in shaping digitisation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Digitisation is not the only change we are facing in Europe. Rather, our current political and economic challenges are more complex than almost any of us could have predicted.
Who would have imagined just a few years ago that a major European partner, Britain, would decide to leave the European Union? We did not want this referendum or the circumstances that lead to it but we accept the result.
Luxembourg and Germany in particular know just how much depends on how we deal with the Brexit decision. After all, for our two countries, European thinking was never just a vague notion but is and remains a fundamental belief.
For this reason, there are now two aspects which, for me, are to the fore.
Firstly, we need to find new solutions for what we have achieved in 43 years of Britain in the EU.
The long-term impact for Britain and for Europe is not yet known. But to restrict the negative impact and make it more calculable, we now have to work on building clarity quickly. Prime Minister Theresa May has now at least clarified the timing of the notification of the wish to leave the EU and thus the start of negotiations - the end of March 2017.
However, the United Kingdom still needs to tell its EU partners how it perceives its future relations. As far as we are concerned, we of course want to continue to have a close partnership with Britain - based on the values and interests that we share.
But our most important task now has to be to keep the EU and its remaining member states together. We want to preserve the integrity of the European project. The remaining 27 have thus clearly set out their stall: rapid negotiations, no cherry-picking and until it leaves, Britain remains a fully-fledged EU member with all the rights and obligations that entails.
For the negotiations themselves, we need new, fair and binding rules for the future relationship between the EU and Britain. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made no bones about it just a few weeks ago. The outcome of the negotiations cannot be that the UK frees itself from the duties of an EU member state, while maintaining the rights of an EU member state.
In other words, full access to the internal market is inextricably linked to acceptance of the four fundamental freedoms. And, let me say quite clearly, this includes free movement of persons! Deviating from this principle would call the whole of the EU into question. A Europe à la carte would be the end of Europe. That is something we cannot and will not risk.
I call upon you as entrepreneurs to work with us to uphold this principle. A strong European Union with a functioning internal market is in the interest of us all.
Negotiations with Britain are one issue. But at the same time, and this brings me to my second point, we also need to make sure that the EU doesn’t become paralysed and unable to perform its other work as a result of the Brexit debate.
In the run-up to the referendum, I was particularly concerned that the campaign very deliberately played on people’s fears. We need to counteract this policy of fear.
We therefore need to ensure that the EU again proves its ability to take action. The EU needs to find concrete responses to people’s concerns. This is true of internal and external security, of dealing with displacement and migration and, top of the list, questions such as youth unemployment, social justice and economic growth.
Opinion polls show that jobs and prosperity are still the most pressing concerns of European citizens. This is why business also needs to play a role in our work to create a better, more capable Europe, ladies and gentlemen.
We need to look now at how we can make progress in these key areas. I firmly believe that not all EU member states have to join in all proposals. Those who want to work together should do so without others trying to stop them. This does not make anyone a better or a worse European. That is the principle that my French colleague Jean-Marc Ayrault and myself have penned a “more flexible Union”.
Politically, the informal summit in Bratislava sent an important signal for cohesion and showed the way forward.
I am convinced that Luxembourg has a special role to play as we sketch out our path.
After all, when I talk about Luxembourg as a country at the heart of Europe, I am not just talking about your country’s picturesque geographical location stretching from Ösling to the River Mosel.
Luxembourg is an important hub of our European institutions, the place home to the European Court and the European Investment Bank. The place in which the Council takes its decisions several times a year.
But it is also your country, ladies and gentlemen, that takes on a special mediating role at the heart of Europe. Precisely because Luxembourg has the special skill of bearing in mind the interests of all partners and thus finding compromises - between large and small member states, between north and south, east and west.
To my mind, there is hardly any other country in Europe that has shown so much passion for and commitment to the European project!
Great figures from Luxembourg have driven European integration forward. Jacques Santer, Jean-Claude Juncker and Jean Asselborn bear witness to this commitment.
Or take Robert Schuman, the founding father of Europe, who was born not far from here in the Luxembourg town of Clausen. His father was a customs officer from Lorraine and his mother a Luxembourg citizen. I firmly believe that Schuman’s personality was shaped by his background, the blend of influences from Luxembourg, Germany and France. And the experience of two horrific wars. For Schuman, Europe was the key to peace, security and prosperity.
“Europe is searching for itself and knows that it has its fate in its own hands,” as Schuman put it in the mid-1950s.
And to this day, Europe is looking for ways to best tackle the major challenges we face. But with partners like Luxembourg, I am confident that we will find the right answers! And as Schuman himself said, we know we have our fate in our own hands! Let’s get down to it together!