Luxembourg diplomat: ‘I hope solidarity still has a place in Europe’

Georges Faber []

In an exclusive interview with Krzysztof Kokoszczy?ski, Georges Faber, Ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, spoke to EURACTIV Poland about Luxembourg’s plans for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Luxembourg assumes the Presidency when its attention is focused on Greece. What is its take on the Greek issue?

Finding a solution to the crisis in Greece does not depend on the Luxembourg’s Presidency in the Council. But as a member of the eurozone, Luxembourg is among the countries that are reaching out to Greece. Losing Greece during our Presidency would definitively not be a success. Having said that, it still means that Greece has to make an effort to get our support for further assistance. The ball is in their camp.

What will Luxembourg’s environment goals be during her Presidency?

Promoting sustainability is among Luxembourgian priorities for the Presidency – and one of the most important ones. We want to develop the EU’s competitiveness but we want to do it in a way that will go hand-in-hand with ambitious environmental criteria.

Another keyword for the presidency will be the circular economy. Improving EU policy in this area can contribute to achieve the main goal of the Luxembourgian presidency, which is supporting growth and creating jobs.

How do you plan to prepare the EU for COP21?

We want an ambitious negotiating mandate for that should lead to the adoption of an ambitious and binding treaty with global participation. This should allow us to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. But to achieve this, every country in the world must work together. We still have to do some work with third countries in order to ensure that COP21 ends successfully.

What are your thoughts on the Juncker Plan and its timeline?

We hope that the first projects can be funded during the summer. Growth is already picking up in the EU, so we hope that the EFSI will further invigorate the economy by unlocking investment. The public money invested by the EU should leverage even larger private investment.

But it is not enough. In order to ensure continuing growth we need to lower the regulator barriers, especially barriers to cross-border investments, so that a company from one of the member states would be able to easily obtain financing through the capital markets in another. That is why the capital markets union will be among our flagship initiatives for the Presidency.

Latvia, which held the presidency before Luxembourg, managed to ensure the passing of a telecommunications package, which is considered to be an important step towards the digital single market. Will Luxembourg continue to deepen this area of integration?

Latvians have indeed made significant steps toward a true single digital market, but there are still major barriers. We still need to deepen the EU market in order to actually have one European market instead of 28 mini-markets, (which is) much less attractive to potential investors and businesses.

Could you give examplse of such a barrier?

They are present in the services market, including the digital market. One such barrier here would be geo-blocking, which we are very keen on getting rid of. Many of the citizens who travel within the Union have experienced inability to watch, say, a favourite show or a sports game of their local team because streaming is not available outside their country.

Getting rid of such limitation(s), together with other measures, some of them introduced by the Latvian Presidency, like getting rid of roaming fees, will help to develop a digital single market. And this in turn leads us back to the first priority of our Presidency, that is growth and jobs.

How so?

The digital single market will broaden the customer base for companies – both big players and start-ups. Together with the forthcoming abolishment of roaming charges, it will allow users from across the continent to use digital content, including phone apps on equal footing. And it will make creating such content more attractive with a chance for higher profits, so it should contribute to a creation of more start-ups and new products in this sector.

What are Luxembourg’s plan for tax cooperation legislation? Given the LuxLeaks affair, your actions will be closely watched.

I do not think it is a controversial question anymore. Indeed, there was the so-called Luxleaks affair from the last year, but I think what is often not mentioned is that tax rulings exist in most EU countries. The fact is that tax rulings are not illegal, but one can certainly ask the questions about their moral justification.

In any case, we are committed to going forward on fight with tax fraud and tax evasion. On our side, we have already moved forward, for example with the abolishment of banking secrecy in Luxembourg. We are now working very closely with our partners to improve the EU cooperation in terms of tax transparency and revenue collection.

But in order to be effective we need a higher level of engagement. The EU is not able to fight tax fraud and tax evasion on its own. We need to cooperate at the OECD level, if not the global one, to make sure the playing field will be level. In any other case, we will risk capital flee from the EU towards other jurisdictions.

The EU is currently struggling with the issues of increased illegal migration and asylum-seekers. What does Luxembourg plan to do about this situation?

Migration is among the most important challenges the EU is currently facing. We need to solve it together. In the longer term, we need to work in countries of origin of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers in the field of development cooperation, to make sure there is nothing pushing them to come here – and to perhaps provide better ways for legal migration.

In the short-term, we will have to resettle and relocate sixty thousand people in clear need of international protection among the member states. There are at least two member states today that bear the biggest burden. We cannot leave them in the rain. I hope that solidarity still has a place in Europe.

What are your other hopes for Europe in the coming years?

The EU is an ongoing project. It is not perfect, but it has brought it members over 60 years of peace – let us not forget that.

But in addition to its role as a stabilizer of peace, besides being a political project, the EU is also a social project and an economic project.

I personally believe that we need to focus now on all these three areas: political integration, economic growth and social peace. We also need to contribute to peace-building in our neighborhood (there are wars in our borders).

Strengthening the social dimension of our Union is definitively important for us. It needs revitalization. We must not forget the needs and interests of the citizens, otherwise we risk losing their support for the European integration process.

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