Culture Makes Us Neighbours Romania and Luxembourg
Few things are known, on both sides, about the relations between Romania and Luxembourg. And maybe many Romanians wonder why Romania’s presence is needed in one of the smallest (geographically speaking) European countries. The reasons are many, and so are the opportunities which have led to a very dynamic relationship, with substance and significant potential. I will address all of these aspects: the context of our relationship with Luxembourg, the arguments in support of this relationship, the results achieved so far and, finally, the opportunities that are still open to us in the future. Of course, such a close relationship could not have been built without the existence of shared common values and ideas that animate both countries: European values.
I will take a landmark year: 2007. That was the year when, invited by the city of Luxembourg, the city of Sibiu joined the “European Capital of Culture” project that has created a partnership which has greatly enriched the cultural landscape of the bilateral relationship and that continues to generate spectacular events and projects even today. In brief, a partnership that has encouraged – and continues to do so – positive developments at all levels. The logic of this cooperation was also a historical one, as the neighbourhoods of Sibiu were populated in the 13th century by settlers from the Moselle Valley, including from the current territory of Luxembourg. These colonists (known in Romania as Saxons) continue to speak a dialect almost similar to today’s Luxembourg language – a reality I witnessed when I accompanied Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, visiting Cisnădie, in June 2017. It is a unique bond between our citizens! The political relationship followed the rhythm imposed by the cultural field: in April 2005, Romania signed the Treaty of Accession to the European Union in Luxembourg, at Neumünster Abbey, under the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union Council; Luxembourg has consistently supported the major objectives of the Romanian foreign policy, such as joining NATO and the EU; and, finally, a new impetus was given to the bilateral relationship on the occasion of the state visit made by the President of Romania, His Excellency Klaus Iohannis, in the Grand Duchy, on 6-7 June 2016 – then the main milestones of the future bilateral relationship were set, the landmarks that still guide our activity today.
What is Luxembourg? Why Luxembourg? What does Luxembourg mean at European level? What can Romania gain from the relationship with Luxembourg? The Romanian citizens, I believe, ask all these questions when it comes to their country’s relationship with any other state in the world. These are questions that I have already asked myself and which help me to fulfil my mission as ambassador.
What is Luxembourg? A small country, in strict geographical terms, but a strong, open, and future-oriented nation. A nation permanently forced to reinvent itself so that it can survive and prosper. From an agricultural nation, the Luxembourgers became, when necessary, an industrial nation, then a financial nation and now we are witnessing a new shift of emphasis, this time towards digitalization and space industry. A country recognized for the outstanding quality of life it offers, being at the same time one of the safest countries in the world.
Why Luxembourg? I’ll try to synthesize the arguments: because Luxembourg has, according to OECD data, the highest GDP per capita in the world; because it is the most important private banking centre in the Eurozone and it holds the second place worldwide in terms of investment funds; because it is a hub of technologies in the financial area (Fintech) at European level; because it is innovative and has pioneering initiatives (and I would like to refer only to the Luxembourg initiative aimed at exploring the future ways of exploiting, for commercial purposes, the mineral resources of asteroids near Earth); because the University of Luxembourg has become an important research centre; because Luxembourg hosts an increasing number of Romanians (already 4,662 people on January 1st 2018, according to statistical data provided by the Luxembourg authorities), plus a significant number of Romanians living in the adjacent areas (the so-called Great Region) in France, Germany and Belgium (these Romanians, although residing in the neighbouring countries, work in Luxembourg and actively participate in the life of the Romanian community in the Grand Duchy); because Luxembourg offers the highest guaranteed minimum wage in the EU, which is why 97% of Luxembourg citizens spend their holidays outside the country.
What does Luxembourg mean at European level? The existence of Luxembourg is closely linked to the European idea: a founding member, attached to the European values, Luxembourg held the Presidency of the EU Council on 12 occasions, so Luxembourg has undoubted expertise in managing such an extremely important mandate, a mandate that will soon be held by Romania. Luxembourg is among Romania’s trusted partners at European level and I appreciate the full availability of Luxembourg to support the smooth running of the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council in 2019.
What can Romania gain from the relationship with Luxembourg? Even if, at the end of May 2018, Luxembourg ranked 9th among the top foreign investors in Romania, with almost 1.5bn € invested, accounting for about 3.27% of the total foreign investment in Romania, in my opinion, the potential of cooperation in this field is enormous. These figures tell us that Luxembourg invests in Romania but has not yet reached its maximum investment capacity. The Luxembourg investment potential is considerable and attracting more Luxembourg investments in Romania is a priority for me. The sectors with important growth opportunities are: banking, ICT, communications, cyber security, start-ups, innovation, tourism and, why not, space cooperation. As I said earlier, Luxembourg has begun exploring ways to commercially exploit mineral resources in outer space. Beyond the uniqueness and pioneering nature of the initiative, I think that, in this specific field, there is room to create synergies with the ELI-NP project at Măgurele.
Impressive development opportunities also exist at the local level, which is why the Embassy has already contributed to the organization of a visit of the local authorities from the second city of Luxembourg, Esch-sur-Alzette, to the Romanian city of Râmnicu Vâlcea, a visit that took place in July, in order to start economic cooperation and perhaps even to achieve a twinning between the two cities. We are currently working at the Embassy for the materialization of other partnerships with local economic impact.
I do not wish to present an exhaustive list of results in this article but to highlight some concrete achievements that fuel the engine of the bilateral relationship on a number of key levels: political dialogue, cultural and educational cooperation and economic cooperation. Lately, we have had a sustained dialogue at all levels: Head of State, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Economy, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs. This dialogue materialized in an increased interest in launching new economic projects, an interest that I was able to attest directly when we organized, in January 2018, the seminar “Why Romania?”, an event dedicated to the economic promotion of Romania, organized by our Embassy in partnership with the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce and attended by over 80 businessmen from the Grand Duchy, interested in the way the economic climate in Romania is evolving. The purpose of our action was to promote business opportunities in Romania and to provide Luxembourg business people with strong reasons to engage in conducting business and making investments with and in Romania.
The cultural and educational domains also bring many other opportunities for cooperation between various institutions. The results obtained are due to the bilateral agreement in the field, renewed in June 2016. The implementation of this program is on-going and includes annual master scholarships awarded by the University of Luxembourg to Romanian students and artists’ scholarships granted by the Luxembourg Culture Ministry and student exchanges. I would also like to point out the uninterrupted cooperation between the “Radu Stanca” National Theatre in Sibiu and the Esch-sur-Alzette Theatre, which started in 2007, when the cities of Sibiu and Luxembourg were associated in the "European Capital of Culture" project. The Central and Eastern Europe Film Festival in Luxembourg, “CinEast”, is another cultural event with bilateral impact. At the 2017 edition, Romania was represented by the actor Adrian Titieni, as a member of the jury, but also as a special guest. The evening of October 22 was dedicated to the Romanian actor under the title “Titieni Evening”.
In the academic field, I would like to recall the perspectives of cooperation between the University of Luxembourg and a number of Romanian universities, within the framework of the Erasmus European program. So far, such cooperation is taking place especially with the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest.
Regarding the Romanian community, with the support of the Embassy, the Romanian School in Luxembourg was inaugurated in September 2017. The School offers Romanian children, every Saturday, classes in Romanian language, taught by qualified teachers recognized by the Ministry of National Education in Romania, focusing on the language, history and geography of Romania, as well as social workshops on various topics.
On the other hand, since this year we celebrate the Centennial of the Great Union, we have proposed to the community a series of cultural events dedicated to Romanian traditions: I’m talking about the traditional Romanian blouse, the “ia”, and about Easter eggs, painted in a traditional way etc.
The relationship between Romania and Luxembourg has developed a lot in recent years, but its growth potential is far from exhausted. Important niches such as innovation, new financial technologies, information and communication technologies and tourism provide us with good prospects for cooperation in the future. Luxembourg will remain a privileged partner for Romania, not only bilaterally, but also at the European level, for promoting the same vision, of a cohesive, solidarity-oriented and citizen-oriented Europe.