The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005

The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005

URL (Internet address) : http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/politique_economie/coeur_europe/

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Luxembourg at the heart of Europe

The embeddendess of Luxembourg in the European Union goes much deeper and is much stronger than it may appear at a first glance.

A political plan and Robert Schuman

Luxembourg’s commitment to a possible union with its neighbouring countries dates back to the 1950s. Luxembourg signalled its keen interest in the project when, in 1950, Robert Schuman, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, proposed placing France’s and Germany’s coal and steel production under the control of a joint high authority. This high authority was independent of national governments and endowed with autonomous decision-making powers.

Robert Schuman ,
ZoomRobert Schuman

Robert Schuman - a Luxembourg native

In 1886, Robert Schuman was born in the Luxembourg suburb of Clausen. He completed his baccalauréat at the Athénée de Luxembourg in 1903. The house of his birth is now the home of the Robert Schuman Centre for European Studies. Robert Schuman’s personality was strongly influenced by his Luxembourg origins.  With hHis father beinga German customs officer in Lorraine and his mother being from Luxembourg, his mother tongue became Luxembourgish. There is no doubt that the combination of these German, French and Luxembourgish influences encouraged him to initiate a plan that would lead to the creation of the first European Community. Like the other European founding fathers, Robert Schuman had lived close to the borders of various European countries and experienced two world wars which devastated half of Europe. He was deeply convinced that France and Germany should never again go to war against each other and that armies should never again march through their countries.

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman, inspired by a plan drawn up by Jean Monnet, proposed to the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, that a supranational authority be established to control heavy industry. This plan, based on two specific sectors of the economy, was mainly political in purpose. The main objectivewas to prevent any state, once and for all, from creating a new threat by using their coal and steel deposits to secretly rearm.  However, Schuman was aware that Europe had to be constructed step by step: "Europe will not be made all at once" (Schuman Declaration).

The first European Community was called by some "the Schuman Plan", while others referred to it as the "ECSC" (European Coal and Steel Community). The founding members were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. A Council of Ministers responsible for representing national interests was established. The ECSC Common Assembly ensured democratic control over the High Authority, which later evolved intothe European Commission. The Council of Ministers remained unchanged. The Common Assembly became the European Parliament, whose members have been elected directly since 1979.

Luxembourg - home to European institutions

The night from 24th  to 25th  July 1952 was historic. Following 18 hours of talks, the Luxembourg Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Bech, proposed that the ECSC High Authority begin its work in Luxembourg, a suggestion which was later adopted. The first president of the High Authority, Jean Monnet, was not exactly thrilled by this idea. He favoured a federal district outside of national sovereignty, which he would have preferred to be set up in Fontainebleau, near Paris.

The ECSC High Authority remained in Luxembourg until the mid-1960s, when the executive bodies of the ECSC, the European Economic Community (EEC) and Euratom merged to form the European Commission. The question of the institutions’ location gave rise to a lively political debate. 

Today, the Commission and the Council of Ministers are based in Brussels. Strasbourg has been confirmed as the seat of the European Parliament, while the following European institutions are based in Luxembourg:

  • General Secretariat of the European Parliament;
  • some departments of the European Commission, in particular: Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office; some units of the translation service, the administration service and various other directorate-generals (DGs);
  • Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance;
  • European Court of Auditors;
  • European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund;
  • Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, which is the publishing house for the EU institutions.

In April, June and October the Council of Ministers holds its meetings in Luxembourg. 

Luxembourg - a European city

More than 9,000 European Union officials work in Luxembourg, which is one in 10 of the city’s inhabitants. Following EU enlargement, this figure, which does not include the numerous contractors attached to the various institutions in Luxembourg, is still growing.

Schengen - a small town in Luxembourg

A new stage in European history began on 14 June 1985 when Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the “Schengen Agreement�? in Schengen, a small Luxembourg border town between France, Germany and Luxembourg.

A further convention was drafted and signed on 14 June 1990, and the Schengen Agreement came into force in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain on 26 March 1995.

2005 - the Schengen Agreement celebrates its 20th anniversary

2005 marks the 20th, 15th and 10th anniversaries of the Schengen Agreement. It was signed on 14 June 1985, a further convention on its implementation was signed on 14 June 1990 and it entered into force on 26 March 1995. The agreement represents a decisive step towards introducing the free movement of goods and persons in Europe.

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The Schengen aquis, which includes the Schengen Agreement of 1985 and the implementing agreement of 1990, as well as their secondary legislation, has now been completely incorporated into the EU treaties. The Schengen area has grown progressively larger. Since March 2001, 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden) have adopted the Schengen provisions, as have non-EU member states Iceland and Norway.

The agreement provided for the abolishment ofinternal border checks on EU citizens travelling between Member States, whatever their nationality. It also harmonised checks on the EU’s external borders and introduced a common policy on visas. Thus, the foundations were laid for  a free and unified Europe, guaranteeing the peaceful coexistence of its citizens. 

Schengen was chosen for this special purpose because of its location at the heart of Europe,  along with the neighbouring communes of Perl in Germany and Apach in France. The fact that this agreement was signedin Luxembourg also underlines the importance its neighbours attach to Luxembourg’s role as mediator and negotiator - a role which it regularly plays on the European stage.

Country with open borders

More importantly, the removal of national borders and the creation of an internal common market have enabled Luxembourg to open up to new possibilities. Following the example of the iron and steel industry, all businesses and service providers have benefited from the opening of the borders, despite stronger competitive pressure. Today, trade with other Member States represents about nine-tenths of external trade overall. The enlargement of the European Union offers even more new markets. 

The opening of the borders also facilitated the recruitment of cross-border workforce required to ensure continued economic growth at a high level.

Luxembourgers and the EU

What importance does Luxembourg’s population attach to their country being a member of the European Union? If we look at the Commission’s Eurobarometer surveys, it is apparent that Luxembourgers are always among those who feel the most positive about Europe. Four - fifths of Luxembourgers are in favour of European Union membership. Luxembourgers think it is utterly normal that their country is a member of the European Union. It is  simply a part of their daily lives. Even if some people are afraid of a losing their identity because of ‘Europeanization’ and the higher percentage of foreigners, nobody is calling for the country’s renationalisation. This is precisely what is the most common demand of Luxembourg’s politicians – irrespective of their political persuasions. According to them,  Europe is a political symbol of peace and there is no imaginable future without it. 

Charlemagne Prize awarded to the people of Luxembourg

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is the only one of the six founding Member States which gave up the right to use its native language at the meetings of the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers. It is also the first country to have adorned its national car licence plates with the 12 stars on a blue background. As a result, the people of Luxembourg were awarded the Charlemagne Prize for their pro-European attitudes in Aix-la-Chapelle in 1986.


Last update of this page on : 29-12-2004