Back in Western Europe now. For this edition of the Faces of EU campaign, we’ll hear from two people: Egan Paquay, a student of St. Gallen University in Switzerland but born and raised in Luxembourg, and Lara Bertemes, the UN Youth Delegate from Luxembourg.
As usual, let’s see what Estonian young people know about the politics of Luxembourg. Turns out that not a single person who responded to our Instagram poll knew anything about it – that’s a first. Let’s hope this interview will unknot the topic!
Tell me about yourself. Are you an active community member? If yes, why do you feel it’s important? Is it a normal thing in your country/community to do so?
EP: I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as an active community member just yet, although I do participate in student politics and through my scouting organization, I am able to organize events for the community. I would say scouting as a community movement is quite popular in Luxembourg. This isn’t as much the case where I study (St. Gallen, Switzerland).
LB: Being active does not necessarily mean being involved in politics, it can also be in a sports club or a voluntary association. Concrete regional projects are even more valuable to me because they do not talk about doing something, they just do it. That’s why I wrote my bachelor thesis in cooperation with a concrete Interreg (EU regional funding scheme) project (IMAGINE) that aims to integrate young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) into the labour market through a training program in horticulture.
I would say there are many dedicated people in Luxembourg, but there could be more. So it’s not necessarily common. Sometimes I even have the feeling that people in certain places are drifting apart and only looking after themselves. I have always been active since I joined the national youth parliament, and currently, I am the UN youth delegate for Luxembourg, representing youth from Luxembourg at the UN.
How is youth activism organised in your nation and what is the role of the EU in it?
EP: Youth politics in my country works a lot on knowing people and staying in touch with the country, propping up entry barriers for anyone who’s actually studying further abroad. We have a youth parliament and several events where younger people get involved with learning about the EU, such as meeting our MEPs in person.
LB: There are several ways to be active as a young person. A central organization in Luxembourg that brings together all youth organizations is the National Youth Council. Many regional or thematic youth organizations are represented in the Youth Council. Of course, most young people are active only in their region, in a youth party, a young farmers’ organization, an NGO or in their school.
The EU is playing an increasingly important role in youth work, as it has tried to show with the European Year of Youth 2022. There were many events there, and I hope they will continue and be used as a building block for long-term cooperation with youth.
How do people in your country perceive the EU? How do politicians?
EP: In Luxembourg, most people have grown very fond of the EU and the stability and relevance that it has provided for the country. We owe our prosperity to the EU and I think that a lot of people are aware of that, and this is reflected in the politicians we elect both nationally and on the European level.
LB: As a founding member of the EU, Luxembourgish people seem to have a rather positive attitude towards the EU. We also host some of the institutions and grow up in a multicultural environment. In politics, there is quite strong support for the EU because, as it has more advantages than disadvantages.
What does the EU mean for you personally?
EP: I believe that the EU is our best opportunity yet to attain humanistic dreams and foster deep cooperation among so many diverse groups of people and actually work for impactful change. I also do believe that its structures and functioning sometimes seem opaque, unrepresentative and bureaucratic, but it is bound to happen with very large supra-national institutions.
LB: It means freedom of movement, it is a platform of exchange, transnational friendship and solidarity and exchange of ideas. During the Covid 19 pandemic, we were harshly reminded of how precious our freedom of movement is. There were border controls again, which was problematic for a small country like Luxembourg. The EU is also important to deal with the climate crisis. In this transnational crisis, we can only win the battle if we look beyond our borders, we need to set common standards for the green transition.
How would you describe your country to a foreigner?
EP: My country is a mixture of French and German culture at the heart of Europe, thriving because of its embrace of multiculturalism, the free market and the social security and healthcare policies that make it a safe place to live in.
LB: Luxembourg is a small country, but it is more than just a city. You may have heard only that it is a financial centre. But it is more than that! For me, it is not only in the heart of Western Europe, but it also has a varied landscape: the Ardennes in the north, Luxembourg City, beautiful landscapes with the Mosel river in the east or the Upper-Sûre lake, castles like in Vianden or the beautiful hiking trails in the Muellertal. We have three official languages and are a multicultural place that brings together people from all over Europe and the world. If you need to be convinced, I will show you 🙂
What do you hope for your country to achieve or develop in?
EP: I hope that my country could eventually adopt a political system and culture similar to Swiss direct democracy while also granting more voting rights to its foreign population.
LB: I want my country to reform policies that are truly sustainable at their core. That means that all policies should put the health and well-being of people and the planet at the centre of decision-making. Something that could contribute to this is to change the way we measure economic growth. Sustainable policy making also means to me measuring it by the impact it will have on the next generation.
How will you contribute to achieving this goal?
EP: I don’t know exactly yet, Luxembourgish politics function on knowing the right people and staying close to the country throughout your career and I am not able to fully envision that as of now.
LB: Until now, I had the opportunity to voice the opinion of young people as a UN Youth Delegate but I see that there is an action gap between promises made to them and actual implementation. Therefore, I want to continue my studies in the direction of sustainable and environmental policymaking. I will also try to continue my engagement after my UN Youth Delegate mandate ends in April and possibly start working on a new project after that.
How can the EU contribute to the prosperity of your country?
EP: Merely by existing, the EU has put Luxembourg on the map, as the country is home to several European institutions. I hope that the EU continues to see Luxembourg as an ideal place to do business and test European models.
LB: The EU already is a big contributor to our prosperity fostering political and economic integration. Moreover, some institutions are based in Luxembourg. What the EU can do for Luxembourg is to make transborder working rules easier.
What do you think the EU will look like in 30 years?
EP: I believe that the EU will be more united than ever in 30 years. With whole generations being born and living their whole lives in the EU, we witness a rise in the desire to federalise the union. With newer generations at the helm, and with the fight against climate change demanding coordinated actions more than ever, this century-old dream may not be as distant as we thought.
LB: In 30 years, the EU should have become carbon-neutral in line with its ambitions. The air quality will have improved and we will have renaturalized some green spaces. We will have significantly reduced the use of pesticides and moved to more sustainable practices. Meat consumption will have decreased, and we will have stricter rules for reuse and production practices. We will have good train connections throughout the EU and fewer cars, and if we do, hydrogen and electric-powered cars.
I would love to have the EU described above. But since the EU will have to deal with challenges like population growth, economic crises and nationalist movements, I think it will be a scaled-down version of the one described above.
As a representative of one of the smallest nations in the EU, what power do small states have in the EU?
EP: Small states become more relevant than ever by being integrated into the EU. With several Luxembourgers having served in the European Commission, we can see how much impact our country can have on the way our Union is led. The EU is a unique opportunity to make ourselves heard.
LB: Luxembourg can have a say in the European Union, of course often in alliances with other partners. In the European Parliament, too, I see through my internship that even members of parliament from small countries can achieve a lot with the appropriate commitment and ambition.
Image: Pexels, Ruben da Costa
The Faces of EU campaign is sponsored by the German Embassy in Tallinn