I arrived in both the country and city of Luxembourg today and will use the following days to get a grasp of what Luxembourg is about. First of all, it`s a European crossroad, a place of compromises, diplomacy and silent capitalism. Below article is a quick introduction to the second-smallest, first richest, least populated and probably most European country of the EU:
Luxembourg was founded more than 1000 years ago, it has only been fully independent since 1867. Throughout the years, it has been forced to give up some of its territory, which originally extended into the current-day Belgian province with the name? Luxembourg. Relations with Belgium are nevertheless very friendly. After being overrun by Germany during both world wars, Luxembourg gave up its political neutrality to join NATO and the BeNeLux custom union with Belgium and The Netherlands. A few years later, the BeNeLux , Germany, France and Italy founded the European Community, which later expanded to the current European Union. It changed its local currency to Euros in 2001, but already had experience in the field of monetary unions: for many decades, the Luxembourg and Belgian Franc have been mutually exchangeable at 1:1.
..explains the reason why many European commercial channels started out from Luxembourg
Luxembourg has three official languages, and most people are fluent in all three: Luxembourgish, French and German. Out of less than 500,000 inhabitants, more than 200,000 have foreign origins, causing many people to speak even more language than the three basic languages. Luxembourg is one of the Schengen countries, this said: the village Schengen is situated in Luxembourg, right next to , if not on top of, the border with France and Germany.
The Luxembourg melting pot is nourished by people coming from everywhere to work in the European institutions. The largest foreign population is Portuguese however, a heritage from the time when Luxembourg depended on its steel industry and attracted foreigners to work in the mines. The youngest generation of Portuguese is the grandchildren of those who initially immigrated. They are now fully merged into the Luxembourg society, which itself is based on a loosely coherent mosaic of different European countries. Non-Europeans are not invited to the party. Even people from the new member states are restricted by entrance quota. Luxembourg will slowly diminish this regulation over the years ahead.
Luxemburg is known for being rich and Geoffroy (27) from Belgium likes to refer to it as Cocagne (Cockaigne in English). He explains me how Luxembourg can be so rich while the south of Belgium is not, even though they have the same natural resources and geographical position: `Luxemburg is a smaller country, which makes it easier to manage and to take risks. While Belgium thought that the combination of coal and iron was going to bring them eternal richness, Luxembourg diversified its offer. It stimulated foreign banks to open subsidiaries in Luxembourg by installing a bank secrecy, and presented itself as a forerunner of European integration. The result of both has transformed Luxembourg into big vault of virtually anonymous funds. The influx of money is strictly scanned upon arrival, but cannot bank balances cannot be checked by local or international tax offices. Today`s Luxembourg depends heavily on the its international services industries, as well as the mixed origin of its population`.
Michelle (25) tells me that there is another side to the story of financial success. `Housing prices rise sky-high and without a Luxembourg salary, it would be almost impossible to live in Luxembourg`, she says, providing a perfect reason why Luxemburg has so few poor immigrants. `We did have some issues with war refugees from Yugoslavia who were allowed in, but those problems were of minor importance compared to immigration issues in neighbouring countries`, Michelle says.
Made in Luxembourg
Many people from just across the border commute to Luxembourg every day for work. Others come to fill their tanks with cheap petrol, or their trunks with cheap alcohol and tobacco. Luxembourg does not have many proprietary companies. Most are German, French or Belgian. Luxembourg`s own `stars` include steel company Arcelor-Mittal, Satellite communication company Astra and television company RTL.
Michelle helps me explain the reason why so many companies are broadcasting from Luxemburg. When other countries still didn`t have licenses for public TV, Luxembourg opened up its market for commercial channels. RTL, short for Radio Television Luxembourg, therefore still has a big presence in the Western European TV guides.
Sandra (27) and Raul (27) tell me that Luxembourg does not have many internationally known celebraties from its own soil. The two most widely known Luxembourgers are politician. Robert Schuman, co-founder of the European Union as French minister of foreign affairs, and Jean-Claude Juncker, who has made vital contributions to the European constitution.
Sandra and Raul point out that the small size of Luxembourg has helped the country build bridges between European countries. Much more than many other countries, Luxembourg has adopted an impartial role, fighting for European collaboration: a process that at one side helps the country develop its core industry and on the other hand costs a lot of money. As Europe`s richest country, Luxembourg pays huge bills for the development of the remaining 26 member states.
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