Luxembourg PM: European Union, Russia not rivals, require one another as partners
9 December 2015. PenzaNews. The European Union is not an rival with Russia: both sides remain important partners in the continent, and therefore it is necessary to seek new channels of cooperation even in the context of the currently tough political situation, said the Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel during the December 3-5 seminar on issues of EU-Russia relations.
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The event was organized in Luxembourg City by the EU Delegation in Russia. It brought together 25 journalists, most of them editors-in-chief of the leading media sources, coming from Russian cities of Astrakhan, Voronezh, Izhevsk, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Krasnodar, Lipetsk, Makhachkala, Penza, Perm, Pskov, Samara, Tambov, Tomsk and Chelyabinsk, as well as Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The seminar agenda featured meetings and discussions with Fernando Andresen Guimaraes, Head of Russian Division at the European External Action Service; Mark Entin, Ambassador of Russia to Luxembourg; Luc Pierre Devigne, Head of Unit in the European Commission Directorate General for Trade; Jon Kyst, East Stratcom Task Force at the European External Action Service; as well as Luxembourg MPs, European journalists, political analysts and philosophers. Some of the meeting were held in “off the record” format to facilitate open dialogue and achieve understanding on common issues.
However, the tone for the three-day event was set by the introduction meeting with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who explained his standing on a number of issues related to Russia-EU cooperation in a very open manner for a politician of such level.
Below, PenzaNews agency provides the transcribed text of Xavier Bettel’s speech and Q&A session with reporters on present issues.
Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg: As you know, from July 1 to December 31 this year  my country is holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union, so we are responsible for successfully conducting the proceedings of the Council of the European Union in its various competences. It is the twelfth one, but believe me, it is the hardest one. The coalitions for the moment are challenging, and it is a critical time for the Union. Terror acts have recently taken hundreds of innocent lives in the heart of Paris; they have also targeted a Russian plane [in Egypt], with people just coming back from holidays. So we see that the situation is a situation where we have enough common goals. The economic growth is absent in some member states where the level of unemployment is quite high, particularly youth unemployment. The United Kingdom is preparing a referendum regarding its membership in the EU. We have the whole situation in Syria, in Iraq, we have intense situation between Ukraine and Russia. We have Greece. We have a situation with our Greek colleagues. So you see, it was a challenging presidency.
Luxembourg’s membership in the EU community is among its fundamental principles and core values. The coalition of European Union is international interest of Luxembourg since the common European project is a key guarantor of Luxembourg’s independence and sovereignty since the end of World War II, during which Luxembourg, as so many other member states, suffered Nazi occupation.
This year, as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, we are also very grateful for all the sacrifices made by Russia for our liberation, and of our country, from the Nazi Germany. And since then, Europe has been a peace project. So we have to keep that always in mind.
Understanding how deeply Luxembourg is committed to the integration of the European Union is essential to know the positions taken by the respective Luxembourg presidencies over time. We are a small country, even if we are called the Grand Duchy. Like [the joke goes], “there are only two great countries – the Great Britain and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg” – by the name. We have always insisted on the necessity of an international order based on rule of law. As mentioned before, the European Union is a peace project which in many respects can be compared to a union of the rule of law – in that respect, it is strengthening Luxembourg’ independence and identity within the European Union and beyond. For this reason and many others, Luxembourg considers this presidency to be a charming opportunity. It allows us to show our ongoing commitment to the European integration project and to share our expertise. Thus, the task which is in front of us allows us to put qualities which we highly value at the service of Europe – the capacity to build bridges and to reconcile diverging positions and traditions; the willingness to commit ourselves to reach compromises.
In general, Luxembourg is striving to apply its basic features to this presidency for the benefit of the European Union. Europe is, however, considerably wider than the European Union, in geographic, economic, social, cultural and political terms.
In Luxembourg, we are fully aware of the importance of Russia for the future of the European Union. I strongly believe that Europe needs Russia, but Russia needs Europe too. Through their respective ways, I am convinced that the agenda and priorities of the European Union influenced to some extent the agenda and priorities of the Russian Federation also. This is a plus, provided we able to manage Kiev interactions well. The EU and Russia only stand to benefit progress.
Two months ago, I visited Russia: I had a pleasure to meet President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev in Sochi. I was particularly happy about the constructive and friendly exchange that I had with my Russian colleagues. During these meetings, I was able to witness that the comprehensive character of the overall EU-Russian relations is still vibrant, and that Luxembourg and Russia still share close bilateral relations.
The fact that my invitation comes from Russia is also a bit special for me. Over the course of time, Luxembourg and Russia has always had constructive and friendly bilateral relations, the type that date back to the Treaty of London in 1867 [agreement between France and Prussia to establish and reaffirm neutrality and independence of Luxembourg, resolved the tensions between France, Prussia, Belgium and the Netherlands over the ownership of a contested territory along the spoken language border], when Russia played a very positive role in Luxembourg’s history. At the time and for several years, Russian diplomats have even represented Luxembourg’s interests around the world. It is my intention to continue paying a particular attention to the relations with Russia.
Currently, against the background of sanctions and countersanctions, I do concede that the relation between the EU and Russia is being tested. However, it is my conviction that the need to speak with each other is the most important. We are neighbors, and we share the European continent. The EU and Russia are interdependent. We still cooperate in multilateral fora to find common solutions to the greatest challenges of our time: climate change, sustainable development, fight against terrorism, as well as migration and crises in the Middle East, and the issue of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The EU is not a rival with Russia, we are and we remain an important partner, which means we also have to devise to these new means and wait for future in EU-Russian cooperation.
Soeren Liborius, Head of Press at the European Union Delegation in Russia: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, I think that you have set the tone for exactly the purpose of this seminar, mainly to maintain the discussion, the dialogue and the contact between us. Among the participants here we have journalists from across Russian regions who benefit, of course, from EU-Russian context. So I am sure that there will be opportunities for questions that are related to the EU-Russian relationship. I also very much value your words that our interdependence is very much stressed, this is also very much on our agenda from the EU delegation side in Russia. I should not monopolize the time here, but rather open the floor to colleagues who want to want to pose questions to you.
Galina Dudina, Foreign Policy Observer, “Kommersant” newspaper (Moscow): Thank you very much for the invitation, and for a very nice introduction. I have two questions. First question: how are you about the blackout in Crimea? The Russian Foreign Minister said that he feels a lack of reaction from the European side, and the only European country who clearly condemned the blackout of Crimea was Germany. So, what would be the reaction of Luxembourg as the European presidency in conflict? And the second question: do you see any possibility of maneuver with the future sanctions against Russia in January, or is it that it will be six months of sanctions?
Xavier Bettel: First thing – I condemn every kind of escalation. Ever. You did not ask now about the Russian flight and the Turkey situation – I condemn every kind of escalation. It is important to speak and find solutions.
If the blackout has been a provocation, I condemn it. I do not have now enough information to know what happened and how it happened, and who took these decisions. But every kind of escalation will be condemned. We should try to deescalate, and everything which will provoke a reaction from the other side is the wrong thing.
For the future thing, I discussed with President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev, but I also went to visit Mr. Poroshenko. And for me, we have now the Minsk Agreement, and they are both partners in this agreement. And both partners have to respect what they say. I told Mr. Poroshenko that at the end of the year, we will need to see what has been done by the one and the other side, and that if we see that Minsk failed because President Poroshenko was not able to do the things he signed in the Minsk Agreement, we should know also that the Ukrainian side, and Poroshenko, and Yatsenyuk, they need the majority in Parliament to do some of the reforms. And I hope that the Ukrainian members of Parliament realize the responsibility they have if Minsk fails because of the Ukrainian side.
So it is important to see what both have signed – also the Russian side. And, to speak about sanctions, if the situation is coming in the bad direction, we will leave new sanctions; if the situation goes in the right direction, and work has been done from Russian side, I am one of these who say we should also be able to speak taking away the sanctions. It should be in both directions. If we want deescalation, it means also to say: “You did what you had to do, continue in that direction, so we are going take your sanctions and also going to speak also about deescalation of sanctions.” Because now, it is sanction, countersanction, sanction, countersanction. It helps nobody. But we have international law, we have an agreement, and we have to stick to that still – for it is the only agreement, the only text that we have.
Irina Yarovikova, Editor-in-Chief, “RBC-South” news agency (Krasnodar): I am representing the Krasnodar Krai and the Rostov region, the main agricultural regions of Russia. For the Russian South, the countersanctions, the food embargo became a turning point that helped agricultural industry and agronomy in the south of Russia to greatly increase production of its own food and increase national food security. Was it a big problem for the EU countries to lose food export possibilities to Russia?
Xavier Bettel: I think it is not the question who lost what. I think we are in a lose-lose situation. It is not good for Russia: you do not need to tell me that it doesn’t harm Russia – sanctions maybe have brought some positive things for one topic, but they are not good for the economy for the whole country. And it is not good for Europe too. We need economic growth for the moment, and where we are in the situation for the moment, where it is a lose-lose situation, it is not good for the one and for the other. So we should not hide ourselves to say that we do not care about the sanctions, as Russians about the European sanctions and as Europeans about Russian sanctions. This is a lose-lose situation, and this situation I do not want to have – especially if we go in the right direction. And for the whole, this is really a situation where it is sanctions, countersanctions, sanctions, countersanctions. So I know that some people say it is good for certain regions. But I do not think it that it is good for the economy in general.
Leonid Tolchinskiy, General Director, “Tatar-Inform” news agency (Kazan): I would like to take the liberty to carry on with the first question asked by my colleague, slightly. You said that if the Minsk Agreement fails, you will have to continue with the sanctions. But it is apparent now: it is December, the Minsk Agreement will not succeed in 2015 – it is obvious. Donbass will not hold the elections – that is clear too. And you say the EU will have to continue the sanctions against Russia. In your opinion, is it possible perceive the sanctions as somewhat unilateral? Because it poses a question, and I would like to see it clearer: what tools of influence can be used on Ukraine in January, when it will become apparent that this year’s Minsk Agreement will not be successful? And another one. Should the two guarantors of this agreement bear any kind of joint responsibility for it, or is it only Russia that stays responsible for execution of the Minsk Agreement?
Xavier Bettel: You spoke about the elections. We asked to postpone the elections, because if there would have been elections, they wouldn’t have been under the rule that was set in the Minsk Agreement, so it was a demand from our side to ask if it would be better to postpone the elections. The fact is, at the end of the year, I want in December now to have a real state of play how the situations in different points are: done, not done. And you have these points. This is one that is important for me. I know that we will not be able to have all done, but we have to think, to analyze the situation before deciding. I do not accept people who already have the decision before they know how the situation is. I want an analysis, and with the analysis, I will be able to affix my position. But I do not have it now.
Vasily Romanov, Editor-in-Chief, Business News Agency (St. Petersburg): I want to continue the topic of sanctions. I want to ask your opinion on effectiveness of these sanctions. I consider that the main purpose of sanctions is punishment and intention to change behavior of the subject – in our case, Russia. So, like you punish a child and do not give him ice-cream if the child broke some grave rule. But in Russian case, we can see that Vladimir Putin, our President, continues his aggressive politics, and now we see not only in Ukraine or Soviet territories, but in East and Syria. So what is your opinion: should the West, European Union and your partners find new instruments to change Kremlin’s behavior?
Xavier Bettel: So, first thing, I do not want to mix up Syria and Ukraine. These are two totally different things. I do not want to say that because of the behavior in Syria we have to take the sanctions along the pattern we had for Ukraine. It is two different things.
In Ukraine, we have Minsk Agreement, and we stick to the Minsk Agreement, do and consider all the things to discuss about that. On Syria, I want that we are able to discuss, that we are able to find – we have a common goal, we have a common goal to fight terrorism. We have one enemy, which is IS – Daesh [terrorist group banned in Russia]. This is the common enemy. My army will not change the situation in Syria. My army is 800 persons. So the fact is that today, the US, Russia, and the other countries – and we need Muslim countries too, because of we do not have Muslim countries, there will be religion, Muslims, against the other. I do not want that. […] We have to coordinate [with Muslim countries]. We have to be able to work together on this topic.
I said Russia is a part of the solution in Syria, but Assad is part of the problem. But we should now not discuss [it], if we should start to take common positions, depending if Assad is there or not. Assad is, for me, the next problem. But the needs of the now is to fight against terrorism. And we should be able. I am happy that they met now in Vienna, but they should be able to put together, to come together and to work together. Imagine Turkey and Russia in the situation we are now. They have the same goal. And now they are, on the international level, considered as being in a tension situation. Which is crazy. For me, it is really important that on the UN level we are able to get in agreement together. […] And it is not a question of having one part who is in the team of Obama and [another] who is in the team of Putin. This is how now internationally we look to think: who is in a coalition from [those on the side of] Obama and [those] is on the side of Putin. If it is the same goal. And then, together, we fight planes from each other’s team. It is crazy.
I think that the sanctions is unlike getting an ice-cream or not getting an ice-cream, but it is a way to have pressure. And we knew, by taking sanctions, that it would also be not the best solution for our economy, that it would also cost for the European economy. But it was one opportunity to show that the situation in Crimea, the situation in Ukraine was not acceptable for 28 [EU] countries, and that we have to come to the round table to find solutions.
I say thank you Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel who have been able to start this discussion because for the moment the Minsk Agreement is the only agreement that we have, it is the only base to work together. I know that there were other possible discussions about possibilities of sanctions, but I think that this was the decisions we took as the 28 [EU member states], and this will be also the analysis we will have to do as 28.
I do not want to decide before I have a complete analysis of the situation, and going in both directions, as the sanction was, for me, the least violent. I am against violence so I do not want to ask our ambassadors to be kicked out and things like that. This was one thing where there was possibility of pressure, and I think it is a possibility of pressure which harms both. It is a lose-lose situation.
Oksana Maytakova, Senior Reporter, NewKaliningrad.Ru (Kaliningrad): You are speaking about pressure. I am curious: you have Russian roots, you likely know the Russian mentality. Did the European Union really think Russia will submit to any kind pressure? That’s the first question. The second: did the EU really think Russia would return Crimea? Because the situation is apparent – it is likely they will have to make peace with the fact. And how will the situation proceed in the future?
Xavier Bettel: The first thing is – yes, my family left Russia after the Revolution, and tonight [on December 3] for the ones who are in Luxembourg there is a concert at the Luxembourg Philharmonie, a play by Sergei Rachmaninov. So I will go with my mom to listen to them. I know there are Russian roots of my family. And I know how the Russians’ way of thinking. The fact is, sanctions are one of the possibilities that we have. It was, I think, the solution we took as 28 [EU states], and it was the one where we thought the pressure was making it able to move. I had very good discussions with President Putin – it should have been, I think, 45 minutes, but it took two and a half hours. So it was really a frank, honest discussion. And we spoke a lot about Ukraine and about sanctions. I told him for me, I only want to speak to him and to Poroshenko, and to tell them both have a big part of responsibilities in that.
Now, to get back Crimea or not to get back Crimea: we have international law, which speaks about annexations. To get back is one thing; to recognize is another thing on the international law level. I hope that the diplomatic way will be able to be the solution for Donetsk and Luhansk, and that we will not have a situation which is a frozen conflict for the next 20 years or so. But now, about Crimea or not, if Ukrainians – they have to ask. I am not the one who will ask now in which direction it should go. I told you – one thing is to get back, and the other is to recognize. I think recognizing Crimea as an independent part is how the things will be not for tomorrow, at least for Luxembourg, which is still illegal annexation.
Alexey Mokrushin, Internet Projects Director, “Susanin” news portal (Izhevsk): I would like to ask you: what is the attitude in Luxembourg, as the state holding the Presidency of the European Union, to the Russian military campaign in Syria?
Xavier Bettel: As I told you before, we have actions – I think the UK partners decided also to take actions. If I am right, the German Bundestag will decide tomorrow [on December 4]. If everybody decides to act isolated, it will be a disaster. As I told you before, I will not be able to decide for them. It is not for me to decide. But I think it would be the best solution to have an international mandate and to have coordination. And I do not want to have bipolar teams of the one behind Putin and the one behind Obama. There have been a lot of discussions in Europe about the targets of the Russian army, if they were the right ones or not the right ones. If we have no coordination we will go into what we call a “cacophony,” chaos, where everybody will make mistakes.
We have information, and the secret service has information; it is important to exchange the information and coordinate. If we are not able to coordinate, it will take a long time to find the solution, and in fact we would not give rights to the terrorists, but they will get right on one part – it is to split the world. That is what they want in our countries – to split the world, that people do not trust other religions, get scared about others. That is what they want. I do not hope they will be able to split the world because of organizational problem of different countries.
Georgy Makarenko, International Department Editor, RBC news agency (Moscow): Thank you a lot for the welcoming speech, and I have a little question about the welcoming itself. Firstly, a few weeks ago, the Netherlands press, namely De Telegraaf, reported about some plans in Amsterdam to create some kind of Schengen in Schengen inside the European Union. Second, about the problem with the migrants and the terrorists infiltrating the European Union external borders. What could be the real working solutions for that problem, the problem of the terrorists infiltrating the external borders of Europe?
Xavier Bettel: If we start to speak about the Schengen in Schengen, it is the end of Schengen. We have one Schengen, and it stays one Schengen. We have rules in Schengen, we can have controls and can have a lot of different tools. We have to act, to continue to do what is planned in Schengen. To speak about the Schengen in Schengen, new ones and old ones, is the end of Schengen. So I do not want to speak about that idea.
We have to get what we need – it is strict external controls. We have external borders, and they need to be controlled. The fact is, we see that they are open, people are coming, and we should know that the most difficult border to control is the sea. […] You see someone on a boat, and what do you do? You say “No,” you have to turn them back? Then you should know that they’ll drown. I am not a killer. So what do you do on the sea? This is the most difficult border to say “You can’t go.”
So what we need is, I think, a procedure where in the countries now we have to speak about Lebanon, about Jordan, and about Turkey. But we should not forget Lebanon and Jordan also, where nearly 20% of the population are refugees. My point of view is that resettlement or relocation should be the regulated immigration, because if we do not know how many will come, where they go, we have no control then. So it will be important, but I do not want to build fences, because at the moment, who makes money? Smugglers and fence producers.
So it is important for me that we have the control over the existing channels which will be done, external borders which will be conformed, and then within countries close to the conflict areas they will be would be able to do what we have to do, and we can take the matter of relocation from those places, which will be still an open immigration, but controlled immigration, what is not in fact for the moment.
Then you said about terrorists mixing up as refugees. […] I will never name him [a terrorist] a refugee, because in his mind, he never wanted to get protection. He wants to destroy. It is important to note we have over 5,000 Europeans who went to Syria. Five thousand young people left Europe to go to Syria! And they do not need to come back as refugees. They have their European passports. If they want to come to Europe, they will come to Europe, because we see that we are not able to control the borders.
So, what is very important is to prevent young people to leave; also to exchange information that we have. Because what happens, for example, in Paris? We saw that in Paris attacks has been done by people living in Belgium, because they were on the Belgium radar. The French have the French extremism on the French radar. So it is very important in our interests to exchange also on secret services to give information to know at least when somebody’s on your ground that there is a possibility to have something.
On Tuesday [December 1], I went to Parliament and I proposed a bill to have also more strict rules about giving to the justice more possibilities to control and to have more possibilities to work on a more efficient data then it is the case now. It is not now that because of these attacks we should start to get police state everywhere, where individual rights, human rights are taken away, but we should also know that for terrorists, their rights stop where general safety is in danger. I am defending a project where we should be able to control and to reduce the normal situations for this kind of thing.
Andrei Denisenko, Editor-in-Chief, “Echo of Moscow in Perm” radio station (Perm): Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for giving an opportunity to be present here. I would like to say a few more words about the migrant issue, the migration issue. There is no doubt the fact that Europe takes so many refugees, primarily from Eastern and African countries, is an important humanitarian mission. But therein lies a contradiction of sorts, as those who come to Europe are those with enough strength, connections, funds to leave their lands and reach Europe. While the weak, the ill, the poor remain where they are, and these are the very categories that likely need support the most. Perhaps, as they taught men in the medical academy, the treatment of an illness must begin not with the symptoms but the cause itself? Perhaps, the international community should concentrate on solving the issue in the source, in the regions that the refugees are currently leaving? Because, as far as I understand, Turkey and Europe also have their limits, and Europe will not be able to accept refugees all the time.
Xavier Bettel: My country is one of the very few countries in the world spending 1% [of its GDP] for development aid. I think the best prevention of situations is to invest in people and to give hope to young generation, because why are some people becoming fighters? Because they have no future, no country or no perspectives, so it is important to do this. You say we should take the problem from the roots – the attacks, for example, the bombings of non-Syrians but of the people who did some attacks provoke new refugees. Because what is Daesh doing? They are present and militant where there are civilians. When they go to Palmira, and afterwards when we decide to attack Palmira, the civil population will be going away. So it is important to speak about the problems at roots, but what is the most important is to have safe places close to the places where they live. And maybe we have an opportunity to help in these countries to have camps where these people do not need to go cross the sea, where they do not need to make thousands kilometers to be safe. But now, they are looking to survive.
I had a report from, I think, Palmira, where there were ISIS, there were attacks, and afterwards ISIS put bombs in fridges, so when people open their doors – open the door to come home, and you have a bomb. Or they put bombs on dead bodies. So you have you family member, you want to bury your family member, but when you take the body, the bomb explodes. So to tell you what people saw, and I think we should realize that every bomb that we put now is also provoking new moves for refugees. I know there is a very big discussion, but what it is so important is to think about petrol and all these things, because ISIS, they have money, and we see that they are some people making money with ISIS, doing deals with ISIS. So we have to analyze that too in Europe.
Oksana Muraveva, Editor-in-Chief, “Novy Vek” TV company (Tambov): I also have a question about the Syrian refugees. If we judge by the situation we have in Europe right now, if we draw a line, is it possible to say the European Union has made a mistake by letting in so many Syrian refugees? Was it possible not to let them in? And what is your opinion on the fact that a large number of Americans in the US voted against the idea of possibly letting in the Syrian refugees?
Xavier Bettel: I do not want to speak about whether it is a mistake or not a mistake. I know there are people who would like to blame people who said we will be able or things like that. I think that Europe is built on solidarity. Some countries, and my country, should not forget – we were also migrants once. My population was migrants who two centuries ago got to go to the United States, and during the Second World War, a lot of people migrated too. So we should not forget that migration is a question in history where there is not just one people who is a migrant – we were all migrants once in our history. And we were happy to be able to be welcomed in other countries.
I do not want also to say that it is an economic opportunity, because it has been said that migration is an economic opportunity. For me, it is a humanity and solidarity, but not without defense, because the capacities once will be finished. And to that, this is why I think it is important now that we have a deal with Turkey. We should also work with other countries to find safe places around the conflict situations where we are able to give to these people the safe place, but also I say that was the problem in Turkey. If children have no school, no doctor who can help them, they will leave. So it is important also to invest in people being there and maybe to stay there or to go back to their country, because a lot of them want also to go back to their country when it reverts to stable situation, but for the moment it is not the case.
Pavel Polosin, Editor-in-Chief, PenzaNews agency (Penza): Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to return to the issue of EU-Russian relations, and my question is more of an economic one. Does Europe need energy supplies from Russia, and if yes, why was the South Stream project shut down? Will the Nord Stream 2 project be implemented? Or will it follow the tracks of the South Stream? Last week [on November 27], Vazil Hudak, Slovakian Minister of Economy, said that Nord Stream 2 poses a threat to his country and the European Union as a whole. Ukraine is also disappointed, as it will lose $2 billion a year it gets for gas transit, and it has already urged Brussels to stop the pipeline from being built. And the second question to accompany the first one: from your point of view, is European consumption of Russian energy supplies sufficient within the bounds of the Third Energy Package? As you know, German business is actively opposing the Third Energy Package.
Xavier Bettel: You know that we had a big discussion about the South Stream and also about the energy, other questions. And it was also since the beginning. The question was of the European Union. I say again that by the sanctions that we’ve described, it harms both parties, because you have it, we need it, and in some other things, we have it, you need it. And it would be important that in the next months we are able to find solutions, not the lose-lose situation in which we are now, and come to have a situation which both Russia and Ukraine respect the Minsk Agreements.
We are, for the moment, in a lose-lose situation, not the one I want. That is why I wanted to visit Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev, and also Mr. Poroshenko – because we need to get out of the situation. It is just the question of sanctions and countersanctions, and now energy.
I remember some people in the European countries saying: “I will not take the Russian gas.” I do not want these kinds of words. It is not how we should deal with the problem. I hope that we do the analysis, we will be able to come to the conclusion that big effort has been done, we are not finished.
The sanctions have not only been taken because of one reason: because of the Malaysian flight, there were new sanctions. So there are different topics we should see, and when we do sanctions and new sanctions, we should be able to say: “Okay, these sanctions will be more weak.” This is my condition. I know that it is not always easy to get true with it. It was, I think, since the beginning. I have a balanced situation because I seek to speak together, people do not want to speak to each other. And for me, it was important as presidency, as Prime Minister, to visit. And not to ask something for me, but to find solutions for us.
Tatyana Svintsova, Editor-in-Chief, “Tomsk” news agency (Tomsk): I arrived from Siberia, the region of oil and gas extraction, but my question is not about it. For us, for our region, for the Tomsk region, the main spot of growth and economy is higher education and science. Over the past year, all scientists and students who come to Tomsk to work or teach, have to overcome many internal fears. Before, they were afraid of Siberian winter and bears; now, they are afraid of the police state, after so many stories in the media, particularly European ones. And they are very surprised to see we don’t have people with guns on the streets and people marching in formation. From your point of view, when you talk about de-escalation that both Europe and Russia require, should we talk not just about downed planes and weapons used, but also about the media policy?
Xavier Bettel: That is really why you are here. To exchange, to speak together and to report – you have to do your job. I am also the Minister for Communications and Media. The other thing that is important to note is that you’re always very important. You are professionals, you have your guidelines, and you want to throw your guidelines. All you want to do is what you think is good for your country. The thing is that nowadays you are not the only ones who make people’s minds. There are social media. I have sometimes people who counter me with “I read it on Facebook.” You can put any information you want on Facebook. For example, this little boy, Aylan, who drowned in Turkey: some people fought against the migration, said it was a fake. And this is terrible when you use information to misuse people’s minds.
I believe that it is very important nowadays that we started to educate people to media and to social media, and not to believe what they read, to take that information but then to ask themselves the questions about the positions they need to have. I too often meet people who say: “Yeah, but someone wrote on Facebook that…” It is crazy. So you have a very important role, and that is important that you are here, and I think that goes both directions, so that European journalists also go to Russia. […] Maybe what I said is not the answer you wanted. But what is important is to be able to exchange, to discuss and not to convince. I am not here to tell you whether you’re right or you’re wrong. That is your job.
Vladimir Zolotarev, Editor-in-Chief, “Lipetskaya Gazeta” newspaper (Lipetsk): First of all, with the permission of my colleagues – I believe they will support me – I would like to thank you for the good reception and the good weather – this is very relevant after the climate summit. I hope you contributed to the good weather when we arrived. Thank you for the opportunity to visit Luxembourg, discuss these important issues. Of course, the migration issue concerns everybody right now. Obviously, our world will not go on like before, and Europe in particular would not go on like before. Still, there is something I would like to talk about: regardless of what is happening now in the world, in spite of international relations, business is still coming to Russia. Despite the sanctions, they are investing in projects, implementing their own projects, even in our region that is developing a special economic zone. You likely know this: your neighbors from Belgium are working and developing their production facilities in our region. Indesit, an Italian company, has a strong representation in the region. What other ways of development and cooperation between the European Union and Russia can you see in the context of current relations?
Xavier Bettel: First thing about the climate summit is that it is not normal have 10°C in December, even in Luxembourg. You realize the urgency of the climate summit and problems that we discuss with some heads of state of governments from islands, and they do not know how long they will still exist, because they might disappear from the map. This is reality. So I know that the Paris will be a success. It must be a success.
You told me that some countries are doing business on a different way. I would like that it is not through the back door that you try to say: “We are in favor of sanctions, but…”
What is important, and that is the reason I am asking for that, we need a situation where we are honest together, where we analyze the situation, where we decide to go in one or the other direction, and to get out of this lose-lose situation where the general economies of both countries are suffering from the sanctions. Your cannot tell in global that there is a benefit for the one or for the other because of these sanctions.
Vladimir Zolotarev: From your point of view, who should make the first step?
Xavier Bettel: As I told you, I want to analyze, to understand the situation of Minsk. Minsk was the reason, and the situation in Ukraine was the situation why we decided on sanctions. Then afterwards we had the MH flight and the others where we took some decisions. We are now in a situation where it seems […] to go in the right direction. So that is the reason why since a few weeks and months, I say I want to analyze if we do not go to the right direction.
And from both actors we need to be able also to speak also about taking away the sanctions. I said it, I am saying it today, and I will say it also in the future. We need an exit strategy. We are in a lose-lose situation without thinking about an exit strategy, and the exit strategy should be to say that Minsk, yes, has been done, it is okay, so we go in that direction – to get out. No one – Poroshenko or Putin – wants to be the loser. No one. So it is important that we see that the agreement is done.
Darya Morozova, Special Correspondent, “Interfax” news agency (Moscow): I have two questions. Last time, when we saw each other in Sochi, you said that the isolation of Russia would be the worst situation. Could you say that during the Luxembourg presidency in the European Union, your knowledge at least ameliorated this situation? And the second question is considering the EU-Turkish relations. Are you going to consider Russian Defense Ministry allegations of Turkish authorities related to ISIS oil industry? And will it influence the bilateral relations with the EU? Now it seems that you are playing double: while the situation is so tense, EU is promising Turkey, for example, to facilitate the visa process or even to lift visas. Do you understand how it will influence the security position of the EU if Turkey really is related to ISIS?
Xavier Bettel: I was a lawyer in my former life. People are innocent as long as they are considered as guilty. If there is information, this is one thing, but everybody is not guilty in all judicial systems as long as it is not proven. So I understand that is also in the news. I told you before: I want deescalation. If we stop blaming one or the other, it is a fact. If someone supports things like that, it is not acceptable. But for the moment, I have no proof of these allegations, so I do not want to take a position on that.
Then, you told me we are in a conflict situation. I do not want to say that we are in the “best marriage” situation. But I think to go, as the Prime Minister of the country that presides over the European Union for six months, to Russia was the start, to say that because some people think that isolation is the best policy, and I do not favor isolation. Luxembourg always thinks that to speak, to exchange, to listen – not to accept, but to listen and to think about different issues, is the best way to do diplomacy, and not to say we do not want to speak together.
So I wanted to go to Sochi, I wanted to go to Kiev. Because we need these bridges more than ever. All the relations were very fragile, and the bridges between the countries, between Europe and Russia, were of the very light formation. So for me it was important to go there, to exchange with them and to explain to Mr. Putin, but also to Mr. Poroshenko, that Minsk for us is the base, we have to speak through Minsk on both sides. I told also Mr. Poroshenko that he needs the support from his Parliament, because we can’t blame one country – it is not only one country to mess with you. It is both.
Soeren Liborius: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for taking your time for answering these questions so long. Your points are very well. The purpose of the seminar are namely the discussion and exchange, and I think that the questions here illustrate that we are looking at practically all the issues that are on the agenda between EU and Russia. I am happy that we shall spend the remaining time of the two days and a half deepening our discussion on that, with your service a very good start for that. Thank you very much.
The meeting of Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and 25 representatives of Russian mass media took more than an hour. It was followed by a joint photo session and concluded with a brief break during which the politician and the journalists engaged in informal discussion and took selfies.
Xavier Bettel was born on 3 March 1973 in Luxembourg City. His father was a local wine merchant, and his mother Aniela, French of Russian descent, grandniece of the internationally famous composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.
After finishing school, he obtained a Masters degree in Public and European Law, and a Diploma of Advanced Studies (DEA) in Political Science and Public Law in Nancy University, France. He also studied maritime and ecclesiastical law at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, and participated in the EU Erasmus student and teacher exchange program.
In 1989, Xavier Bettel joined the Democratic Party of Luxembourg.
In the 1999 communal elections, he was elected to the Communal Council of Luxembourg City, becoming the sixth politician in the Democratic Party roster. On 12 July 2001, he qualified as a lawyer.
On 28 November 2005, Xavier Bettel was appointed assistant (échevin) to the mayor of Luxembourg City on social issues after the communal election.
During the 9 October 2011 election, he was elected the mayor of Luxembourg City with 33.65% of the vote at the age of 38. He sworn in on 24 November 2011, and began work on 1 January 2012.
Xavier Bettel ran for the Chamber of Deputies in the 1999 legislative election, and finished 10th amongst the Democratic Party candidates in the Center constituency, thus leaving him out of the top seven to be elected. However, the Democratic Party overtook the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party (LSAP) as the second-largest one, and its members formed the majority of the new government as the Christian Social People’s Party’s (CSV) coalition partners. Thus, with several politicians vacating their seats to take roles in the government, Xavier Bettel was appointed to the Chamber
He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 2004, significantly improving his standing and getting the fourth position out of the top five to be elected, and successfully retained his place during the 2009 election.
In 2013, he was elected the leader of the Democratic Party with 96.5% of the vote, his party taking the third place in the country during the same year’s parliamentary election afterwards.
On 25 October 2013, Xavier Bettel was designated by Luxembourg Grand Duke Henri as the so-called formateur for the next government, the person to conduct talks on formation of the majority coalition and the new government. He assumed his post as Luxembourg’s Prime Minister on 4 December 2013, heading the government’s coalition of the Democratic Party, Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party, and The Greens.
He also performs the functions of Minister of State, Minister for Communications and the Media, and Minister of Culture.
Xavier Bettel was awarded the Grand Cross of the Oak Crown Order on 13 June 2014.