“Merde alors” is an accurate depiction of Jean Asselborn’s (un)diplomatic legacy

Jean Asselborn’s “Merde alors” comment, directed in anger towards Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini, have been a big talking point in Luxembourgish politics of late. Asselborn, unaware he was being filmed, explained to the far-right leader that the Grand Duchy had hosted thousands of Italians in the past so they were able to feed their families back home. The response was sparked by Salvini’s remark that Luxembourg was not interested in furthering its own population, particularly in regards to declining birth rates.

Asselborn was hailed for a magnificent take-down, which got him international TV interviews, and we’ll assume that the first set of merchandise, with “Merde alors” printed on hoodies and T-shirts, is on its way. Some said Asselborn staged the incident, as the Grand Duchy is facing an election next month. The fact the video was posted by the team of Matteo Salvini makes this unlikely, and Asselborn’s attitude in the interviews he’s given don’t suggest a publicity stunt either.

The important case should be this – the fact Asselborn didn’t know he was being filmed makes the implications of the incident much worse. Had it only been a publicity stunt, one could have suggested the Luxembourgish foreign minister did it for electoral purposes. But now we’re lead to believe this is how the Grand Duchy’s highest-ranking diplomat talks to foreign leaders in general.

The question is not whether you agree or disagree with Salvini – and there are many good reasons to disagree with him. The question is the manner in which Asselborn addresses the Italian minister. Foreign ministers need to speak with the utmost respect to other government representatives. Salvini knows Luxembourg is at odds with its position on immigration, but maybe a respectful and frank disagreement would have gained Italy’s support on other issues, such as, for instance, avoiding a digital tax at the European level. What goes around, comes around.

This is not the first time Asselborn has gone too far in his assessment of other countries’ leaders. Earlier this year, he described Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán as a dictator and later as a “value tumour” that needed to be removed. He can certainly be credited with bringing the discourse down to a certain level, as Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó followed up by calling him an “idiot”. Back in 2016, Asselborn had already asked that Hungary be expelled from the European Union. In January, and seemingly without much consultation with his own government, the socialist minister called for the recognition of the State of Palestine. Little doubt that this only confuses the diplomats in Luxembourg’s administration, charged with keeping the peace in their daily operations.

That Asselborn called the politics of Salvini “fascist” will only deepen the rift between Luxembourg and Italy. How exactly can a government claim to stand for constructive dialogue when the person supposed to represent Luxembourgish diplomacy abroad treats the microphones of Reuters and AFP the same way citizens do when they get road rage? The reason a person is promoted to the office of foreign minister is because they demonstrate the necessary restraint with their temper to fulfil such a delicate and important mission.

If Asselborn cannot assume this role, then it is time for him to go.


This article was first published by the Luxembourg Times.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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