On Sunday, the European Council signed off on the withdrawal agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
However, as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has already said, the actual work only begins: we enter a complicated implementation period, which is likely to create endless legal disputes on the specifics of the agreement, provided the deal survives the vote in the House of Commons.
The heads of state and government of the EU will play a key role in these negotiations, just as much as they will be relevant if the UK crashes out with no deal, and a free-trade agreement will be on everyone’s mind.
No matter what British parliamentarians will allow to happen, Luxembourg has an obligation towards the UK to offer the greatest possible support.
With the Treaty of London of 1839, the UK affirmed the independence of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg that had previously belonged to the Dutch Kingdom, while simultaneously being a part of the German Confederation. These changing power arrangements had frustrated the Luxembourgish population for a long time: they were merely suffering bystanders of constant power grabs, bringing war to their homes.
Today’s population cannot quite imagine what it must have been like to be constantly invaded by and stolen from three different directions at any given year. It was the political intervention of the UK that ended it.
In the 20th century, British soldiers freed the continent from German domination, which, had it not taken place, would have extinguished all hope for Luxembourgish independence in 1914, and in the case of 1940, would have made this country a part of a murderous and fascist regime for decades.
Yes, economic dependence between Germany and France, introduced by Robert Schuman and the Schuman plan of 1950 made another war considerably less likely, but the threat first had to be avoided by the firm decision-making of the US and the UK. There is no Schuman declaration without the incredible bravery of British and American soldiers.
However, our gratitude to the UK is purely ceremonial. We first celebrate the enormous sacrifices on an annual basis, and indulge interested nodding when we see the topic appear in a TV documentary, but there’s no actual political gratitude shown in any tangible way.
In fact, quite the opposite is the case: the current government plays along with EU leadership talking points on Brexit. The same goes for Luxembourgish EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who is repeatedly caught making sarcastic remarks about the UK, just like when he claimed that the English language is losing importance in Europe.
What we should know is this: the UK deserves both respect and support in the current Brexit negotiations.
Why is it that Luxembourg has been joining the talking points of France and Germany, by saying that it’ll be “game over” in March 2019? Has it been too long for this country to remember that the anglo-saxon tradition of arguing for fractured power on the continent and significant safeguards against too much centralisation, have been key in this country’s struggle for independence?
A majority of the British electorate voted for Brexit on the ground of sovereignty. You can agree with that sentiment or not, but mentioning it in the same sentence with populism, as Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel did in his Future of Europe speech in the European Parliament, shows a deep misunderstanding of the political will of the British people.
The EU speaks with one voice when it decides which position to take in the Brexit talks. From the start, Luxembourg should have supported the best possible terms for the UK.
A dwindling number of Luxembourgers of age can testify to the importance of British liberation from our neighbours, but they would most likely agree that if any country should be a voice for the deepest possible friendship with the UK, it should be this one.
We are always being told that we should never forget. I agree.
This article was first published by the Luxembourg Times.
Pictures are Creative Commons.
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