Alison Shorter-Lawrence, current chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Luxembourg, told Delano on Friday: “I am impressed with the flexibility, the savvy cosmopolitan approach that Luxembourg has.” Pictured: Angela and Francis Hoogewerf, Alison Shorter Lawrence (centre), and Alice Walpole (at the time, British ambassador to Luxembourg) at the Amcham Thanksgiving event on 23 November 2015. Image: LaLa La Photo
“When I look out of my window, I see the true dichotomy that is Luxembourg”: top US diplomat
Shorter-Lawrence has been in Luxembourg for almost three years and has volunteered to spend a year at the US mission in Bagdad in Iraq as deputy management councillor.
In the first of a two-part interview, she explains what diplomats do, reflects on her time in Luxembourg and Luxembourg-US relations and what her favourite word is.
The interview has been slightly abridged for length and clarity; part two will be published on Tuesday.
Martine Huberty: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Alison Shorter-Lawrence: “I wanted to be a diplomat from a very early age. My mother is British so I grew up hearing about different countries, different places, and I was fascinated not only with the culture in my own country but the great big world beyond. When I went to college I got a degree in international relations and I wanted to see the world! I joined the department of state and I have been really fortunate that I have had some fascinating assignments. I started off in Serbia 27 years ago when the war broke out and Croatia seceded. Then I went to Tunisia. (…) I met my husband in Tunis, we got married, and went back to Washington and I served some time working for Madeleine Albright. (…) Then I did Paris, Barbados, back to Washington, and here we are in Luxembourg. I have had a really varied career with extremely different jobs. (…) I love my job: I love representing the United States and I really appreciate getting to meet people from all over the world.”
Martine Huberty: What are the job specs of a deputy chief of mission and of a chargé d’affaires?
“As a deputy chief of mission [DCM], you’re the partner to the ambassador. The ambassador is the face of the embassy, and the deputy chief of mission is managing the embassy and ensuring that our policy issues are being addressed, that we’re working with the government of Luxembourg, that our public outreach programmes are chugging along and that the management of the embassy is going smoothly. It’s sort of like being the chief operating officer.
When an ambassador leaves, the DCM becomes the chargé d’affaires. I often say to people I am the acting ambassador, because chargé d’affaires is a diplomatic term that many people don’t understand. In that case, I take on the job of the ambassador and represent the country with the government of Luxembourg. I work to ensure that our policy integration and coordination continues and that we have a strong, successful relationship here in Luxembourg. Fortunately, we have a very smart, savvy and dedicated team here, so I just look good: they actually do the work.”
What is your typical work day?
“That’s a hard one, because every day is different. Yesterday was a good example: I had internal meetings with my staff in the morning. I had a meeting with a colleague at the ministry of foreign affairs and in the evening, I hosted the vernissage of Luxembourg’s young student artists, making those cultural connections--building relationships people to people, not government to government, and that’s what’s really important for us around the world.
Today is a busy day: because I am leaving, I have farewell calls to make. These last few days have been a little unusual. This morning I had the opportunity to meet with the deputy prime minister Étienne Schneider to say farewell, and then I had lunch with one of his colleagues, this afternoon I am meeting with you and this evening I’ll go to the ministry of finance and say farewell to minister Gramegna. (…) But a typical day is different every day.”
How would you evaluate the political culture of Luxembourg?
“After almost three years in Luxembourg, I am impressed with the flexibility, the savvy cosmopolitan approach that Luxembourg has. The government of Luxembourg and its people share many of the values, the same hopes and dreams for democracy around the world. They put their money where their mouth is; they’re very involved with different humanitarian programmes, whether it’s in the Middle East or in Africa. The Luxembourg government was involved in the refugee summit at the United Nations general assembly in September. They’re an active member of the Nato alliance and of the EU. I would say that I have been impressed with how much you can do with such a small, nimble and flexible government, and what they want to accomplish and have accomplished.”
How would you describe current Luxembourg-US relations?
“I, as a diplomat, am very fortunate to be here. Americans aren’t liked by everybody, for good or for bad. In Luxembourg, we are appreciated and people remember. I am always humbled. Patricia [Reckel, on the embassy staff] and I have a running joke: will I choke up at one of these commemorative events? So often when I lay a wreath or give remarks, I am truly touched and moved by the appreciation, by the memory, by the deep friendship that we have, whether it’s at the American cemetery or at the Diekirch museum, in Esch or Clervaux--any of these places, I am always so very humbled by the deep memories here and the fact that people express those thoughts and appreciation every day.
(…) Whether we’re working on the Nato alliance commitment, or maintaining the sanctions against Russia due to their illegal annexation of Crimea, or if we’re talking about trade and investment--we have the same goals. When Luxembourg sat on the UN security council for two years, we voted together almost 100% of the time. When you are strong allies and partners, you don’t agree on everything, but you can certainly agree to disagree. As friends, you know you have the same ideas, and you want to promote those ideas together. We don’t do everything together or the same way, but we are certainly strong allies and my job is to nurture that friendship and strengthen those bonds. (…)”
What are the areas of disagreements?
“We don’t have disagreements as much as we have different approaches to addressing issues. The European Union, together as 28, soon to be 27, work together on the issues that they’re promoting and we do that with them, whether it’s development in the Middle East or Africa, or the strengthening of our bonds across Europe. We work together on many issues and when we have disagreements, we do that in private and we work out our differences.”
What are the main areas of cooperation?
“I would say that the most obvious ones are the international alliances, such as Nato or the UN, the OECD or OSCE, so both on the multilateral stage as well as bilaterally, to promote the democratic values, the rule of law and human rights. Luxembourg has a great vision for where they want to take their country and we certainly see that as something we want to do together with them.”
What have you learnt here in Luxembourg?
“You know what surprised me the most about Luxembourg? How incredibly cosmopolitan it is--you don’t realise that until you get here. You hear the statistics, you know the numbers, but until you get here and live it every day, to appreciate the fact that almost half the population is foreign. The integration that the government and the people have done, whether it’s the initial tranche from Italy, or Portugal, or more recently from the Balkans and now from the Middle East, the work that they do as a country to come together, to support each other and to integrate.
When I look out of my window, I see the true dichotomy that is Luxembourg: looking across to Kirchberg and the modernity of that plateau, which I understand has just grown up in the last 20 years. You realise that is why you have over $3 trillion in assets domiciled in Luxembourg, that’s why there are 120 US companies here. This is why you’re a player on the world stage. Then I tip my head and I see the beauty of Pfaffenthal and Clausen and the ancient city, and the historic walls that you’re celebrating in the 1867 treaty this year. I see the two incredibly different pieces of Luxembourg that are incredibly connected. They really are two sides of the same coin.
(…) One of my family’s favourite things is to go walking and hiking, whether it’s in little Switzerland or up North or in the Moselle. That surprised me: the variety. It’s a small place, it’s half a million people. Yes, it’s wealthy, yes, it’s a thriving democracy. You can hear and read about that on paper. But then you come here and see the integration and the interconnections about how Luxembourg beautifully brings those two pieces together. It has a great deal to offer to anyone who visits or wants to live here.
What’s your favourite Luxembourgish word?
That’s a hard one! I don’t know enough to have a favourite…crémant! Is that French though, technically? I am embarrassed to say that I can only say “moien”, “äddi”, “villmols merci”. My favourite word is moien, because it’s used for everything! When I’m walking down the street with my dog, whoever I pass I say moien. As 70% are foreign in Luxembourg City, you don’t know who you’re talking to, so I just say moien to everybody--I love it! But crémant is a great discovery!”