Meet Stephan Koppelberg

Luxembourg marks the fourth representation for Stephan Koppelberg, who took on his current role on 1 September Matic Zorman

Luxembourg marks the fourth representation for Stephan Koppelberg, who took on his current role on 1 September Matic Zorman

Delano caught up with Stephan Koppelberg, acting head of European Commission representation to Luxembourg, who took on his role in early September. 

For Koppelberg, who succeded Yuriko Backes after she moved into her new role as maréchal to the royal court (lord chamberlain) in June, this representation is his fourth, having previously served in Berlin, Barcelona and Bonn. 

Koppelberg entered the role in the midst of the covid-19 crisis, so of course part of the difference in this role in the grand duchy is the fact that there’s less being done in-person, more online. But he sees opportunity behind this too. “The whole of the EU will have to become more digital, and in a sense this is giving it a push in that direction,” he told Delano. “I’m always trying to see the positive side of things… we’re now forced to look into what we can do digitally.”

The team kicked into gear to hold online webinars--the next taking place on 14 October, centred on the Albanian chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. But there were also several European initiatives already in place which were well-suited for the health crisis, including Europeana, a platform of cultural heritage digital assets which Koppelberg called “a fanastic thing” during the covid crisis. “For some time, quite a number of smaller muse[ums] were a bit reticient, they’d rather people come into the museum than put objects online, but it’s complementary,” Koppelberg says. Given closures and restrictions of late, perhaps some of those museums will reconsider.  

Among the main focal points for the EU more broadly is also the digital agenda and, while he praises Luxembourg’s advancements in supercomputing with Meluxina, Koppelberg admits the whole EU could use some “catch[ing] up” on the digital front.

“We have one point where we can be forerunners and that’s industrial data,” he says. “We have the industry, we collect a lot of industrial data. The only thing is that this is never really used.” The EU is expected to make an announcement on this front later this October.

Post-covid, “future-proofed” economy

Among the other main priorities of the European Commission in Luxembourg is to get the economy back on track, Koppelberg says. “Also in Luxembourg we have a rising number of unemployed. Of course, the situation may be better [here] than in other EU member states, but still we have a problem [that] some people either have to work shorter times or are out of work or at risk of being dismissed,” he says. 

The good news—what Koppelberg calls “a gamechanger” is that “for the first time in the history of the EU we have a lot of money at our disposal to do that, to help people directly but also to help the economy and entreprises to stay alive.” On Tuesday, in fact, it was announced the Commission had decided to prolong and extend the 19 March adopted state aid temporary framework so member states could continue supporting companies as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The EU is also “going on the financial market by issuing bonds”, the papers of which will “most probably… be issued from Luxembourg” and which Koppelberg sees as a testament to the trust people have in the EU on paying back.

But to rebuild the economy, “it has to be future-proofed, in a way that preserves our planet”, adds Koppelberg. He sees the European Green Deal, which aims to make the continent climate-neutral by 2050, as a positive way to influence others. “I think we’re in good conversations on that with China, and others are also interested… if we show others it can be done, I think others could make more of an effort.” The EU is expected to make an announcement later today on a renovation package geared to make citizens’ houses more efficient.

In the shorter term, however, Koppelberg is also aware that travel restrictions can be frustrating for citizens. “Imagine you couldn’t leave Luxembourg, it’s quite small. It’s a beautiful country, you have what you need, but many people would like to leave,” he says. “Schengen has an impact on many citizens…it’s essential we keep the borders open.”