Cabinet reshuffle

Yuriko Backes to become finance minister

Yuriko Backes, pictured on 3 December during a press conference announcing her appointment as finance minister Photo: Matic Zorman

Yuriko Backes, pictured on 3 December during a press conference announcing her appointment as finance minister Photo: Matic Zorman

Former diplomat Yuriko Backes is set to become Luxembourg’s next finance minister, the Democratic Party (DP) announced on Friday.

Finance minister Pierre Gramegna (DP) on Tuesday had announced that he would be stepping down, saying he would not be running in the next elections and wants to give his party time to find a successor before the 2023 ballot.

“I am very sad that Pierre Gramegna decided to stop,” DP president Corinne Cahen said during a press conference on 3 December, saying the party had tried to convince him to continue. “We respect his decision.”

Backes currently is the Maréchale de la Cour at Luxembourg’s royal household. She took on the post in 2020 as the first woman to hold the highest administrative position at the palace.

She will now become the first female finance minister. “We were sure that this would be the ideal profile,” Cahen said about Backes, citing her national and international experience. “We hope that the whole country will support her.”

Backes served as head of the European Commission’s representative office in Luxembourg between 2016 and 2020, prior to which she was diplomatic advisor to Jean-Claude Juncker when he was Luxembourg prime minister, starting in 2010.

She graduated from the London School of Economics and the College of Europe in Bruges before serving in several diplomatic roles, including as deputy director of the international economic relations directorate for the foreign affairs ministry, deputy head of mission at the Luxembourg embassy in Japan and permanent representation of Luxembourg to the European Union in Brussels and to the UN in New York.

Prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) during Friday’s press conference thanked Gramegna, who is set to become a grandfather and during an interview this week said he wants to spend more time with his family.

“It’s not an easy succession,” Bettel said of the pandemic environment. “It’s a challenge.” The grand duke has been informed of the decision as the palace will have to appoint a new Maréchal de la Cour. “I’m proud of the support we’re receiving,” Bettel said. “She’s the first woman to become finance minister. I’m proud of this choice.”

“It’s a tremendous honour for me,” Backes said during the press conference. “I am well aware of the importance of this task.” The next finance minister said she shares the DP’s values and vision even though she was until now not a member of the party. Gramegna, too, joined the DP with the appointment as finance minister.

“I don’t come from the finance sector, but this is a task that I will commit to with determination,” she said. “It’s a new chapter in my life and I’m excited. I know it will be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it.”

Gramegna said being in government for eight years was a “unique experience”. He thanked the premier for his trust and the cooperation of the past years. “We guaranteed the stability of state finances.”

The outgoing finance minister said he would continue his task with due diligence until the last day. The 2022 budget is set to be voted on 16 December. “I’m a professional diplomat and Yuriko Backes is a professional diplomat,” he said, adding that it’s a crucial skill for the job. “Her experience will benefit the country,” Gramegna said, adding he would be working with her for a smooth transition.

Gramegna to close his speech thanked his grandfather, who came to Italy from Luxembourg around 100 years ago and was the first person to import Italian wine to the grand duchy. The outgoing finance minister cited his grandfather, saying: “The best thing that happened to me in my life is Luxembourg.”