The Luxembourg presidency of the Benelux union officially kicked off on 5 February. It’s the third time for the grand duchy since the Benelux treaty began in 2012.
Foreign and European affairs minister Jean Asselborn presented Luxembourg’s perspective at the evening event held at the Abbaye de Neumunster, emphasising in particular four priorities: energy transition and the fight against climate change, reinforcing the internal market and promoting digitalisation. These priorities stem from the annual workplan for 2019 developed by the three countries last December.
“A model for cooperation”
Luxembourg takes the reins from Belgium, and during the launch minister Asselborn thanked Didier Reynders, Belgian deputy prime minister and foreign and European affairs minister, for “set[ting] the bar very high”.
Asselborn noted that 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Benelux agreement which initiated the union of the three countries. By 1951, the union had joined three other countries--France, Italy and West Germany--to become the European Coal and Steel Community, the early predecessor of what is today the EU.
The same EU is “currently going through a period in which there are many challenges: the rise of authoritarian populism and unilateral tendencies, the questioning of the rule of law, the harmful effects of climate change and economic and social challenges,” Asselborn said, also referencing the Brexit situation.
He added: “Benelux is a success story that is a model for cooperation among EU member states.”
Concerted efforts, concrete actions
In the presence of guests--which included Reynders and the ambassador of the Netherlands, Hans-Maurits Schaapveld, among others--Asselborn further outlined particular action steps under each of the four priorities, with Benelux secretary general Thomas Antoine outlining the Benelux working plan.
With regards to climate change and energy, the union will continue promoting the circular economy, promoting renewable energy, environmental education, and more.
The main aim of the digitalisation priority allows for the cross-border deployment of specific projects, e.g., autonomous vehicles, 4G and 5G networks, mobile payments, etc.
The Luxembourg presidency also aims to invest on implementing the Benelux treaty signed in July 2018, which outlines the cooperation of police forces through joint training programmes, better exchange of information and mixed patrols.
It is further anticipated that Benelux will increase its cooperation in foreign policy. Ministerial-level consultation meetings are planned, as well with senior officials, in order to facilitate the development of Benelux joint positions in the EU council.
“The Benelux model continues to generate interest and remains a source of inspiration for other regional groups,” Asselborn said, adding: “Luxembourg is deeply convinced of the role of Benelux as a driving force for European integration, and it is in this sense that we intend to work on our presidency of the Benelux committee of ministers.”