Journal: British ambassador to Luxembourg Alice Walpole will leave her post in January. She finds time to reflect on the last four and a half years.
When she was appointed, people asked Alice Walpole whether Luxembourg would be quiet after her stint in Iraq. “I very quickly realised, no, there is a lot going on here. And the opportunity exists here to engage and be part of it.” She says she has been incredibly lucky, having experienced the wedding of Crown Prince Guillaume, two years of Luxembourg on the UN Security Council and the presidency of the European Council during the ambassador’s final six months in office.
Not to mention the exhibition of the Magna Carta at the European Court of Justice. “And in the middle of all that we had a time of real change for Luxembourg with the election. One of my abiding memories is that on election night I called the result wrong, but so did the person who went on to become prime minister. It’s been really interesting to be here.”
However, as might be expected, Walpole says her biggest challenge--and the biggest challenge for any British ambassador to an EU member state--is to show that the UK is not being difficult or selfish with regards to the EU, but is serious. “We do have a vision of the EU. We absolutely are committed.”
That challenge was made even trickier for Walpole when the UK said that it thought the way the European Commission president was selected, from the leading candidate of the political bloc with the most seats in the EU parliament, was wrong.
“It gave a completely inappropriate role to the European Parliament. But it descended in the British press to attacks on Jean-Claude Juncker, and a lot of people that I like very much in this country were upset.” She even says she knows and admires Juncker. However, the silver lining came when right in the middle of that fight prime minister Xavier Bettel, sporting Union Jack socks, took time to attend the Queen’s birthday celebrations at the embassy residence.
That gesture underlined the strength of depth of bilateral relations between Luxembourg and the UK. Walpole cites the RAF graves dotted around the country--all of which she has visited at least once--as evidence of this. “When you dig around, there is a solid underpinning to our relationship. It’s been a real privilege to be part of that. We had a lot of collaboration on the security council and in the EU on financial services.”
The ambassador says that whereas Luxemburg and London might be seen as competitors there is in fact much that is complementary about the two financial services centres. “Everyone wants a foot in the euro zone, and they want a foot in London. There are real opportunities for companies that are here to expand and invest in the UK.”
On a more personal note, Walpole has made many friends during her time in Luxembourg, and just a few weeks before the 2013 election celebrated her fiftieth birthday party, which was attended by leading candidates from many of the parties.
It is the accessibility that the ambassador has come to love about Luxembourg. “I’ve been invited to weddings and funerals, and I had a great relationship with the synagogue in Esch, where the rabbi until recently was a fellow Cambridge graduate.”
Indeed, the ambassador says that what struck her about Luxembourg was just how welcoming and accessible people were, and the opportunities up for grabs.
As for her advice to her successor, John Marshall, Walpole explains that there is traditionally no real handover period between ambassadors. “You provide a list of people to call on, and a general steer, but then you actually leave them to get on with it as they see fit. But if I had to give a piece of advice I would say, say yes to everything. Once at least.”