After nearly two decades as Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn reflected on his tenure and the challenges of migration policy in an in-depth interview with RTL Radio.
After his last week as Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, as well as Minister for Immigration and Asylum, Jean Asselborn reflected on his near two-decade long tenure during a conversation on RTL Radio.
Asselborn showed himself affected by recent criticism on his migration policies, claiming to have done everything possible to get the situation under control, even if he did not fully succeed. He stressed that during the 19 years in charge of migration policies, he always sided with refugees whenever doubt arose.
The politician from the Luxembourg Socialist Workers' Party (LSAP) stated that he does not regret this stance, referring to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and resulting refugee spike as an example.
Difficult decisions amid crumbling solidarity
Asselborn explained that it was a necessary albeit difficult decision to put male refugees on a waiting list here in Luxembourg if they already entered the so-called Dublin procedure in another country. The outgoing diplomat acknowledged this as a failure on his part.
Nevertheless, refugee facilities in the Grand Duchy were close to collapsing, putting women and children at risk, he stressed. Close to 20 people are currently on the waiting list.
Asselborn assessed that a key problem in Europe's handling of the migrant crisis is that Italy no longer takes back people in the Dublin procedure. European solidarity is crumbling, lamented the diplomat and underlined that the system can only work if northern countries are compelled to aid those in the south.
If this mutual agreement is not respected, the countries where most refugees arrives will no longer respect the rules, noted the LSAP politician. He unequivocally dismissed the idea of creating a European fortress that denies entry to those in need. Without solidarity, even the Schengen Agreement is at risk, said Asselborn.
Municipalities to increase efforts
Asselborn underscored the importance of the so-called 'T Building' in Kirchberg, which currently houses around 1,000 refugees, mostly from Ukraine. Another 400 people have meanwhile found shelter in a nearby tent.
As for the 'Hall 7' at the LuxExpo convention centre, Asselborn explained that this only served as a temporary solution until the end of January. Municipalities across Luxembourg should therefore increase their efforts to free up more space for those in need, he said while drawing attention to the need for government support.
Reception and immigration 'one responsibility'
When asked about the intention of the new CSV-DP government to split migration issues among two ministries, Asselborn argued against this approach. He explained that this was already the case from 2013 to 2018, which he thinks complicated matters.
Reception and immigration work better as one responsibility, noted the LSAP politician, otherwise there is a risk of people being let in and not cared for.
Asselborn believes that the outgoing coalition government failed to put in as much effort into their election campaign as they did in 2018. He also noted that policy alignment between CSV and DP had already become noticeable in the run-up to election day.
As per tradition, the new government now deserves 100 days to put things in motion, according to Asselborn. He expressed hopes that this period will then be followed by constructive dialogue between majority and opposition.
'Good luck' to Luc Frieden
Asselborn wished Luc Frieden, whom he worked with from 2004 to 2009, best of luck for the future. He highlighted Frieden's professionalism and smartness, but showed a lack of understanding for the secrecy around the new coalition agreement.
Asselborn also discussed the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza during the interview, admitting that both Europe and the US made a critical mistake by not focusing on a two-state solution earlier on.
To Mont Ventoux and beyond
After 19 years in office, the LSAP politician now no longer has a police officer at his side who drives him from one appointment to the next. Since the weather did not favour a bike ride on the day of this interview, he decided to drive his new electric car to the RTL studios in Kirchberg.
Before undergoing knee surgery, Asselborn used to cycle 10,000-12,000 km per year. This year, at the age of 76, he still managed to complete 8,000 km, including an ascend of the notorious Mont Ventoux in France.
Though no longer part of the administration, Asselborn contemplates running in the European election next year, vowing to take a decision by February. The LSAP's goal is to secure two seats. In the meantime, he wants to use his newly gained free time to clean up at home and potentially give a couple of university lectures.