The week-end's cabinet reshuffle was an interesting piece of politic. On the one hand, a couple of ministers resigned (or were pushed? we'll probably never know the "real" reasons) and, on the other hand, the economy needs addressing. Oh, and there's a national election looming too.
Addressing the last issue first, it's interesting that while circa 40% of salaried employees are cross-border workers and circa 30% are Luxembourgish and the other circa 30% are non-Luxembourgish residents, the voters in the national election are almost exclusively made up of the second group, i.e. just 30% of the workforce. And 70-75% of these are public servants. With the financial service sector resulting in circa 30% of GDP, there are very few people working in this area who actually have a vote (in national elections). A bit of an anomaly.
While this imbalance is cause for concern, it was also hearteneing to see that public finances grew by 10% in the first quarter this year. That's quite an impressive increase, and hopefully this momentum can be maintained and it won't be a once-off blip.
In looking to replace Francois Biltgen (announced previously) and Marie Josée Jacobs (unannounced), Prime Minister Juncker has brought in Marc Spautz, currently chairman of the parliamentary group of the CSV, and Martine Hansen, currently director of the Agricultural Technical School. It is interesting that the gender balance of the government has been maintained, as well as representation from the north of the country.
So, could this reshuffle be seen as primarily addressing the nation's woes (austerity, unemployment, banking secrecy, VAT harmonisation, attracting foreign direct investment,...) or looking forward to next year's national election? Probably a bit of both, in reality.
In true cabinet reshuffle style, Juncker has gone not only to replace two outgoing ministers (did they really see pastures new, or did they abandon ship before the waters get really choppy and the storm really hits hard? By the way, Jeannot Krecké (Economy and Foreign Trade) was the first Minister to leave, about 15 months ago), but has reallocated a number of portfolios.
Octavie Modert has an increased workload now; in addition to the Culture portfolio, she now has the Justice portfolio too, not a lightweight role, as well as Public Service and Administrative Reform; as a result, her position is the cabinet has been elevated significantly. Most likely she got the Justice portfolio due to her legal training. Luc Frieden has taken responsibility for Media and Communications, in addition to his Finance portfolio; again, another pat on the back for someone regarded as a potential future Prime Minister, possibly when Juncker decides to call it a day and step down, possibly a year or so after next year's election and into a new government term.
But then, Juncker taking on the position of Minister of Religious Affairs himself - was this a role nobody elee wanted and he ended up with it on his lap? In the current discussion of separating Church and State, this really was an odd one...
One name arguably surprisingly omitted from the reshuffle was Claude Wiseler, the Minister for Infrastructure and Sustainable Development. His name had been bandied about over the past few years as a rising star and possible future Prime Minister too, but he remains the same, not affected by the reshuffle. On the other hand, his portfolio has the largest spend budget, so it could be argued that he has enough on his plate.
Interestingly, this reshuffle did not need full cabinet approval as the changes have been made within the context of the CSV-LSAP coalition government agreement, so all it needed was CSV party approval. It's not how all governments work, but it's worked for Luxembourg.
Living in a foreign country can have its advantages, but it also can have its drawbacks.
From a family perspective, unless you are following family members on the road to emigration or you are encouraging others to follow you, you are leaving behind not only your roots but also your extended family.
While some people may indeed wish to escape the clutches of family for whatever reason, the majority do so reluctantly. And this aspect of distance is brought home at times of need as well as at times of celebration.
Last week-end I returned home to Ireland for a family wedding, along with my own family currently spread from Scotland to Italy, to congregate with others, the vast majority of whom stayed in Ireland, the country we left 24 years ago.
It was great to join in the celebrations of the happy couple, but particularly to do this with other members of the extended family. It may be a hassle getting over to Dublin now, particularly as there is no direct flight any more, but in the end it's not as if we're trying to get there from the other side of the world. It's just a drive and a flight away. Most of the time it's just a Skype call away too...
It's interesting to see how the issues and challenges we have raised over the years of being an expatriate, primarily the total absence of family nearby, are now being experienced first-hand by members of the extended famiily as their offspring are starting to explore pastures greener, across the water. "Now I understand what you meant when you said....". If I had a "I told you so" t-shirt, it would be well worn by now.
But weddings, funerals and baptisms, as well as some milestone birthdays, are the main reasons why families get together and are particularly important for expatriates. A lot of the time trips back to our homeland are taken up visiting family and we don't actually have time for a holiday, a break. But this is one of the many instances of a different perception of expatriate life, whether you are the one staying or the one leaving.
But maybe we cherish those family gatherings just a little bit more when we go back and see everyone together for a special occasion, as we don't get to see them on a weekly or monthly basis. But it's nice to get home too, to the Grand Duchy...
It is interesting to note recent happenings in the renewed trend to charge for online access to news content as well as to publish content too.
In the UK this week, both the Daily Telegraph and the Sun have announced plans to enter the Paywall age and charge for online content by way of a metered digital access model not unlike that long used by the Financial times. The former is understood to be allowing free access to 20 articles/month before the metered system kicks in, with different options available to smartphone users and tablet users.
This approach was tried over a decade ago but failed as so much content was available free-of-charge. But times have changed and the digital age has evolved, with publishers looking at different revenue models to sustain their business.
In the US, 450 of the 1,380 daily newspapers have either started or announced plans for some kind of online paid subscription model. The Washington Post is the most recent high-profile title to join in the paywall party, confirming last week that it will go the metered route from the summer.
On a related topic, just last week, one of the main Luxembourg newspaper publishers stated that they would in future charge for publishing press releases as they are seen to be a cheap way out of advertising, without any revenue for the publisher who wants to focus on the work of its journalists.
And while it is the editor's perogative to decide what to publish and what not to publish, it is interesting that the practice of sending journalists to cover certain events only if the organisation signs up first as a paid advertiser also happens in Luxembourg. While it can be frustrating for the bean counters at media outlets to see that various organisations expect coverage without ever intending to support financially that publication, there has to be a just and fair editorial policy as well as recognition from such organisations which look for coverage.
Other publications are clearly focused solely on organisations and people who just want to see feature articles printed about themselves. And that's fine for what it is, as (intelligent) readers understand the difference between such paid content (advertorials) and newsworthy content.
At The Luxembourg Chronicle we try to be as accommodating as possible with the resources available, rarely turning down newsworthy content as long as it fits in with the editorial policy of having a link with Luxembourg. However, when we are approached to publish something that is obviously much more promotional rather than newsworthy, we point out our Promotions and Opinion sections which are paid services, completely separate from the independent headlines. And that is how we feel the game should be played.
Yesterday saw the Luxembourg government officially pass the law on collaboration with Ireland on film co-production, following signature of a convention 18 months ago at the Galwas Film Fleadh (festival) in the west of Ireland by Luxembourg's Minister of Media and Communications, Francois Biltgen.
This year's Galway Film Fleadh will have a Luxembourg focus, with many Luxembourg-produced and Luxembourg co-productions to be screened at Ireland's largest and most important film festival.
Yesterday evening, meanwhile, saw the opening of the St Patrick's Film Festival in Luxembourg, with the screening of Men at Lunch, a documentary by film-maker Sean O'Cualain which looks at the taking of the photograph as well as the people in it. I had been contacted by the Irish Film Institute and Culture Ireland as part of the cultural outreach programme associated with Ireland's current presidency of the EU where contemporary Irish films are beign screened in all other 26 EU Member States. This evening is the turn of the highly-acclaimed What Richard Did, followed by Jump and Good Vibrations on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The screening yesterday evening was very well received indeed, a cinematic experience greatly enhanced by the presence of the film-maker and his explanations of how the story that had to be told, came about. As I mentioned in the opening remarks, many Irish stories start in a pub, and this one was no different. It continues the emphasis that documentaries have been having recently here in the Grand Duchy, with that component being arguably the best of the Discovery Zone Luxembourg City film festival.
The planning for the autumn's 4th annual British & Irish Film Season is already in full swing, with the British Council, Culture Ireland and the Luxembourg Film Fund all supporting the season, which promises to be the best one yet as I'm planning on organising various events around the season. As eveidenced by yesterday evening's reaction to the film-makers presence as well as at last year's British & Irish Film Season when film-makers Peter Bach and Harrison Wall came over for the screenings of their films, this is a very exciting, but busy, period.
With collaborations with the Galway Film Flead (in July) and the Edinburgh Film Festival (in June), the plan is to meet with distributors, directors and actors and select the best films to make up the jigsaw of a mix of films from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man, as well as ensuring a cross-genre mix and also a number of special guests to make the cinematographic experience all the more special and interesting.
In the meantime, the next three evenings see a number of top contemporary Irish Films being screened at ciné Utopia, including What Richard Did, Jump and Good Vibrations - see www.bifilmseason.lu for details.
Firstly, as I missed the opening screening of the Discovery Zone Film Festival (The Place Beyond the Pines) due to a prior engagement on Thursday evening, I got to see it on Friday. Both Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper were very good indeed in this film which is very different indeed from its trailer. In my review posted today I refer to a Jeffrey Archer storyline, spanning generations and involving families with differences. One to watch when it comes out on general release.
But that was after I saw the Chasing Ice documentary. The film is an argument for global warming that used time-capture cameras in and of glaciers to show the ice receding that in itself was fascinating, but it failed to show a balanced argument of the ice itself forming, etc. But fascinatign cinematography nevertheless.
And Sunday afternoon involved a return trip to the Cinemathèque where three Luxembourg short animated films were screened, including the pre-screening of Zeilt Productions' Mr Hublot, an amazing piece of work in which the attention to detail is incredible. The film needs a few more weeks' work until it is completed, but what was shown is close to the finished work. This should spell the start of the careers of Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares - expect to see them (and Mr Hublot) plent of times in the future.
And there's plenty more to come this week, with many in-competition films still left, with the winners to be announced on Friday evening.
See www.discoveryzone.lu for full details.
Writing from Edinburgh, from Murrayfield stadium to be precise, this week-end’s third round of the RBS 6Nations tournament was not even on the radar a couple of weeks’ ago. The second round was supposed to be the season-defining round, but Scotland, Wales and England all upset the odds by winning, overcoming the challenges of Italy (who had defeated France in Round #1), France (in Paris) and Ireland (in Dublin).
Round #2 seems like a lifetime ago now, and so do Saturday’s matches for that matter. Firstly, Italy hosted Wales in Rome; after Italy’s opening day demolition of France, they went into the second match on a high and, on the form book, were supposed to get a win in Edinburgh. But a resurgent Scotland tore up the script and were comprehensive winners, scoring multiple tries in the process. Italy did not have talismanic leader Sergio Parisse due to suspension, and they truly missed his presence. Wales, spurred on from their win in Paris in round #2, rose to the challenged and came away with the points: after their opening day defeat to Ireland, they now have two wins under their belt and have eyes on the championship. In Saturday’s second game, England’s power machine was paused in the first half against a French team whose inside centre, Fofana, scored a brilliant solo try from deep inside his own half, evading the English defenders with flair and sidestepping only the French know how to do. England were more of the same, methodical and powerful, in the second half, where it was more that France threw away the game with poor play and simply awful passing, rather than England winning it.
A half-hour before the game, and after a sumptuous cold meat, seafood and cheese platter press lunch, and in position in the press box almost exactly on half-way, with laptop on, wifi enabled and earpiece in, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers struck up, electrifying the atmosphere in one fell swoop. A quick chat before kick-off with a few luminaries in the game, including Philip Browne, Chief Executive of the IRFU, and from the media side, Gerry Thornley of The Irish Times, and Donal Lenihan and Michael Corcoran of RTE. The 67,007 crowd took their seats and the whistle went to start the match.
After a couple of early nerves showing from both sides, including Ireland’s Tom Court giving away a penalty on the all-important first scrum, as well as his opposite number, Ryan Grant, giving away a penalty seconds later for an illegal move in a maul, it was Ireland that got the first break following a superb break by new cap Luke Marshall, playing alongside veteran Brian O’Driscoll in Ireland’s centre. But Ireland lost an ensuing lineout and Scotland were reprieved.
A couple of minutes later, Marshall broke through again, of the right this time, only for a poor pass to Gilroy on the wing. Scotland’s forwards were dominating the scrums. After 12 minutes, a pattern was emerging; Scotland’s pack were winning the battle of the forwards, but Ireland’s back line were dangerous every time they got the ball. Scotland were suddenly down to 14 men after Wayne Grant was sin-binned but Jackson, Ireland’s new out-half playing in place of the injured Jonny sexton, missed what seemed to be a straight-forward penalty kick. I didn’t help him moments later when a kick out of hand had too much power and crossed the dead-ball line for a scrum back in Ireland’s half.
Ireland’s forwards suddenly found it within themselves to win a scrum, but then their line-out throwing went awry. Ireland’s left wing, Keith Earls, then broke the Scottish defence, but could not offload to Brian O’Driscoll 10m from the Scottish line. Twice now, BOD was in position, but didn’t get the pass when the try-line beckoned.
Ireland had failed to capitalise on being a man up as Grant’s 1 minutes in the sin bin were up. It was still 0-0 after 30 minutes. Most of the referring decisions seemed to go going Ireland’s way and Wayne Barnes, the referee, to his credit, was clear when explaining his decisions. Ireland’s forwards were losing lineouts and scrums but then they gained 20 metres via a maul in Scotland’s 22. On 35 minutes Ireland got a penalty under the posts, one that Jackson could not miss. 0-3 to Ireland. Just on half-time, Scotland had a chance to level the scores, but Ruaridh Jackson’s penalty just passed under the cross-bar. 0-3 to Ireland at half-time. Time to warm up my hands with a mug of steaming coffee in the press room.
Within 4 minutes of the re-start, Ireland’s Sean O’Brien broke through the Scottish defence and the ensuing move resulted in his team-mate Craig Gilroy going over to score. Jack’s conversion hit the upright, leaving the score 0-8. Soon after, Ruadhri Jackson got three points back for Scotland, but his namesake Paddy Jackson for Ireland missed another in a failed attempt to claw back the 3 points to leave the score 3-8. 10 minutes into the second half and both sides starting making substitutions as the physicality of the game began to take its toll. Scotland’s scrum won them another penalty which Ruadhri Jackson converted to reduce the arrears to 6-8. With just over three quarters of the game gone, Scotland from another penalty to lead for the first time in the match, 9-8.
Luke Fitzgerald and Ronan O’Gara replaced Craig Gilroy and Paddy Jackson respectively, the former bizarre and the latter overdue – Ireland had lost its try-scorer but gained an assured kicker of penalties. Reddan also replaced Murray who had done nothing wrong all afternoon, but Ireland’s coach, Declan Kidney, must have decided they had to try something different to break down the resolute Scots.
Scotland had the bit between their teeth now but Ireland were revitalised with new blood on the pitch. Everything to play for with 9 minutes left on the clock. More replacements off the Irish bench...
The tension was building inside the stadium with the home crowd sensing victory. Another penalty for Scotland who led 12-8 with just 6 minutes left on the clock. The rain was teeming down by now, making a running and passing game all the more difficult, but Ireland’s young players ignored the conditions. 3 minutes remaining and Ireland were awarded a penalty under the posts but elected to go for a line-out. For once they won it and went through a number of phases of play, driving for the line, but Scotland were awarded a 5 metres scrum. The noise was deafening from the home crowd, but Ireland were awarded a penalty which they took quickly and drove foe the line before passing the slippery ball out to even more slippery hands. A fumble and it was all over. Scotland edged out Ireland 12-8 in a tense affair, despite Ireland having 80% possession.
The outcome? Scotland took their chances and Ireland needed to be far more clinical. Ireland’s coach, Declan Kidney, gambled on selection after been hit by a string of injuries, but he must be going back to his hotel now to write up his CV as it’s really doubtful how he can expect a contract extension to bring him up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Paddy Jackson is not the ready-made replacement for Johnny Sexton (will Kidney try out Leinster’s Ian Madigan in the next game at home to France?) On the other hand, Scotland have won two on the trot and are on the way up…
Yes, I was there the day Brian O'Driscoll defied the rumours of his demise when drawing three Welshmen into him so that he could offload to Simon Zebo to score Ireland's second try before scoring himself after the break, as well as when Zebo executed his audacious flick to recover the ball passed behind him, to set up a try for Cian Healy. Yes, I was right in front of "the flick" when it happened and could hardly believe my eyes with what I was seeing. But seeing is believing, and I did just that. Replays on the big screens could not do justice to what had happened in a flash before my very eyes. At the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.
Wales played their way back into the game and played some exciting rugby in the second half. One can only wonder what would have happened if they had done so in the first half. But maybe two changes to the Ireland side made all the difference. Firstly, centre Gordon d'Arcy was replaced by Keith Earls at centre, and Ireland's loosehead prop, Mike Ross, had to be replaced due to severe cramp in his calf. Maybe those two changes altered the game as significantly as it did.
The RBS 6Nations game in Cardiff on Saturday was the first of three spectacular matches over the week-end when Ireland won away to Wales, England defeated Scotland at Twickenham and Italy outclassed France for the second time in a row in Rome in the 6Nations. And what an advertisement for northern hemisphere rugby the three games were! Wales, Scotland and France may not agree, but to the neutral they were three great games. They certainly put last year's forgettable championship away to the history books, with all eyes on this coming week-end with the second round of games focusing on Dublin where Ireland host England for what is already being dubbed as a Championship decider.
That may be a bit harsh on Italy; but realistically Ireland and England are the only sides that have any true hope of the Grand Slam and certainly the Triple Crown. The winner will most likely top the table after 2 rounds. Both sides have new players starting, with Billy Twelvetrees for England and both Simon Zebo and Simon Zebo for Ireland, both of whom starred in the autumn internationals when Ireland successfully negotiated the hurdles to remain in the top 8 ranked sides and therefore secure a top-tier seeding for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Which is more than Wales and Scotland fared. But the players are also looking forward to the summer's Lions tour where places are up for grabs for the tour to Oz.
Italy face Scotland next weekend in Edinburgh, a fascinating encounter from two very different perspectives. Scotland need to win to gain some points in the championship, with Italy guaranteed to rise to second (at least) in the table should they win. Intruiging. Wales must travel to Paris where the French must be favourites despite Wales winning there two seasons ago.
So this week-end will include watching three rugby games as well as the pre-match build-up and post-match analysis. Bliss!
Apart from the Equine DNA hamburger scare that is doing the rounds in the British and Press, and the isse regarding the refunds re promissory notes going back to the bail-out, the main issues here at the moment are those of the RBS 6Nations which kicks off this coming week-end and the major talking point of Ireland selling renewable energy to the UK.
I've taken advantage of a trip to Ireland to accomise myself to waht's going on here, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts along the way.
The daily and Sunday newspapers, as well as the radio and TV, are all saying that this is the most open 6Nations rugby tournament in years. While England stuttered in the early November internationals, they came good against the All Blacks to end on a high, and they have three teams in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals /8as against just one 12 months ago). France had an unbeaten autumn series, but must play England and Ireland away. France's first game in in Rome where they were beaten by the Italians two years ago. History is unlikely to repeat itself, but the Italians must fancy their chances over Wales and Scotland, at least. Wales had an apalling autumn, losing to Samoa to lose their world cup seeding position (accorded to the top 8 in the world rankings), and they have many players out injured, particularly in the forwards. Scotland, despite Edinburgh getting to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup last year, have a new manager and look out of sorts; however, this is Scotland and the only predictable thing about their team is that they are unpredicatable. Then there's Ireland; still a few top players out injured (Ferris, Bowe, Strauss) and Brian O'Driscoll relived of the captaincy - an issue that has polarised opinion on these shores - but they have a number of really exciting young players coming through the ranks, both in the backs and the forwards.
The crunch tie is Wales v Ireland this coming week-end, with the loser resigned to playing for mid-table success. But it is the second week-end that will define the championship, with Scotland hosting Italy, France hosting Wales and Ireland hosting England - three massive games.
The other issue taking up a lot of column inches and airtime concerns that of Ireland's wind power being harnessed to provide up to a quarter of the UK's future electricity needs, following last Thursday's M0U signed between the two countries' Ministers of Energy. Two main infrastructure issues that are starting to attract a certain amount of notice are that the power will flow through the electricit interconnector with Wales, and that the 2,300 wind turbines are to be erected on-shore across five counties in the Irish midlands. Economically, this will be very good news for Ireland (and the investors, some of which are Chinese-backed) anf the UK admits that it will be cheaper than to build offshore wind farms.
Interestingly, the turbines will need to be up to 185m high; they need to be this tall because the midlands have some of the lowest wind speeds in Ireland. This what is being described as an Irish solution to a British problem.
Not on Saturday's flights, but on a previous trip, the wind farms off the south coast of England are very significant, visible to the naked eye when fyling overhear, with hundreds of turbines erected in a grid. I'm sure that they would probably attract marine life, making it a target for sea anglers too...
Travelling on Saturday from Luxembourg. A lunchtime flight, my preferred time for leisure travel as the airports are usually devoid of the popular masses as the morning rush-hour is well and truly over and the evening rush is yet to commence.
The journey was most relaxing, particluarly when both planes were serviced by passenger boarding walkways, meaning no hanging around once the gates were open and no buses to get to the planes parked oon the tarmac.
Lifting off in the BA-operated service, the day was crystal clear, allowing an uninterrupted bird's-eye view of the landscape. Climbing upwards, it was interesting, as always, to see the geography of the land, from hills and valleys to buildings, etc. Past Kirchberg, then the city centre and the Grund and Pétrusse, then out west towards the Belgium border. This time it was different, though, with the snow-bound landscape punctuated only by forests and major roads.
When we got to the Channel, the Belgian/French coast was just one large white blanket, then the blue sea with various craft visible, criss-crossing the waves underneath. From the same shot, the white cliffs of Dover and its harbour were also plainly visible. However, what was striking once we got over British land was that, although there was much some in evidence there too, it was quite localised. There were some areas that did not seem to have been touched by the white powder at all, yet others were smothered in the suff.
Circling London, waiting to land in Heathrow, enabled a further study in geography, from the south-eastern Kent, up north to the Dartford Tunnel/Crossing and west to London, esyping London City Airport, London's Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and more, including Fulham's football pitch.
Disembarking was easy courtsey of the passenger boarding walkway, then its was down to navigating the maze that is HEathrow, but at least I was staying in Terminal 1. Having only experienced Optical Screening in the US before, I was surprised to see it introduced here - was it just for passengers boarding flights to Ireland? It's painless, there were no queues and it only took a second. Then a leisurely read of a couple of chapters of Geordan Murphy's autobiography before the gate was open.
A short nap later I woke to cross the Welsh coast, but then the sky turned, not unlike one of storms in Pirates of the Carribbean, or Life of Pi. The welcome to Dublin was cold, wet and very windy indeed, but the Aircoach service was as punctual as usual, and time passed quickly on the 30-minute ride courtesy of the in-coach wi-fi.
No bird's-eyeview of Ireland, just the inside of a cloud. But the sun has managed to shine through a few times, with the showers not too frequent and not too long.
Well, we're about to tear another year off the calendar and venture in 2013 (or Eros - the Greek God of love - backwards, as per certain signs seen recently). Will it be more of the same or will it bring some changes?
The recession has already hit many individuals and families living in Luxembourg and more belt-tightening will be required. Austerity measures are needed in this day and age, but the public demand an equal sharing. While the private sector has implemented wage freezees (and sometimes wage reductions) and recruitment embargoes, expecting less people to do more tasks, as well as being hit with more income tax hikes and reductions in tax allowances, there is still no sign of reductions in public salaries as in other countries. In fact, the wage indexation policy is still in place, not helping Luxembourg's competitiveness when trying to attract international investment.
If we look at the make-up of the Luxembourg workforce, it is more-or-less evenly split into three groups: one third Luxembourgish nationals; one third foreign residents; and one-third cross-border workers. Only the Luxembourg nationals have a vote in national elextions and around 80% are public servants (including teachers, nurses, drivers, etc.). Keeping this information to mind when looking at a number of issues does lead to us asking a number of questions...
That brings me onto the Cargolux issue. The future of the cargo airline is crucial to the development of the logistics sector here, one of the few being earmarked by the Government in their pogramme for diversity, alongside ICT (eCommerce, onlice gaming, etc.) and CleanTech/BioTech. A number of weeks ago, Qatar Airways announced their decision to withdraw their shareholding and involvement in the airline. The future had been so bright, with the Euopean - Middle East tie-up which was to have opened up new routes and cargoes for both parties, suddenly stalled. I understand that the two main shareholders, Qatar Airways and the Luxembourg state held two opposing views on the future direction of the airline; the former advocating cost savings at the expense of jobs here (by possibly outsourcing some tasks to cheaper locations) and the latter protecting jobs here. In which is never a black- and-white case, it's just a pity that these differences of opinion and strategy could not have been identified at an earlier date, saving both parties a lot of anguish and missed opportunity in the process. Whether the next investor comes from Russia/Ukraine, from China or from elsewhere, they will (like Qatar Airways) want a say in the future direction of the airline, yet it appears that the Luxembourg government is looking for a silent partner who will cough up the cash and let it get on with policy and strategy decisions. How growth will fit into this equation is anyone's guess.
But some people have looked ahead and are making savings while they can. Today (31 December) has seen long queues at Luxembourg gare while members of the public scramble to take advantage of the last day of 2012 prices for transport cards - public transport prices are rising significantly from 1 January 2013.
Another issue concerns the Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, and his government's tackling of the economy. His leadership has been called into question this past year as his role of head of the Euro Group has seen him busy on the international stage. He has recently announced that he will not seek a new term next year; this should see him return more noticeably to national politics and drive forward a series of reforms to help Luxembourg retain its position as a respected place in which to do business. He will need to placate both parties in the government coalition, as well as voters with the next national elections looming on the horizon.
The reputation of Luxembourg has not been helped by some elements of the media, specifically in the UK, from labelling Luxembourg (again) as a "tax haven" as they have unearthed and published details of the likes of Starbucks which have been paying corporate tax in Luxembourg rather than (more expensively) in the UK. On the one hand, when they do start paying such taxes in the UK, what effect will that have on tax receipts in the Grand Duchy? This story will be interesting to follow...
Various infrastructure projects have seen more downs than ups in 2012, with the planned national stadium development in Livange now doomed, as well as the rival project in Wickrange. The national vedrome project foreseen for Cessange is not happening, at least not yet, and nor are the projetcs for lifts in Praffenthal (on the west side of the valley) and in Neudorf (to connect with Kirchberg). the tram project is still delayed, but there are visible signs that the works on the Pont Adolphe will start, with first the construction of a temporay bridge in parallel. But the completion of the tunnel linking the A1 motorway between Kirchberg and Senningerberg, to the motorway running up to the north of the country, is still far off. Will the construction industry here rally in 2013? Private investment projects are continuing, but public construction projects are being dragged out.
But we have seen a positive spin on the country this year too, with the autumn wedding of Crown Price Guillaume and Princess Stéphanie. The world's eyes were focussed on the Grand Duchy for a couple of days, for both the civil ceremony and ensuing public walkabout, as well as the following day's formal church wedding ceremony in the cathedral. That sort of exposure is something that money just can't buy.
On the other hand, 2012 was not a kind year to Luxembourg's top sports stars. While Luxembourg had nothing to write home about from the London Olympics, cyclist Andy Schleck's season was over almost as soon as he had started, following an accident and fall; here's wishing to a successful 2013 where the route of the Tour de France is more suitable to him than the 2012 route which included two long individual time-trials. On the other hand, there is still a cloud hanging over his brother Frank, following a positive drugs test during the 2012 Tour de France. While not a performance- enhancing drug, it was still enough for major sponsors to pull of of the RadioShack Nissan Trek proffesional cycling team. Also, the saga is dragging on, with a decision from the Luxembourg authorities still due, being postponed twice already. Why national associations (remember the Spanish saga surrounding Alberto Contador?) still have these powers is beside me - the sport is so international, the riders rarely race in their home countries.
So will the dark cloud of 2013 have a silver lining?