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Group picture with all ministers and state secretaries who participated in the Gäichel summit. Central Prime Minister Alexander De Croo alongside his homologue Xavier Bettel (© Serch Carrière).
On 29 March 2023, the Belgium-Luxembourg Gaïchel Government Summit convened for the 12th time and this formed an ideal opportunity to reaffirm the close ties between the two countries and to launch new collaborations.
The Kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg have always been close neighbours. Not only is their history closely intertwined, but the two countries also have much to offer each other. We can rightly speak of a privileged partnership and a long-lasting friendship.
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For example, our country works closely with Luxembourg in matters of defence. For example, we jointly manage a fleet of A400M transport aircraft and are working to create a binational reconnaissance battalion. The two countries are also important economic partners. Luxembourg is among the top 10 largest investors in Belgium and our country is the third largest export market for the Grand Duchy.
Not to mention the fact that as many as 48,000 Belgians work in Luxembourg. That is almost twice the number that work in the Netherlands, five times the number that work in France and seven times the number that work in Germany! Around 11% of hospital staff in Luxembourg are from our country. On the opposite side of the coin, a large number of young people from Luxembourg study here in Belgium.
Even stronger collaboration
But bonds, however close they are, must still be maintained. So in 2004, the governments of the two countries met for the first time in Gaïchel, a border village in Luxembourg. Since then, this meeting, which has come to be known as the Gaïchel Summit, has been organised about every two years. The twelfth summit took place on 29 March 2023 in Brussels.
Meetings of this type are especially important in these challenging times, in which Europe itself is facing a turning point. ‘Countries that understand each other well should therefore cooperate even more strongly,’ said Thomas Lambert, Belgium's ambassador to Luxembourg. 'And must do so on all levels, within the Benelux, but also in an EU, NATO and UN context.’
At the Gäichel Summit, 5 agreements were signed. Among other things, between State Secretary Dermine and his Luxembourg counterpart about better coordination of atomic clocks (© Serch Carrière).
A Gaïchel Summit provides a unique opportunity for members of government to meet with their counterparts. At this 12th summit, they concluded 5 agreements. For example, Interior Minister Verlinden concluded an agreement to exchange more information in the event of a radioactivity incident affecting both countries. The State Secretary for Science Policy Dermine signed an agreement to align the two countries' atomic clocks more effectively via high-speed internet cables.
Thanks to agreements signed by Deputy Prime Minister De Sutter and State Secretary Michel, cooperation between the public administrations of Belgium and Luxembourg was intensified, not only on a general level but also more specifically in the area of digitisation.
Belgium's Health Minister Vandenbroucke reached a framework agreement that should make it easier to go to a hospital on the other side of the border in border areas. Because in many cases, a hospital in the neighbouring country is closer than a hospital in one's own. Among other things, the agreement includes arrangements for reimbursement by the health insurance fund.
Human rights and multilateralism
Both Prime Ministers – Alexander De Croo and Xavier Bettel – also met. They expressed elation about the collaboration between the telecom companies Proximus and the Luxembourg-based LuxConnect in order to develop a new ‘de-connected cloud’. This will be a first for Europe and will enable the further digitisation of our society in accordance with the strict security and privacy standards that apply in Europe.
The plenary session included extensive discussions about current affairs, including climate change, the energy transition and the war in Ukraine. In the final declaration, both governments expressed their intention to work together to further improve the welfare of citizens in the border region. They will also champion innovation, research and industry in Europe. Finally, they will continue to defend human rights and multilateralism in a rapidly changing geopolitical context.