The Ambassador of Luxembourg to India, H. E. Mr. Jean Claude Kugener, reveals the unique offerings of the only remaining Grand Duchy in the world and reflects on its growing bilateral relations with India. By Sumeet Keswani
Europe has been popular among Indians for many years, but few of them traditionally put Luxembourg on their itinerary. Why do you think that is? Do you see that trend changing in the near future?
Despite the fact that there are no direct flights from India to Luxembourg, all major international airlines cover the Grand Duchy with transit flights. Before the pandemic, we saw a promising trend in our statistics and a significant increase in our numbers at the Consulate, which became the number one Luxembourg Consulate worldwide in terms of Schengen visa applications. Last year, short-term visas for tourism and visiting family and friends represented nearly 40 per cent of our visas, and the Indian community ranked 14th among the foreign nationals living and working in Luxembourg, compared to 27th in 2015. Considering these figures, I would say that Luxembourg continues to attract Indian tourists. We know that they are particularly impressed by the multicultural and cosmopolitan facets of the country, the breathtaking landscapes, and the diversity of its various regions as well as the culinary experience.
What does Luxembourg offer that no other European country can?
Luxembourg is the only remaining Grand Duchy in the world, a constitutional monarchy located in the heart of Europe with a millenary history. Despite its size, the tourist finds an array of different landscapes — from the dense woodlands and valleys of the Ardennes to the fascinating rock formations of the Mullerthal and the vineyards of the Moselle, where the wine-making tradition can be traced back 2,000 years. Luxembourg has one of the densest certified hiking networks in Europe and amazing golf courses.
Centuries of history can be felt and seen in the capital, Luxembourg City, founded in the year 963. In the 14th century, the House of Luxembourg was one of the most influential dynasties in Europe and three consecutive emperors ruled over the Holy Roman Empire. The remains of the centuries-old fortifications, called the Casemates, feature 17 kilometres of underground tunnels and offer panoramic views.
Luxembourg was one of the six founding countries of the present-day European Union. The country and its consecutive governments always played a strong role in the European integration process, remaining one of the three European capitals. Most of these institutions can be seen on Kirchberg, where modern and contemporary architecture and works of art and sculptures in public spaces meet the historic treasures of the capital.
What’s the demographic and cultural composition of locals in the country? How does that play into the tourist experience?
With a population of over 6,26,000 citizens, Luxembourg is known for its diversity and multilingualism. It is one of the most densely populated regions of Europe where more than 2,00,000 commuters cross the borders from France, Germany, and Belgium every day to work and contribute to the country’s economy. In 2020, 47.4 per cent of the population doesn’t have Luxembourgish nationality. During the centuries, Luxembourg saw waves of emigration, and many Luxembourgers left the country to create a new home in the neighbouring countries, the United States, Romania, or Brazil before the industrialisation of the country when Luxembourg ranked among the world’s six largest steel producers.
Today, Portugal ranks first among the non-Luxembourg citizens, followed by France, Italy, Belgium, and Germany. These communities integrated well into Luxembourg’s population, not to forget the Indians. Besides Lëtzebuergesch, the national language, French, German, and English are part of daily life in the country. And with the Italian, Portuguese, and Slavic languages that are widely spoken, the tourist gets the experience of a resolutely multilingual environment.
While most developed countries of Europe struggled to deal with the pandemic, Luxembourg was praised for its efficient handling of COVID-19. What did the country do differently?
The pandemic has hit Luxembourg severely. The first COVID-19 case was confirmed on February 29, and the virus has already caused over 4,000 positive cases, which is considerable for the country. Globally, Luxembourg ranked fifth in terms of novel coronavirus cases per 1,00,000 citizens. The country’s GDP shrank by 6 per cent, and the unemployment rate is currently at 6.9 per cent, a 27 per cent increase compared to April 2019.
In anticipation, the government took a number of exceptional measures. With sound public finances reaffirmed with the “AAA” by all major credit rating agencies, it adopted different measures totalling approximately 17.5 per cent of the GDP over the last months. As the new coronavirus infections are slowing down, the national lockdown is being partially lifted in phases. Among the measures, 50 free surgical masks were distributed to every citizen. The situation is slowly returning to normalcy, and the population is still advised to follow social distancing, to wear masks in public places, and to respect other recommendations.
Tell us about your experience of India, and the cultural intersections and growing bilateral relations between Luxembourg and India.
I have always been very interested in India’s history and culture, starting from its cuisine, which I discovered as a student in Luxembourg. With my wife, we visited New Delhi and Rajasthan in 2012 for the first time, and I was particularly honoured to be accredited by the Hon’ble President Mr Ram Nath Kovind on September 20, 2018, the year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations.
Luxembourg and India always had strong economic relations, particularly in steel, which led to the opening of the first Vice-Consulate of the Grand Duchy in Bombay in 1929. Today, Arcelor Mittal, the world’s leading steel and mining company headquartered in Luxembourg since its merger in 2006, and Paul Wurth, a leading player in the design and supply of technological solutions in the primary stage of integrated steel-making active in India for 27 years, further deepen these bilateral relations. Moreover, Jindal Polyfilms established its European headquarters in Luxembourg in 2013.
These decades of friendship are very diversified and range from satellites—the world leader in operational satellites, SES, is currently operating five satellites over India—to hard cutting materials for different industries, with the very successful Ceratizit company in India for the past two decades, to Finance, IT, and ICT, with many Indian companies that are developing rapidly in Luxembourg. But this relationship also includes, among other things, strong cooperation of our Stock Exchanges. Many Indian companies are listed on the LuxSE, which issued its first Masala bond in 2008, and the import of Luxembourg wines with the traditional wine producer in its fifth generation, Bernard-Massard, cooperating with HEMA Connoisseurs since 2019.
The modernist artist Amar Nath Sehgal (1922-2007) is an impressive cultural link as his romance with Luxembourg goes back to 1979 when he set up his studio in the Grand Duchy and lived between both countries until his return to New Delhi in 2004. He promoted cultural diversity through the Creative Fund he created, and his bronze bust of Mahatma Gandhi in the Municipal Park in the capital is a special bilateral link. The Luxembourg Post launched a special stamp to mark the 150th Birth Anniversary of Bapu using a photo of this bronze bust.
What are the highlights of a Luxembourgish culinary experience?
The cultural diversity and history of the country are reflected in the country’s cuisine—from traditional dishes to Asian fusion and internationally acknowledged gastronomy. The various cultures and nationalities bring a beautiful mix to this culinary experience. Over the centuries, the traditional Luxembourgish cuisine has been made up of rich and tasty dishes from local or regional produce: Bouneschlupp, a green bean soup; Kniddelen, buckwheat dumplings with smoked bacon; Judd mat Gaardebounen, smoked pork neck with broad beans, and Quetschentaart, the seasonal plum tart.
Many foreign influences have left delicious traces in the kitchen. With the Italian immigration, for example, the dishes were spiced up. The Indian tourist will find a number of delicious Indian restaurants but also award-winning vegan and vegetarian restaurants. In its gastronomy, Luxembourg has the highest density of Michelin Stars in the world and is home to the first and, to date, only female chef, Mrs Léa Linster, to win the prestigious Bocuse d’Or in 1989. A culinary experience with a nice glass of wine or sparkling wine from the Luxembourg Moselle can’t miss the mark.