Top 5: agreements that have shaped Luxembourg's history Five treaties which have marked our past, define our present and point to our future

This time, our Top 5 series shines a light on the international treaties signed by Luxembourg. Unfortunately, we have to leave out some of the more important treaties, but this selection will allow us to look back at key moments in Luxembourg's history. We will cast a light on five agreements that have marked our past, define our present and point to our future.

The Treaties of London – 1839 and 1867

We refer to the Treaties of London because there were two and both played a key role in shaping Luxembourg of today.

The first Treaty of London was signed on 19th April 1839 and marked a major turning point for our country. This date symbolises the birth of the Grand Duchy in its present form by establishing the borders that have not changed since. The history of this treaty is intimately linked to the independence of Belgium in 1830. The major powers were eager to extinguish the revolutionary flames that were spreading across Europe. As such, they decided to separate the Belgians and the Dutch by creating the Kingdom of Belgium, while dividing the territories of the Grand Duchy between the two antagonists. The Belgian parliament accepted the terms of the treaty but William I refused to acknowledge the treaty for eight years. It was not until 1839 that the Dutch king finally agreed and concluded the treaty with France, Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia. Henceforth, there were two Luxembourgs: Belgian Luxembourg (currently a province of Belgium) and the Grand Duchy, which remained under the sovereignty of the Orange-Nassau family, but acquired its present geographical form of 2,586km2.

Although enjoying territorial independence, the Grand Duchy remained attached to the Netherlands through the dynastic link and to Germany through its membership of the Germanic Confederation. In 1866, the Austro-Prussian War led to the dissolution of the Confederation. Faced with Prussia's expansion, France sought territorial compensation by trying to buy Luxembourg. William III accepted the deal, but Prussia continued to occupy the City of Luxembourg and opposed the plan. The major powers tried to resolve this new crisis by calling a congress in London. A compromise was reached via the second Treaty of London on 11th May 1867: Prussia withdrew its garrison, the fortress was dismantled and the Grand Duchy was declared permanently neutral. In return, France renounced its territorial claims.

The dismantling of the fortress after 1867 opened up new development opportunities, including a new rose economy on Limpertsberg.

A little anecdote

The Treaties of London not only brought independence and neutrality to Luxembourg but also a whole new economy based on roses. The former military wastelands of the Glacis and Limpertsberg, on which any construction was previously forbidden for strategic reasons, was subsequently made available and gardeners specialising in the cultivation of roses - they began to nurture these lands. This endeavour proved so successful that Luxembourg was known as the Rose Country during the Belle Epoque!

The treaty of the Belgo-Luxembourg Economic Union - 1921

Before the First World War, Luxembourg was economically linked to Germany through the Zollverein customs union. This union proved highly beneficial for Luxembourg and led to the development of its steel industry. However, the day after the First World War, Luxembourg denounced the union and concluded the Belgo-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU) with Belgium. Originally signed for a fifty-year period and renewed regularly thereafter, it forged lasting ties between the two countries. The Belgian franc became the common currency, but Luxembourg nonetheless retained its right to issue its own money.

At present, cooperation extends far beyond economic and monetary matters. The renewed agreements have offered a framework for enhanced political and administrative cooperation in various fields such as customs and excise, justice, public safety and health.

Would you like to know what the BLEU means today for the citizens of Luxembourg and Belgium? Don't miss the series of videos to mark the centenary celebrations.

A little anecdote

The Belgian-Luxembourg love affair was not a case of love at first sight! In the double referendum conducted in 1919, 80% of Luxembourgers voted to maintain the dynasty and 73% voted for an economic union with France. However, they declined Luxembourg's territorial flirtations! In 1920, Luxembourg entered into negotiations with Belgium, which led to the signing of the treaty establishing the BLEU. The two nations have just celebrated their centennial anniversary.

United Nations Charter – 1945

The Second World War led to a change of direction for Luxembourg’s foreign policy. On 10th May 1940, Luxembourg was occupied by German forces and Grand Duchess Charlotte and the government went into exile and settled in London and Ottawa, joining the Allies. Luxembourg abandoned its status of neutrality and secured a place in the international community that was formed after 1945. As such, the Grand Duchy became a founding member of all post-war institutions which promoted multilateral cooperation, including the United Nations.

The UN Charter was drafted between 1941 and 1945, while the fight against the Axis powers was still ongoing. The starting point was the London Declaration, signed in 1941, in which the signatories undertook to 'work together, and with other free peoples, in war and peace'. This lead to a series of agreements and conferences, culminating in the foundation of the organisation and drafting of the charter. Representatives of fifty countries gathered for the San Francisco Conference, where the United Nations Charter was unanimously adopted on 25th June 1945. Luxembourg is one of the founding countries of the United Nations and also helped to draft the charter.

Since October 2021, Luxembourg has held a seat on the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body of the United Nations system. It is composed of 47 countries that are elected by the General Assembly and are responsible for fostering and protecting human rights worldwide. This is Luxembourg's first term on the Council since its creation in 2006 and covers the period 2022-2024.

The sculpture 'Non-violence' by the Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuteswärd, which is on display at the UN headquarters in New York, was donated by the Luxembourg government in 1998.
© ONU (Organisation des Nations Unies) - UN Photo / Michos Tzovaras, all rights reserved

Story of a sculpture

Non-violence is a sculpture created by the Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd following the murder of musician and singer John Lennon in 1980. The work of art depicts a knotted gun and is intended to be a symbol of non-violence. There are three original copies of the sculpture, with two of them linked to the Grand Duchy. In 1988 the government of Luxembourg donated one of the originals to the United Nations. It is now situated in the organisation's piazza in New York. Another copy is located at the European Commission's headquarters in the Kirchberg district of Luxembourg.

Benelux treaties – 1948, 1958 and 2008

Post-war liberation is also reflected in regional cooperation. In 1943, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed a monetary agreement fixing the exchange rate between the Belgian-Luxembourg franc and the Dutch guilder. This event was followed by the creation of a customs union: the Benelux Customs Union came into force in 1948. The links between these three countries continued to develop: the treaty of 3rd February 1958 created the Benelux Economic Union, for an initial period of fifty years. The 1958 treaty aimed to broaden and deepen cooperation between the three countries, in particular by enabling them to adopt a common financial and social policy.

Benelux played a pioneering role by strengthening post-war European cooperation. Some of the initiatives launched by the treaty establishing the Benelux Economic Union have been highly successful. Moreover, their application has been extended to the European sphere, such as the free movement of persons, the internal market and police cooperation.

In view of the expiry of the 1958 treaty after fifty years and to give a renewed sense of impetus to Benelux cooperation, a new treaty was signed in 2008 under a new name: the Benelux Union. The union currently focuses on three main themes: the internal market and economic union, sustainable development and justice, and domestic affairs.

60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty establishing the Benelux Economic Union, Brussels, 5th June 2018 - Guestbook.
© Cour grand-ducale / Claude Piscitelli, all rights reserved

Luxembourg presidency of the Benelux Union 2022

In 2022, Luxembourg holds the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Benelux Union. The main areas of work are based on three priorities: emerge stronger from the pandemic, promote synergies with neighbouring regions and strive to create a green, safe and competitive Benelux.

Treaty of Rome - 1957 and Schengen Agreements - 1985 and 1990

Luxembourg regained its foothold on the regional and international stage after the Second World War. However, the decisive opening up of the country took place within the framework of European unification. It was possibly no coincidence that the historic initiative of uniting Europeans came from Robert Schuman, a French minister for Foreign Affairs born in Luxembourg of a French father and a Luxembourgish mother. When Schuman launched his plan outlining the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1950, Luxembourg was directly involved.

The ECSC was the first step towards the creation of the European Union, which was consolidated a few years later. In 1957, alongside France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, Luxembourg was a signatory of the Treaties of Rome, which founded the European Economic Community (EEC) and regulated the use of nuclear energy (Euratom). In the negotiations, the government managed to have the principle of legal equality accepted for all States, even the smallest, and to obtain direct representation in the European Institutions.

With new Member States joining and the signing of new treaties, the organisation was transformed, over the following decades, from the EEC into the European Union we know today. Among the many agreements that have shaped this change, the Schengen agreements are closely associated with Luxembourg. 'The Schengen Agreements are emblematic for our country', the head of the European Museum Schengen explains. 'As a result of these agreements, Luxembourg became known as the country where the principles of the European Union were experienced in full'. The first agreement was signed on 14th June 1985 on the ship MS Princess Marie-Astrid. On 19th June 1990, a second agreement was signed at the same location, in order to set applicable legal procedures. Today, they are considered the cornerstones of free movement between the Member States and the symbol of an open-mindedness that is enjoyed in Luxembourg on a daily basis.

The ship MS Princess Marie-Astrid, which sailed for some years as MS Regensburg, will be converted into an exhibition space.
© MECO (ministère de l'Économie), all rights reserved

MS Princesse Marie-Astrid, a historic ship

In 2021, Luxembourg acquired the ship MS Princesse Marie-Astrid, on which the Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985. The former ship had been sailing for some years under the name MS Regensburg, taking tourists on journeys down the Danube. The Grand Duchy aims to convert the ship into an exhibition and performance space and to build a new quay in Schengen. The ship will be kept seaworthy and be docked in Schengen near the European Schengen Museum. The ship will travel throughout Europe for special events.