Xavier Bettel is particularly set on making his country a Smart Nation. To achieve this goal, a year ago he announced a new government initiative: Digital Lëtzebuerg. For Silicon Luxembourg, he addresses the Grand Duchy’s position in the digital environment and discusses the challenges ahead. (Xavier Bettel during the interview in his office. Photograph: Olivier Minaire)
Wedged between Asia and the U.S., Europe is changing. However, there is a country that is leading the change, and that is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
Mr. Prime Minister, do you think that in the near future digital may represent a strong industry in Luxembourg’s economy?
May? It is already! This is an industry that works very well. More than 15,000 people across the country are working in this sector. The digital industry is an important part of our GNP. So, it would be ridiculous to say that it should gain in importance. It is already very important, and for more than one reason. We must do everything to keep it strong.
You started promoting the Digital Lëtzebuerg initiative a little over a year ago. Where is the government in its implementation?
It’s in progress. The first step was to get all the actors around a table and gather all the necessary information needed to start implementing Digital Lëtzebuerg. Then we actually began to implement the initiative, and citizens have already begun to see the benefits. One example is the free Wi-Fi available throughout the city, made possible thanks to the framework of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The digital sector evolves quickly and requires that we work on several levels to address many related topics all at once. As we do so, significant efforts have been made to make the administration more transparent by ensuring Open Access to data. There are really lots of different parts to this Digital Lëtzebuerg initiative. Some pieces of legislation have already been passed. One piece of legislation, for example, aims to facilitate the ease of access to broadband Internet in buildings. Investments have already been made in infrastructure too. There is a lot of progress being made!
It is unfortunate that young entrepreneurs, if they want to be successful, feel compelled to move to Asia or to the United States to develop their businesses. We wish to change that.
A shared observation regularly reported in Luxembourg is the lack of young entrepreneurs. What is the government’s strategy to address this problem?
It is necessary to have an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and provides financial resources to support young innovators. It is also important to have talent, of course. We have all of these in Luxembourg. But we must continue to build momentum in this direction. It is important to focus on developing talent in the digital field, in particular by working in collaboration with universities. We also need to present the opportunity for young entrepreneurs to be able to launch their businesses from Luxembourg. It is unfortunate that young entrepreneurs, if they want to be successful, feel compelled to move to Asia or to the United States to develop their businesses. We wish to change that. At the European level, in particular during the Luxembourg presidency, we are working with Commissioner Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, to educate people so that they understand that this is a European priority.
It is also necessary to continue to attract talent and entrepreneurs to Luxembourg. With the Digital Lëtzebuerg initiative, decisions have also been made to facilitate the granting of residence permits to people coming from abroad with specialized skills in digital. We want to match Luxembourg’s startups with the skills they need from abroad. That perspective is shared across the European Union. Wedged between Asia and the U.S., Europe is changing. However, there is a country that is leading the change, and that is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to innovating in the digital sector; we need to exceed what others do.
Fintech seems to be the current buzzword. Do you really believe in the emergence of this sector in the Grand Duchy?
Yes, I do. We don’t have any other choice. For decades, we have always been able to challenge ourselves and define the needs and products of tomorrow. We did it successfully in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and from 2000. Today, we are ranked second in the world in terms of investment in the funds industry. Although Luxembourg covers a relatively small portion of the earth’s surface, we actually rank at the top for aerospace innovation. Considering our size and our ability to innovate in many different sectors, we’re an established player in the fintech sector. It’s becoming more and more important to Luxembourg’s economy. While Bitcoin is a great example of how technology can help innovate the field of finance, there are many other possible innovations in this area, and it is necessary that we continue to invest in the fintech sector and create other innovative products of value. Today, we cannot imagine finance without technology, nor technology without finance.
How do you imagine Luxembourg’s digital future?
In line with what it is today. We can already see that it is a very connected country that changes the digital habits of Luxembourg inhabitants and opens up new possibilities. Today, I listen to music in my office with my Sonos (wireless speaker system). Tomorrow, I will set my heating or launch my washing machine from my smartphone. I already do my banking from a mobile app… However, we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to innovating in the digital sector; we need to exceed what others do. It is a constant challenge, and private and public actors have to work hand in hand to make sure that Luxembourg keeps its top position in the digital environment.