Joint Statement – Gäichel X
On 23 November 2017, under the joint chairmanship of Prime Ministers Charles Michel and Xavier Bettel, the 10th joint meeting of the Belgian and Luxembourg Governments was held in Brussels. This meeting is in keeping with the well-established tradition of meetings between the two Governments since the first Gäichel meeting which was held on 28 April 2004.
Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, as founding countries of the European Union, express their full confidence in a common European future. The European Union provides real added value in ensuring the well-being of Europe's citizens, ensuring high standards of social protection and contributing to peace and stability in the world. Both Governments fully support the process initiated at the Bratislava Summit and endorse the leaders' agenda proposed by the President of the European Council. In the coming months, the European Union will have to strengthen its political governance and its effectiveness.
Belgium and Luxembourg took note of the current status of the negotiations concerning the United Kingdom’s exit of the European Union. Both Governments call on the United Kingdom to formulate realistic and concrete proposals in order to move the negotiations forward and thus begin discussions on the future relationship with the Union. It is in the interests of both parties that the negotiations can lead to an orderly exit from the European Union.
Today, Europe faces enormous challenges in a globalised world. Both Governments remain convinced that the security and protection of citizens against terrorism must remain a top priority for the European Union and its Member States.
Belgium and Luxembourg reaffirm their conviction that the issue of migration can only be dealt with at a European level. This policy must be based on a fair balance between responsibility and solidarity. In this regard, the Belgian and Luxembourg Governments made a reference to the humanitarian situation in Libya. Together, they call for increased cooperation with Libyan authorities and international organizations to ensure that migrants receive humane treatment.
Both Governments reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the Paris Climate Accord. The Talanoa dialogue (Facilitative Dialogue 2018) launched at COP23 should lead to a strengthening of climate commitments and ambitions at COP24 in Katowice (Poland) and beyond.
Within the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union, the two Governments share the common objective of ensuring legal certainty of the investment climate in their country and for their companies operating abroad. Both sides exchanged views on the procedures for ratifying agreements that had already been negotiated and agreed on the importance of completing the process. They also reaffirmed their commitment to an ambitious new model for bilateral investment treaties and will relaunch bilateral discussions to that end.
Ministers Asselborn and Reynders also discussed the situation in the Sahel, a strategic region for the European Union in which both countries have been engaged for many years. The policy that is applied in this region is a clear example of the overall approach to foreign policy, which includes combining diplomacy, development and defence in the most coherent way possible. In the run-up to a high-level visit to Mali, the two Governments welcomed their cooperation with regard to the region, particularly in the context of the Benelux. This includes in particular regular exchanges of information between capitals and on the ground and a coordination of the approach toward the region.
As founding States of the European Union and united by close historic ties, Belgium and Luxembourg are in an ideal position to shape the Europe of the future together. In order to strengthen the Economic and Monetary union, progress needs to be made towards finding balanced solutions to the initiatives already under way, including the banking union, and compliance with the existing framework of the Stability and Growth Pact, which should become more predictable, less complex and more binding. Both Governments agreed on the importance for Member States of taking their responsibility, enhancing their growth potential through structural reforms and investments, and making every effort to promote the employment and competitiveness of their countries and becoming more resilient to external shocks.
As part of discussions on combating social dumping and social fraud, the two Governments reiterated their commitment to the principle of free movement of workers, freedom to provide services and, above all, fair competition. Both parties agreed to work together in the fight against fraud and social dumping, especially in the framework of posted workers, undeclared work and false self-employed workers. The two Governments discussed establishing controls by joint and/or simultaneous inspection services in both countries and a more structured and rapid exchange of information.
The two Governments held an exchange of views on the digital economy within the framework of the European Commission's Digital Single Market. Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg welcome the progress made while calling on the European Commission to continue its efforts to deepen the Single Market and increase the level of ambition in order to bring real added value to citizens and businesses. Both Governments support the establishment of a legal framework that facilitates the free movement and development of innovative business models. The European Commission's recent proposal on the free movement of non-personal data is a concrete step in this direction.
At the same time, both Governments recalled the importance of investing in digital skills and infrastructures.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Belgium are co-signatories to the European High-Performance Computing declaration, a joint initiative of the European Commission and Member States to establish a shared supercomputing infrastructure. The two countries will analyse how to work together within the framework of the Joint Undertaking proposed by the European Commission.
Particular attention has been paid to mobility issues. Every day nearly 40,000 workers living in Belgium travel to Luxembourg.
In accordance with the letter of intent on strengthening rail cooperation between the Kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which was signed on 6 November 2017 in Arlon, the promotion of relay car parks (Park&Ride) near SNCB stations is essential to reduce congestion on the E411 towards Luxembourg, as it promotes a modal shift from the car to the train for frontier workers.
The two countries have planned, in a first phase, to promote the public transport available between Arlon and Luxembourg, after the introduction of free parking in the border region, including Arlon for people who have season ticket, and with an attractive rail service between these two cities. If the results of its evaluation show added value, in a second phase, the Park&Ride car park of Viville/Stockem will need to be built, in combination with the establishment of a suitable rail service.
In addition, in terms of pricing, the two countries undertake to continue to promote the FlexPass product, combined with the Luxembourg M-Pass product, by making the annual formula more flexible. Indeed, by adding a quarterly FlexPass formula as of December 1st, commuters will be able to benefit from greater flexibility when purchasing their tickets.
As a result, from that date onwards, the start and end date of the M-Pass and Flex Pass no longer have to coincide.
At the same time, negotiations on a single charging scheme for a specific cross-border journey between SNCB and the CFL have resulted in a proposal for a uniform price reduction, which will be applied to all season tickets for commuters between stations in the current border area and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg: from 01/12/2017 onwards, the prices of the monthly basic season tickets will be reduced by EUR 13,50 and the prices of the annual basic season tickets will be reduced by 135 EUR.
In addition, and with effect from the same date, SNCB will make SNCB car parks near the stations available free of charge to holders of a Belgium-Luxembourg season tickets for commuters.
A working group composed of representatives of the Ministries responsible for transport in Belgium and Luxembourg will be set up. Under the direct authority of the two Ministers, it will be responsible, with the implementation of the above-mentioned objectives, and also for the following tasks:
· to upgrade the passenger rail link between Luxembourg and Brussels, notably through the use of high-quality rolling stock and reduced travel time;
· to continue to upgrade the infrastructure in Belgium and Luxembourg by continuing efforts to switch the grid voltage from 3,000 volts (continuous current) to 25,000 volts (alternative current) and to continue work on upgrading axis 3 between Gembloux and Luxembourg and the RER between Brussels and Ottignies;
· monitoring the quality of service, including improving passenger information;
With regard to rail safety, a working group composed of representatives from the national safety authorities, railway operators and infrastructure managers of both countries will ensure the consistency of safety systems.
In the field of aviation, the two Governments recall the importance of maintaining and consolidating cooperation between Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in the field of air navigation services, since the airspace of the two countries constitutes a single flight information region. The two Governments underscore the recent conclusion of a' Memorandum of Understanding' between Belgocontrol and the ANA, the purpose of which is to reaffirm their existing collaboration and to express their intention to strengthen this collaboration, which is part of the continuity of the operational services already provided. Both Governments encourage their two service providers to implement this MoU.
In the field of road safety, Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg will step up their efforts to combat traffic offences by strengthening cooperation between law enforcement authorities, in particular by continuing to work on better identification of drivers suspected of having committed offences.
As regards sustainable mobility, a working group bringing together Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg will soon be set up to study the possibility of setting up an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) corridor between these two countries, as part of the wider implementation of such a corridor at Benelux level.
As far as small and medium-sized enterprises are concerned, the two Governments discussed employee share ownership. It has many advantages: it allows savings to be built up, encourages employee involvement in the company, protects the company in the event of an attempt to take control (possibly in the form of a hostile takeover) and can facilitate the transfer of a (small or medium-sized) company. In this respect, Ministers agreed to examine the best practices to be exchanged in order to develop and strengthen employee share ownership, primarily in SMEs.
With regard to agriculture, the Ministers discussed the subject of national decrees (including the French decree) on origin labelling and their impact on Belgian and Luxembourg exports, as well as their joint actions at European level. Belgium and Luxembourg consider that the multiple national initiatives have a negative impact on the single market, both in terms of Member States' competitiveness and the prices paid by European consumers. The two Governments agreed to keep a close watch on developments and will take note of the European Commission's future report on this subject.
Ministers then discussed the report of Cees Veerman's Agricultural Markets Task Force, published in November 2016, which sets out a series of recommendations to strengthen the farmer's power in the food chain. Belgium and Luxembourg made a joint request to the European Commission for the short and medium-term implementation of these recommendations, including in particular market transparency, clarification of competition rules for cooperatives, adoption of risk management tools, cooperation in the supply chain through "contractualisation", and strengthening measures to facilitate farmers' access to financing via the European Investment Bank.
In the framework of a more harmonious collaboration between Belgium and Luxembourg, the two Governments agreed to establish an interface between the respective radiocommunication systems of the two countries. Since 2015, the Belgian ASTRID system and its Luxembourg counterpart RENITA have been using the same technology, Tetra ("Terrestrial Trunked Radio"). In 2018, the RENITA system plans to update the Tetra technology, which will allow interconnectivity with the Belgian radiocommunication system.
The two Governments are delighted that the preparatory (legal, technical and operational) work has begun, so that the assistance and security services of both countries can cooperate in the border regions.
In the field of defence, Ministers Schneider and Vandeput noted with satisfaction the excellent cooperation between Belgium and Luxembourg. They emphasise their convergence of views on the main outlines of the security and defence policy and the need, within the framework of permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), for the Member States of the European Union to continue to develop their military capabilities. In this regard, they reviewed the state of bilateral cooperation and confirmed their willingness to actively pursue the development of bilateral cooperation at operational and capacity level and to complete the many bilateral capability projects. Three declarations of intent were signed. They concern, respectively, bilateral cooperation for the purchasing of CRTS equipment ("Collective Range Target Systems"), Luxembourg’s purchase of a space-based earth observation system called NAOS (National Advanced Optical System) and the joint purchase and operation of an A400M "Full Flight Simulator" (FFS).
The representatives of both countries agreed that the next joint meeting would take place in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in 2018.