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Monday, February 06, 2006

Luxembourg on the radar screen

A couple of weeks ago Herman and I went to Luxembourg for the weekend. We took the train from Ottignies and arrived in Luxembourg, two hours later fresh and happy of not having to drive down there. Paul came to pick us up. We went to the apartment where Raffaella had prepared a very nice lunch with soup and baked salmon. After lunch we had coffee. Raffaella was testing the new Mukka Express that actually makes coffee or cappuccino. I can really recommend it, it works.

In the afternoon Herman and Paul went to walk in the woods next to the city in cold rainy weather to talk about business. Raffaella and I went window shopping down-town. It is a lovely city with very elegant stores and pedestrian streets. All the top fashion houses are there, there is a lot of money thanks also to the banking industry.

In the evening we went to eat at the very trendy Kariboo Restaurant . All black: floor, walls, ceiling, table and chairs with neon blue lights, the restaurant has a mistery feeling. The food was excellent and the service attentive. After dinner we had a drink at the "Secret Garden" Lounge Bar. You sit on bean bags and sofas and upstairs there's a Turkish area. I highly recommend you go. Very good music. Two hot spots if you have a couple of days in Luxembourg. We slept at the Hotel le Royal probably the best hotel in town. Luxurious and very central.

Next day, Sunday morning, we had coffee and croissants at the bakery An Der Bakes in the Grand-Rue. French quality and German quantity: big croissants and big cappuccinos. Delicious! Raffaella had made reservation for a Jazz Brunch in the "Abbaye de Neumünster", which was constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries and has been restored by the Luxembourg Government and now houses the newly established Centre Culturel de Rencontre. UNESCO has awarded the Abbaye World Heritage Site status. We left Luxembourg in the afternoon happy of our weekend.

Quiet and peaceful country.

Not anymore.

In the past week the country is in the news every day. Dark clouds are gathering and you can see worried politicians trying to find solutions.

It was the discovery of the iron ore around 1850 which marked the turning point for Luxembourg and meant its economic take-off. An important steel industry came into being in the south-western corner of the country, drawing tens of thousands of foreign workers into the ore mines and steel factories, and bringing prosperity to the whole country. The steel exports constitute one quarter of the value of the Luxembourg export trade. The Arcelor group produces 90% of the whole Luxembourg steel output. In spite of severe labour-shedding during the eighties, Arcelor remains the largest private employer in the country. Arcelor is the world's biggest producer of Flat Carbon Steel and Long Carbon Steel, among the leaders in Stainless Steel production, and among the largest firms in Europe for distribution, transformation and trading.

Mittal Steel, the world's largest steelmaker, has made an 18.6bn euros (£12.7bn) bid for rival firm Arcelor. Mittal is headed by Lakshmi Mittal, one of the UK's richest men with an estimated fortune of more than £15bn. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has confirmed that his government is opposed to a takeover of steel firm Arcelor by rival Mittal. Mr. Juncker made the comments after talks with Mittal boss Lakshmi Mittal. Luxembourg-based Arcelor has already rejected Mittal's 18.6bn euro ($22.6bn; £12.7bn) hostile bid.

I cannot imagine how this Luxembourg - Indian story will end but somehow it will mark a milestone in our collective psyche.
February 2006 will be the date of an announced hostile takeover not only of a company but of a whole country.


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