Étienne Schneider, Luxembourg's deputy prime minister, minister of the economy and minister of health, tells Sebastian Shehadi about the country’s space mining programme, Brexit advantage and personalised medicine.  

Q: To what extent has Luxembourg benefited from Brexit?

A: Some 50 companies moved from London to Luxembourg already, mainly in the insurance and financial services. [However] if Brexit happens, Luxembourg loses a close ally for financial centres.

Q: How else has Brexit affected Luxembourg?

A: With housing prices, and with all these people coming to Luxembourg, they want to live in or around the city centre. The prices are already extremely high and they will push the prices up once again.

Q: How is Luxembourg diversifying from its focus on financial services?

A: We have diversified our economy for quite a long time [by building] up new sectors [in] ICT, [Luxembourg now hosts the European HPC headquarters], bio-technologies, green technologies, logistics and automotive.

One of the latest sectors we’ve built is space mining with the the Space Resource Initiative, launched three years ago. We’ve put in place the legal framework and venture capital that businesses need, as well as the R&D grants and space agency. It’s a completely new sector and it’s been a complete success. More than 50 companies are now active in new space activities; 150 companies and research institutes from around the world are settling down in Luxembourg or co-operating with [local] companies. We’re [still not independent of our financial sector and we] want to develop [our financial services], but we know it will become more and more difficult because of international regulation.

Q: Could you elaborate on the Space Resource Initiative ?

A: In the short term, [there’s fast-growing business] in satellite based, earth observation. For example, chemical companies selling fertilisers to farmers are now buying satellite pictures images of farmers’ lands and offering services, telling them ‘you don’t need fertilisers on this part of your land, you need them here’.

[In the medium term, we want to develop tech that allows satellites] to use the ice found on asteroids, or the moon, and turn that into...fuel. Space tourism [and] 3D printing in space [are other goals].

The long-term goal is space mining: using minerals in space to build, in space, everything you need since [transport is extremely expensive]. This [would] revolutionise all current space activities because that makes them much cheaper.

[The legal framework for space mining is outdated]. [Humanity] only has the UN’s 1967 space treaty that says ‘everything in space belongs to humankind’...This [isn’t business friendly].  Luxembourg’s legal framework copies the UN treaty for the ocean that says ‘no country has the right to possess the oceans, but you can fish from it and commercialise it’. This attracts investors. I’m trying to get co-operation agreements with other countries, especially in the EU, because I don’t want the Americans, the Chinese and the Japanese to be the only players in this new big business...I think the EU underestimates the value and importance of this new business.

Q: Any other FDI opportunities you'd like to highlight?

Our automotive industry is really developing. There’s no car in the world which has no parts being developed in Luxembourg.

Personalised medicine [based on DNA testing] is something we’re investing quite a lot of money too...This will benefit the patient and the health and social security system because it will be much cheaper in the future. The Luxembourg BioBank has samples from all over the world, where we analyse which cancer works with which medicine.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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