AMCHAM: Mayor Polfer, please introduce yourself to our AMCHAM constituency so they know who you are and the objectives you are trying to achieve.
LYDIE POLFER: I was sworn into Parliament in 1979 when I was a young lawyer. In fact, at the time I was one of the youngest members to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies. Since then, I have tried to uphold the trust vested in me throughout all of my political mandates. I first served as mayor of the City of Luxembourg from 1982 to 1999. Then, from 1999 until 2004, I was Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of the Civil Service. In 2013, when Xavier Bettel became Prime Minister, I was an alderwoman in the City Council and took over as mayor from him, and am now currently serving my second mandate as the mayor of Luxembourg City.
What are the political values which guide your decision-making processes and how have they changed over the years?
I am particularly committed to the safety and well-being of our citizens. Of course, the city, and our country, has evolved over the years, there is no doubt; but I still have the same drive for finding solutions and overcoming challenges. My perspective, my values are based on a sense of community, on tackling issues as a whole and looking for the common interest of all stakeholders involved. I always look for ways to move forward.
My philosophy is, and maybe this is what differentiates me from others, that we are in a constant state of evolution, as opposed to revolution, meaning I believe that forcing bans and prohibitions on people is not going to work. To get things to move forward, you have to work with people, together as a unit, trying to engage the different viewpoints to overcome the challenges at hand.
Take the example of urban mobility. Yes, many places in the city are within walking distance, or can be reached using public transport. However not everyone – for whatever reasons – may have the option of going on foot. We need to maintain the possibility of using motorized vehicles, even for a short distance, if necessary.
Shaping society in a positive way and contributing to its natural development implies that we, the politically mandated, need to motivate people to see what is good, and what is necessary.
In 1982, when I began my first mandate as mayor of Luxembourg City, the city center had been recently transformed into a pedestrian zone. Many houses and old structures needed renovation and a face-lift. So we initiated renovations on city-owned properties, and encouraged the community to be inspired to do the same.
You need to inspire people through your actions. In an open society like ours, it is important to enable people, not to set up rules that disempower them.
How has Luxembourg changed during your political career and how have you changed your vision, goals and strategy as a result?
I started my political career over 40 years ago, and much has changed, of course, over the last decades. The world has changed; the economy has changed; and this is true on a global scale. Yes, the city no longer has the feel of family-owned businesses, and the shops have changed with the arrival of more international, mainstream brands. This is not specific to Luxembourg City.
However, our city has also become more multicultural, more accessible; the standard of living has changed. Most families have a higher disposable income than what we had, even in my own family, 50 years ago.
As a liberal person, not just a liberal politician, I learned to question new realities, new challenges, and new situations. The world is changing continuously, it is changing fast, and it is changing in a different way than it used to.
Our main concern, not just mine as mayor, but as member of the municipal council, is how to keep our city attractive, competitive and safe amid all these changes. We want to ensure it remains a city that is alive and thriving, a city that is appealing; but also to help people realize the vision of sustainable urban living, and to leave a healthy future for the generations to come.
The challenge in this fast-paced world is to keep a sense of community intact, a sense of togetherness. We do not want a split or a deep rift to form through its people, but rather to create social and structural coherence.
When I became mayor for the first time in 1982, we were facing a deep financial crisis. For two years, we had to freeze new hires so we would have enough budget to pay our existing salaries. We pulled together as a great supportive community and weathered the crisis.
Look at the two years of pandemic that are behind us. We stood together as a society to build on solidarity, even if it was not easy. I am so grateful to all our city staff for adjusting to difficult situations.
I believe that when people understand and grasp the importance of sharing the responsibility for a challenge ahead – really have that sense of a community – then we can achieve much more together.
AMCHAM: What is your approach to the future?
I was brought up in a liberal way, this means that I was free to make my own choices, but I also had to assume the consequences of them. I value this approach greatly. Liberal implies freedom, freedom implies choice, and choice always applies assuming the responsibility for the consequences of your decisions.
Many things can change abruptly; from one day to the next, everything can be different. On a family level, on a societal level; life can be impacted by anything at any moment and then everything changes.
When you are lucky enough to work together with resilient people, with people who have great skills and talent, then you can overcome the challenges thrown your way.
I can definitely say for our municipality, for our city, and maybe also for our country that we have the necessary sense of being willing to endure the challenges that lay ahead. This involves listening to other people, and accepting that there is more than one truth.
This requires patience, time and compassion, and above all the ability to listen, and to hear what society is telling us – to bring the people forward without imposing bans or prohibitions.