Amcham: Please tell our readers a bit about yourself, your background, your objectives and your philosophy of work.
Lex Delles: My name is Lex Delles, I am Minister for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Minister for Tourism. I am 37 years old and from Mondorf-les-Bains. Following my secondary school, I began studying law at the University of Luxembourg before graduating in educational sciences at HERS (Haute Ecole Robert Schuman) in Virton (Belgium). After my studies, I worked as a teacher at the primary school in Lenningen.
In 2008, I joined the youth wing of the Democratic Party of Luxembourg (Jonk Demokraten – JDL). Since June 2022, I am president of the DP. In 2011, I ran for the first time in the municipal elections and was elected right away first alderman of Mondorf-les-Bains. In January 2014, I was sworn in as mayor of my hometown.
Following the legislative elections of 2013, I was elected to Parliament and in 2014, at the age of 29, I became Luxembourg’s youngest député-maire (both member of Parliament and mayor). During the 2017 municipal elections, I retained my mandate as mayor up until I joined the government as Minister for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and as Minister for Tourism in 2018.
As Minister for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Minister for Tourism my objectives are to establish and maintain a framework conducive to the creation and development of small and medium-sized enterprises and to promote and optimize the national tourism offer. My focus is on further simplifying the legislation, eliminating red tape and consequently going digital.
How are things going in your Ministry and what projects are you focusing on as Luxembourg emerges from the past two years of crisis?
Since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry’s focus has been on ensuring that measures were introduced to support commercial and craft micro-businesses, which suffered a major loss in turnover as a result of the pandemic. The General Directorate for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises supported businesses and the self-employed through various support measures, including several direct non-repayable types of financial aid and a repayable scheme. A total of 586 million euros was paid out.
In addition, I introduced the recovery plan “Restart Tourism – Stabiliséieren. Adaptéieren. Promouvéieren.”with a special emphasis on leisure tourism and business events . The recovery plan enabled us to boost the hardest-hit sectors, while a continuous dialogue with our partners provided much needed support, help and advice.
After two difficult years characterized by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences, both the mid-sized sector and the tourism sector are back on the road to recovery in 2022. In the tourism sector, we are currently focusing on the new tourism-strategy of the General Directorate for Tourism, which was presented in May 2022. Under the slogan “Mënschen, Regiounen an Ekonomie: de wäertorientéierten Tourismus als aktiven Dreiwer fir méi Liewens- an Openthaltsqualitéit”, the new strategy focuses on three objectives:
– Improving the quality of life: tourism will create tangible added value for residents, commuters and tourists.
– Captivate the visitors: visitor satisfaction will be maintained at a high level and authentic and surprising experiences will exceed visitors’ expectations.
– Strengthening the economy: With professional actors and efficient companies, tourism as an economic sector will be supported and strengthened.
With regard to the SME sector, the General Directorate for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises is also focusing on essential projects, such as reforming the right of establishment and the second chance policy, which aims to modernize the right of establishment in order to create a modern legal framework to stimulate entrepreneurship.
What do you consider your biggest successes over these past several years? What have been your areas of biggest disappointment?
Since the beginning of my mandate, I have relied on a close exchange of information with the companies from the SME- and the tourism-sector. Thanks to this close contact, we know the needs of the companies and we were able to act quickly and in their interest during the COVID-19 pandemic. The laws on Covid aid have undergone a total of 13 adjustments over time in order to always respect the respective needs of the businesses. I consider the fact, that we ensured to support businesses and self-employed persons in order to help them to overcome the crisis, as my biggest success.
One of the disappointments is that some projects take longer than initially thought. The reform of the right of establishment and the second chance policy are one of my priorities and have been on my list from the beginning. I want to destigmatize the fact of failure. If the bankruptcy was not fraudulent, a second chance should be granted.
Unfortunately, the implementation of this reform has been a long process, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and because we wanted to take the time to exchange views with several stakeholders such as the ministry of justice, and different Chambers. However, the law will come into force this year.
What are your areas of biggest concern for the future and what are you doing to mitigate those concerns?
I am very concerned that with the war in Ukraine we are witnessing the first war on European soil for decades. This is a worrying development. First and foremost, from a human perspective. But also, from an economic point of view. The effects of the war in Ukraine, including an exceptional rise in energy costs, are not to be underestimated. Our economy and our businesses have survived the Covid-19 pandemic and emerged stronger. With the war in Ukraine, we are now facing a new crisis. This is why the government already met in March 2022 within the framework of the tripartite to introduce support measures to limit the impact of inflationary pressure on households and businesses. Several meetings between the government and the social partners took place last week to prepare the next tripartite.
How important is digital transformation to the future success of the companies and enterprises managed by your Ministry and where would you say they are at remaining competitive with global best practices in this regard?
In Luxembourg, we recognised early on that digitalisation is very important for the development of large enterprises as well as for the development of medium and small sized enterprises. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic crisis has demonstrated the extent to which new technologies are a source of opportunity for companies. They have been forced to reorient themselves to meet the new challenges of the pandemic. For some companies, this means adopting electronic invoicing or setting up an online sales business. For many companies, the use of new technologies has thus contributed significantly to overcoming the Covid-19 crisis. In order to support small and medium-sized enterprises in taking the step towards digitalization, the General Directorate for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises has set up several support programmes. The Fit 4 performance programmes are prime examples. The Fit 4 Digital and Fit 4 Digital Packages programmes, tailored to the needs of very small businesses, help for example to increase visibility, improve customer relations or optimise internal processes.
Letzshop is also an important tool in supporting businesses in their digital transition. The online sales platform helps retailers face the digital challenge while boosting the retail business. Letzshop’s impressive results over the last two years are a testament to the growing interest of the general public and the need for such a tool.
Likewise, what are you doing to promote digital transformation within your Ministry itself?
The Covid 19 crisis has forced us to digitize further. The introduction of the various COVID-19 support measures has led us to further digitalize our administrative processes in order to be able to offer financial aid as quickly and efficiently as possible. Today, all requests for financial support can be submitted online via the site www.guichet.lu. In this way, we now have thousands of digital interactions with businesses.
Are companies in your areas of interest experiencing difficulty getting and keeping employees and what steps are you considering to assist them?
Indeed, some companies have difficulties getting employees. We are aware of this problem and we want to help solve it. An important approach to solving the problem is the fifth SME Action Plan which ensures effective support for small and medium-sized enterprises in the medium and long term. This Action Plan will, among other things, promote local trade and crafts, support businesses in their growth while guaranteeing sustainable development and facilitate access to financing. The shortage of labour is also a major concern in the SME Action Plan.
We understand efforts to promote Luxembourg as a weekend travel location have achieved quite some success. Please explain what has been done and the outcome.
It is too early to make a definitive assessment of the 2022 tourist season, but according to the first indicators, campsites and hotels have reached high occupancy rates, especially in rural areas. We will probably surpass last year’s statistics; however, we are not quite at the level of the exceptional year 2019.
In general, it is important to know that we no longer focus our tourism promotion on individual countries, but on an audience. We have defined target groups that we want to address, for example the Explorers, who are looking for new impressions and new cultures or the Nature-loving actives, who want to spend time in nature during their holidays, practice sports and take care of their health. In addition, we do not focus exclusively on foreign tourists, but also on residents and cross-border commuters. In addition, the General Directorate for Tourism has decided to develop a new strategy which focuses on improving the quality of life, captivate the visitors and strengthen the economy.
Where do you see the biggest business risk over the coming 18 month and what are you doing to mitigate?
The Ukraine war and the associated price increases are certainly among the biggest challenges in the near future. So far, the government has managed to cope with crises, as the Covid pandemic has underlined. I am convinced that this also applies to the economic difficulties surrounding the Ukraine crisis.
The tripartite plays an important role in this challenging period. It is a fundamental social and political achievement. This institutionalized dialogue between government, employers and trade unions allows for a consensus to be reached, essential in times of crisis. We must therefore seek shared solutions. Several meetings between the government and the social partners already took place last week to prepare the next tripartite.
Are SME’s adequately equity funded and have access to sufficient working capital to survive a downturn? Is there anything that needs to be done to help?
The Covid-19 pandemic was one of the greatest challenges of the past decades. Thanks to fast and effective support measures, we were able to provide decisive support to the companies and limit the number of bankruptcies. Small and medium-sized companies managed to cope well throughout the crisis. The first companies are even starting to pay back the repayable aids, which is a good sign and indicates that the companies are on the road to recovery.
How do you access the risk of either a Luxembourg or Grand region recession and what needs to be done on a preventative basis?
A recession is a global issue, not a local or regional phenomenon. The risk of a recession is currently very much tied to the geopolitical consequences resulting from the war in Ukraine. We are preparing for this eventuality, but I must underline that the companies in Luxembourg did not experience a decline during the Covid pandemic and continued to recruit people, for example, so that the active population in employment is still increasing. Our businesses are therefore well positioned.
As the newly elected head of the DP, what is your vision and strategy for the near-term future?
I stand for the social-liberal orientation of the party. It is close to my heart to stand up for the social-liberal freedoms and a strong economy, without which our social system cannot function. But above all, it is important to me to involve and unite the people. The DP wants to set the course to position Luxembourg for the future. We must develop economically without losing sight of the central aspect of the environment.
When you are not working hard at your professional jobs, what do you like to do to de-stress and relax?
To de-stress and relax I like to go for walks, preferably in the forest. I can recommend the calming effect of the rich landscape of the Grand Duchy to everyone. For such a small country, the different regions of Luxembourg have astonishingly varied landscapes: the dense forests and valleys of the Ardennes, the rock formations of the Mullerthal region, the “red earth” of the Minett with its former mining landscapes, the vineyards of the Moselle or the Guttland region with its numerous castles.
Amcham would like to thank Minister Delles for this interview!!