Amcham: Please tell us and our readers the most important things you would like us to know about you as a person.
Michael Konstantino: Though I spent my childhood growing up in Los Angeles, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my life to have lived in so many places and experienced so many cultures – both in the United States and abroad. While I love diversity in all its forms, I’ve always felt a particular spiritual connection with New Orleans, where I attended university and lived for several years afterwards. My husband, Shalom, is the most important person in my life and has taught me the most about the value of family, belonging, and unconditional love. The struggles we had to endure just to stay together in the early years of our relationship before winning the right to marry has also been a central theme in my life. Along with a Jewish upbringing that emphasized doing right in the world, it’s why I’ve dedicated so much of my personal and professional time to issues of equal rights, diversity, and justice for marginalized communities like that of LGBTQI+ people.
Please explain your professional career path which has now brought you to Luxembourg.
I arrived in Luxembourg in June this year and began my current assignment as the U.S. Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, but I have been a career diplomat for over 21 years. The last role I held before my current position was the Deputy Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs, which is the central policy desk for the seven countries of the Western Balkans. My previous assignments include a mix of management, economic, political, and consular work in Skopje, Frankfurt, Cotonou, Tel Aviv, Gaborone, Port-au-Prince, and in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in Washington.
What exactly are the duties and responsibilities of a DCM?
The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) is the number two at an embassy and is the Ambassador’s top advisor and chief operating officer. I am the Ambassador’s alter ego when he is unavailable to represent the U.S. personally, and I serve as the Embassy’s Chief of Mission or Chargé d’Affaires in the Ambassador’s absence. I work alongside Ambassador Barrett bolstering U.S. relations with Luxembourg in government, business, academia, and civil society. I also oversee the work of all teams within the Embassy and support the daily management of our Embassy functions.
What professional objectives would you like to accomplish while you are here in Luxembourg?
Ambassador Barrett and I are here to support the goals of the current administration. My first few months in Luxembourg have taken place within a very challenging global context. With Russia’s unjustified further invasion of Ukraine, our focus has been on ensuring that Luxembourg, our Allies, and partners respond in a unified and clear way to address this threat. My main objective is to work alongside the Ambassador supporting our cooperation with Luxembourg, bilaterally and multilaterally, not only responding to this crisis, but also enhancing our partnership for the future. I also look forward to working with the business community here to support new mutually beneficial opportunities in sectors where Luxembourg is a true global leader like space, information technology, and sustainable finance. As with all American diplomatic missions around the world, our highest priority is, of course, to support American citizens abroad. It is my goal to ensure we continue to provide American citizens with excellent service. To learn more, I invite readers to look at our Integrated Country Strategy or ICS for Luxembourg, a document available to the public on the State Department’s website.
What were your immediate first impressions of Luxembourg on the day you arrived in this country?
My husband Shalom and I were lucky to arrive in Luxembourg in the summer, which was the perfect season to spend our spare time outside exploring the country. We were both immediately impressed by the natural beauty of Luxembourg, the luscious greenery, and the historic architecture. Although I have lived in several European countries before, Luxembourg has a uniquely welcoming feel I very much appreciate. People on all levels have welcomed us into their community – and usually with a bottle of crémant. I have also been very impressed by Luxembourg on a professional level. The efficiency, innovativeness, and progressive mindset of Luxembourg is a huge strategic advantage to the people of Luxembourg.
How have you been welcomed by the other DCMs resident in Luxembourg?
The crisis in Ukraine has put cooperation between foreign missions to the test, not only in Luxembourg but worldwide. In Luxembourg, we have risen to the occasion. Our cooperation with our ally and partner missions in Luxembourg has been excellent so far and the diplomatic community here has stood up for what is right. On a personal level, I am also very grateful to the DCM community for welcoming me and my husband and for supporting us in settling into our new roles and everyday life in Luxembourg.
What are the principles strengths which underpin US relations with Luxembourg?
The relationship between the United States and Luxembourg stems from our shared history in both World Wars. The fact that the United States liberated Luxembourg in WWII is still very much remembered and commemorated here and I am truly grateful and proud that it is. Our historic bond, forged in war, has only been strengthened in time through cooperation. Luxembourg is part of the core of the Western international system that is key to U.S. foreign policy. The importance of our bilateral trade and investment cannot be underestimated, either. The sum of U.S. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Luxembourg and Luxembourg’s FDI in the U.S. reached nearly $ 1 trillion before the pandemic, and our economic relationship supported nearly 50,000 jobs between our two countries. We are seeing strong recovery in those numbers post-pandemic. Our historic bond runs deep, but it is our continuing cooperation across an array of sectors that takes our partnership to new heights.
What are the areas of opportunity to further strengthen relations between the US and Luxembourg?
I expect the years ahead to offer plenty of opportunities to expand our already strong cooperation, bilaterally and multilaterally.
Our cooperation in NATO will continue to drive our joint efforts in enhancing our collective defense and deterrence. We welcomed the recent pledge by the government of Luxembourg to increase its defense spending to 1% of GDP by 2028. The United States is committed to working with Luxembourg to find ways that are politically, financially, and publicly viable to meet its NATO Wales Pledge spending 2% of GDP on defense.
U.S. firms are among the most prominent foreign investors in Luxembourg, and I expect our business cooperation to continue to flourish in investment as well as in trade. There are many areas where Luxembourg and the United States can learn from each other’s advances: areas like scientific research, space, and climate finance. These are just a few examples among many, and I look forward to supporting those links between our two countries in my new role.
How are Luxembourg and US alike?
One could say that the United States and Luxembourg share the same DNA – the values of democracy and human rights are at the core of everything we do. We do not shy away from calling out human rights violations and we do not tolerate attempts to violate the rule of law and democracy. This past year especially has demonstrated our unity in standing on the right side of history. I believe both of our countries will continue to work together, via our joint UN Human Rights Council membership and bilaterally, towards ensuring that human rights and values of democracy become part of the DNA for all.
Our countries are also very similar in our appreciation for diversity. Our populations are a rich mix of people from various backgrounds, linguistic groups, culture, and heritages. We are both open societies enriched by our diversity.
Our core similarities continue to drive the partnership between our governments, businesses, and beyond.
How are the US and Luxembourg different?
Each country is unique and while the United States shares common core values, as well as important history, with Luxembourg, we both add our own strengths to our partnership. There is much to admire in Luxembourg. Luxembourg is one of the world’s most prosperous nations, one of the world’s most open societies and one of the world’s safest countries. The United States has its own strengths. It is one of the world’s strongest economic and military powers, and a home to world-class innovation in technology and research, to top tier education, and a source of global culture. Both countries have different strengths that help further our partnership.
How are relations between the US and Russian embassies in Luxembourg? Are there areas of mutual cooperation?
Russia continues to wage a war to take control of as much of Ukraine as it can. Thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded and over 14 million Ukrainian citizens have been forced to flee their homes. There is evidence that Russia’s forces have interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported an estimated hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, including unaccompanied children. I do not see there being scope for cooperation with the Russian Embassy in other areas when atrocities are being committed in Ukraine by the Russian government. While I do believe diplomacy is the only way to end this conflict, Russia has shown no signs that it is willing to seriously engage in negotiations with Ukraine. I do want to emphasize that it is Russia’s government, not its people, that is responsible for the war against Ukraine. Unfortunately, Russian people live in a system that is overridingly ruled by one individual, whose government goes to extraordinary lengths to try to oppress free speech and crush democratic opposition.
What are your hobbies?
Physical fitness is extremely important to me, so nutrition and exercise are a prime focus of mine — a lifestyle, really. I am disciplined about following a high-protein, vegetarian diet and I do weight training in the gym about five times a week. I also enjoy snow skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer. Outside sports and physical fitness, I enjoy cinema, live theatre, travel, fine dining, and the arts.
What are your three favorite books and why?
My favorite book is Milan Kundera’s “Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” because it evoked the wonder and longing of a population and generation in transition. I also love The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice’s series of novels beginning with “Interview with a Vampire.” I enjoy the genre, but these novels evoke the ambiance and soul of New Orleans like none other, in my opinion. Another book that had particular impact on my worldview when I was young was M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled”.
What is your favorite movie and why?
Although based on a stage play of the same name, my favorite film is “Six Degrees of Separation.” Extremely well-acted by an all-star cast, the film always strikes me as relevant for pointing out the issues of chance encounters with others and the nature of contemporary American social class and society.
Please share with our readers any additional thoughts you would like to offer them.
I look forward to working with AmCham and meeting its members. There are great opportunities to advance the already strong relationship between Luxembourg and the United States. economically, politically, and culturally, and I hope to work together with AmCham members in achieving that goal.
Amcham would like to take this opportunity in thanking Michael for this interview