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The history of the Grand Duchy can be traced back to the year 963, when Count Sigefroi of the Ardennes, founder of the House of Luxembourg, acquired the rocky outcrop of the Bock, an area situated at the very heart of the present day capital. There, upon the remains of a roman “castellum” called Lucilinburhuc, he had a castle built which, as time went by, became the centre of a fortified town.




From the start, the dominion was envied for its strategic position, and the House of Luxembourg was destined for great things. The dynasty produced four Emperors of the German Empire, four Kings of Bohemia, a King of Hungary and several Princes Elect.


In 1437, the absence of an heir saw Luxembourg enter into a long period of foreign rule under the reign of the Habsburgs, which lasted until the 18th century. Known as “the Gibraltar of the North”, the fortress of Luxembourg was the prize in the unremitting and bloody battles between the Burgundians, the Spanish, the Austrians, the Prussians and the French. As a province of the Spanish Netherlands, conquered by Louis IV, and a French Forest Department during the 1789 Revolution, the territory was besieged, ravaged, carved up and restructured about twenty times during four centuries.




At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Luxembourg was given the status of a Grand Duchy, gaining its independence in 1839 (Treaty of London). After losing its Belgian “quarter”, the territory’s geography has remained unchanged to the present day. The reign of William I of Orange-Nassau (1815-1840), heralded the start of a new era : the growing awareness of a national identity and the development of democratic institutions, led progressively to a more pronounced independence in foreign politics. In 1867 in London, with the collective guarantee of the major European powers of the day, Luxembourg acquired its neutrality.




Blessed with natural boundaries, yet convinced of the need for economic integration into larger markets, Luxembourg joined in 1843 the Zollverein, the German economic confederation. This commercial relationship proved to be very favourable to the Grand Duchy under William II, who subsequently sped to renew the treaty of customs union in 1846.




During the 1840s, a vast deposit of iron ore stretching from the north of the Lorraine region, France, to the southern part of Luxembourg was discovered. The town of Esch-sur-Alzette became the Grand Duchy’s industrial heart.

From the 1870s onwards, Luxembourg became part of the powerful “steel belt” formed by the border regions of the Saar, Lorraine and Luxembourg. In Luxembourg, the expansion in the region known as the Minett was such that as the First World War approached the area was, in proportion to its size, the world’s largest steel producer. Founded in 1911, “ARBED” (Aciéries Réunies de Burbach, Eich et Dudelange) already controlled 31% of steel production in 1913.




From 1918, the Luxembourg Government withdrew from the Zollverein agreement. During this difficult time, politicians looked vainly to France for a solution, and finally, in 1921, reached an agreement on the “Belgian-Luxembourgish economic union” (UEBL). The post-war economic depression was followed by a period of prosperity.




The striking phenomenon that accompanied this industrial revolution was to be seen in the intense changes which took place amongst the country’s working population. The mines and the factories were not attracting Luxembourg’s rural population. They preferred to leave their impoverished farmsteads rather than go down a mine: instead they emigrated to France or the USA in ever increasing numbers.


At the same time, the workforce needed for Luxembourg’s industrialization arrived in two periods of mass immigration; the first from Germany (1868-1939), and the second from Italy (1892-1970). Between 1908 and 1913, Italians and Germans made up almost 60% of the workforce in the steel and mining industries.




From 1930 onwards, the world-wide economic crisis hit Luxembourg hard, causing severe unemployment. Two-thirds of the foreign workers lost their jobs. Industrial production advanced unregularily despite the production allocations laid down in the International Steel Agreement of 1926.




The lack of respect shown, right from the start of the Second World War, for the Grand Duchy’s neutrality, was a deep war wound that ultimately highlighted the ineffective nature of this status, particularly as it had already been flouted in 1914. After the War, under Grand Duchess Charlotte, Luxembourg felt a pressing need for moral, political and economic repair. At the forefront of the country’s foreign policy, traditionally concerned with national security, was the need to foster international co-operation and to become a player in international markets. On June 26th, 1945, Luxembourg signed the Charter of San Francisco and became a founding member of the United Nations. The Constitution was revised in 1948, and the country’s neutrality, stated in the first article, was revoked. A year later, Luxembourg joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).



Luxembourg became a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC, 1951, Treaty of Paris), then of the European Economic Community (EEC, 1957, Treaty of Rome) and of the Community of Atomic Energy (Euratom, 1957). In 1952, Luxembourg City became the provisional seat of the ECSC, and thus, the first capital of Europe. When in 1965, the executive powers of these institutions merged, Luxembourg became, along with Brussels and Strasbourg, the third capital of the European Community.


The ECSC formed the basis for a new stage of growth in the Luxembourg steel industry. The Common Market provided new opportunities for all aspects of the country’s economy, and, once again, encouraged immigration in order to enable economic expansion.




In 1964, Grand Duke Jean succeeded his mother, the Grand Duchess Charlotte. The 1950s and 1960s were marked by a notable progress in steel production, which reached 6 million tons at the beginning of the 1970s. During this decade however, following the crisis in both the European and the world-wide steel markets, a major restructuring of the industry was undertaken at the expense of an effort towards national solidarity. The result was a progressive fall in the industry’s contribution to GDP to less than 5% (1990). The setting-up in 1977 of a “tripartite” arrangement facilitated negotiations between the Government, the unions and industry aimed at finding a solution to the crisis.


The expansion of Luxembourg as a financial centre, brought about by a favourable legal framework, together with the emergence of new sectors, profoundly changed the country’s economic structure at the end of the 20th century.


Source: SIP, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Panorama