Interview with Robert Goebbels, former member of the European Parliament.
1. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself? Where were you born and where did you grow up?
My name is Robert Goebbels, Goebbels being an infamous name in Germany however I am a Luxembourger. I had a normal childhood, not too much eager for studies so I dropped school at the age of seventeen and went to the military service, which was an obligation in my country back in the old days. I spent nine months in the military – nine months and an additional two weeks in military prison, to be precise, because I was caught somewhere else on active duty. I was never very disciplined, obviously. My biggest gift was that I loved writing. At fifteen I was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. After the military I became a newspaper editor and that is how I got involved in politics. In order to publish news about politics I followed debates at the parliament meetings and told myself: “I could do this myself as well.”
Finally I joined the socialist party of Luxembourg which served as a base point for my further political career. In later phases of my life I served as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and then as the Minister of Economy. Later on I was elected a member of European Parliament for three terms. Finally I decided to retire.
2. What was your dream job as a child?
When I was young I wanted to become a captain on a ship. Therefore, during my years as the Minister for Economy I founded the Luxembourg Maritime Administration. Today there are hundreds of ships flying the flag of Luxembourg in the oceans of the world.
So the dream is finally realized!
3. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced at work?
I can share a common challenge that Europe faced and is still facing. Although it is not my personal challenge yet it is an important issue to be discussed. I was involved in the negotiations of establishing the united monetary system nowadays known as the Eurozone. The euro is a good example of what Europe can be. I would like to mention that the euro and Schengen were not initially European policies. They were established outside of the European Union. The euro is the biggest political success we have had in the last eighteen years but on the other hand it poses a huge challenge. It is obvious that the introduction of the euro slowly but surely results in more cooperation and solidarity. It is the second most important currency in the world: about 30% of all international transactions are conducted in euro.
4. What are the three things you like the most about your job?
Meeting people, travelling, and seeing how people live and react elsewhere. This is especially important if you come from a small country like Luxembourg and the outside world seems much larger. I am eager to learn more about the history of humanity and cultural diversities. Reading 3-4 books per week is probably my biggest success in this field.
5. When did you decide to become an economist and why?
In fact I am not a proper economist, I consider myself as a practical economist. I was rather successful as Minister of Economy in practice. I ended up with a record of full employment, increase in jobs and opportunities, and a lower than 1.5% inflation rate.
6. What would you suggest for a student of economics with a fresh degree?
My suggestion would be that, unlike mathematics, economics is not an exact science. It requires thinking critically. There is always space for different interpretations. Few economists would agree completely on any specific topic. There are always different opinions on the same topic. You have to stay open-minded.
7. Luxembourg is known as a model of sustainable economy and development. In your opinion, what makes such a society successful? What are the foundations of success in a society like that?
I don’t think that Luxembourg is really the model for sustainability as it is an extremely small country. Luxembourg politicians have always been aware of the fact that we have a scarcity of resources so we have always tried to invest more in the services sector. We had to reinvent ourselves several times. As I mentioned before, when I was Minister of Economy, we established the National Maritime Register with shipping services for banks that finance shipping and insurance companies. It is not our goal to have as many ships as possible, our goal is to invest in the dominating sector. Two thirds of international shipping is realized on the world’s oceans and seas.
For example, Luxembourg is now investing in space mining which may sound totally silly. We invest a lot in research into space mining. The aim is to create an economic sector which will in turn benefit other sectors. The aim of the game is that, at the end of the day, people and economies can both benefit from growth and sustainability.
8. What are your predictions and feelings about the current instabilities in the European Union?
The European Union is having a difficult time: Brexit and problems in a lot of countries. But I am convinced that the EU is here to stay. Brexit will be a demonstration of what will happen if you decide to leave the Union, the Brits are going to have a lot of trouble in the upcoming years which will make other members think twice about leaving and appreciate the common values of European Union more. Before the First World War Europe was a dominating power in the world, 20% of the world’s population, 60% of the land, 80% of economic exchanges was ruled by European empires. Two World Wars and a Cold War later EU is still dominating in shares of the world economy. We are still big guys in international trade, however, politically we don’t weigh too much. The European Union currently represents only 6.9% of the world’s population, which proves that we can only have an impact if we stick together.
9. Which period of time or which job did you enjoy most during your past experiences?
That’s a tricky question! In fact what I enjoyed the most was that I had the opportunity to reinvent myself every five or ten years. If I had chosen to be a journalist for forty years I would have ended up drunk all the time. Serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a great experience. Later my years as Minister of Economy were quite interesting and challenging too. Comparatively, although I worked in European Parliament for about fifteen years, I still had a chance to reinvent myself every five years by changing sectors. In my first five years I served as one of the main players in the field of economy. That was the first period of the euro. Later I switched to energy problems. For the moment I am completely retired from active politics, but I still continue writing critical articles that are published in local and international newspapers. In addition, I am the governor of the Europe–Asia Foundation, which allows me to travel to Asia from time to time. I must confess that Asia is the most interesting continent in the world now with a lot to discover.
10. What skills do you think a recent graduate intending to build a career in international governmental organizations should have?
It is almost impossible to answer this question. Every human being has some skills, that is in our genes. We are all determined by our genes, by what we inherited from our ancestors. Later we grow by educating ourselves. In my opinion, the best way to deal with life is to be open-minded and to be able to accept new ideas. On the other hand, one has to be critical and not believing instantly everything one has been told.
Zsófia Sára Csucska and Seylan Musayeva