Stenographic Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Wednesday, May 28, 1919, at 5 p.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
    • Belgium
      • M. Hymans.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
    • Italy
      • M. Orlando.
    • Secretaries
      • Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B.
      • Count Aldrovandi.
      • Interpreter—M. Mantoux.

The following members of a Deputation from Luxemburg were introduced:—

  • M. Emile Reuter, Ministre d’Etat, Président du Gouvernement.
  • M. Welter, Directeur General de l’Instruction publique.
  • M. E. Leclère, Conseiller d’Etat, Chargé d’Affaires de Luxemburg à Paris.
  • M. Tony Lefort, Conseiller d’Etat, Chargé d’Affaires de Luxemburg à Berne.
  • M. Funck, Conseiller de Gouvernement, Secrétaire de la Délégation.

[The remainder of this document as here printed is a translation from the French supplied by the editors.]

M. Clemenceau: You have, sirs, expressed the desire of being heard by us. We are ready to give you a hearing. In the name of the Council and of my Government, I thank you for having responded to our invitation.

We request that you speak without any reservation. You are before men who seek justice in a system of peace, and we shall act following the principles which have been enumerated by President Wilson, notably that universal peace must be organized upon the consent of the peoples immediately concerned.

Without any reserve, with complete freedom, you will be asked questions. You will answer with complete liberty. Our cooperation is at your disposal.

[Page 94]

M. Reuter: The Council will understand my emotion at this moment of starting to speak before it. I want first to express my gratitude for its kind invitation to come and state the desires of the small nation of Luxemburg before the Peace Conference.

Yesterday, the Luxemburg Government had the opportunity of conferring with the Chamber before leaving for Paris. It set forth in broad outline the program which it intended to develop here, and the Chamber unanimously gave its approval. The delegation will speak then in the name of our entire nation.

The Luxemburg nation desires first of all to continue its own life, independent and autonomous in friendship as intimate as possible with the Allied and Associated Powers. This independence has always been regarded by it as its most valuable possession and it does not consider doing anything in the way of being dispossessed of this great benefit. It has expressed the desire, transmitted to the Peace Conference, to enter the League of Nations. In its name, we have requested that cognizance be taken of those special conditions which ought to be imposed upon the nations desirous of joining this League.

We wish to determine freely the form and organization of our internal government. In order to give to our national constitution the most extensive, the strongest, and the most democratic basis, we have decided to declare our will in the solemn form of a plebiscite. This political plebiscite, already decreed by the Chamber, will decide between a republican government and a monarchical government by expressing the sentiment with regard to the maintenance of the dynasty.

The Luxemburg nation hopes that the great Powers will be willing to accept the solution which will be expressed in this manner. This hope is founded upon the principle that the President of the Peace Conference just a moment ago recalled to mind.

By the recent publication of the conditions of peace, we have learned that the Conference contemplates the abolition of our neutrality, neutrality which, moreover, was violated in 1914 by one of the guaranteeing powers. The Luxemburg nation would like to have recognized the consequences that this suppression will involve from the point of view of our internal government as well as from the international viewpoint.

With regard to our economic orientation, the Peace Conference has been informed that we have definitely broken off all connection with the German customs union. This rupture entailed necessarily orientation toward the Entente Powers, as has been requested by our Government from the first days of the armistice.

The solution considered ideal by the Luxemburg nation with regard to thoughts of this nature would consist of an economic alliance [Page 95] with France and with Belgium. By virtue of several decisions of our Chamber, we have had the honor of communicating this desire to the French Government and to the Belgian Government, adding that we were ready to enter into conversations with the delegates of these two Governments with a view to examining the bases of an economic union.

This union is considered as ideal by all groupings of the population, producers as well as consumers. Several years ago, the Luxemburg Government had appointed a commission made up of competent men—industrialists, agriculturalists and specialists chosen from economic groups—delegated to study the problem. The commission completed its work at the beginning of this year. In a report, which has been published, it concluded with the opinion that I am here to point out, emphasizing that at all events the interests of the majority of the groups of the country would demand an economic alliance with France.

These conclusions have been contested. The problem has been keenly debated as much in the press as in Parliament. A large number of pamphlets have appeared with one opinion or another in order to enlighten the population on the importance of the two solutions considered.

We have been obliged to communicate our views to the French Government and to the Belgian Government. The latter replied that it was ready to enter into conversations with us in order to examine the bases of undertaking an economic union. These conversations, begun several weeks ago, are continuing at this very time.

The French Government made a reply last January in the following manner:

It acknowledged the intention expressed by the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg of definitely breaking off its ties with Germany, and of its desire to unite economically with the Entente countries. However, the general situation did not seem at that time to permit the beginning of negotiations for this purpose; but as soon as the opportune moment did arrive, it would examine the proposal in a most favorable spirit.

Since that time we have not received any official communications from the French Government.

Different economic groups of our country are alike concerned about the question, for example, syndicates of agriculturalists, and certain workers organizations. With the exception of one local agricultural society, they arrived at a conclusion in favor of an economic union with France.

Again, recently, the Government requested the advice of an entire [Page 96] series of professional associations on the same question. It commissioned particularly the General Confederation of Labor to name a delegation which would be able, at the expense of the Government, to establish relations with the associations of the two neighboring countries, in order to get information on the advantages and the inconveniences that might result from such a union.

The Luxemburg metallurgical industry believes that it would find in France the essential materials for which it has need, and in which it will be deficient in about twenty years. On the other hand, it desires to have a market as large as possible for its products. For this purpose, it wishes economic union with the two countries, union which would assure it, moreover, of profitable returns.

The need itself would prevail so as to turn the metallurgical industry toward France because the latter has the reserves in which the industry suffers a deficiency. This industry would solicit, moreover, the concession of being permitted to obtain these minerals under the same conditions as the Lorraine industry, its neighbor and its competitor.

With regard to coal, the Government has ascertained, with considerable satisfaction, that the Peace Conference stipulated an advantage in favor of the Grand Duchy in that Germany will be obliged to supply the same quantity as before the war. We present our thanks to the Peace Conference for the consideration shown to our industries.

The duration of time for this supplying by Germany has not been fixed, nor has the price. Luxemburg hopes that the Allied and Associated Powers will again, in this respect, safeguard its interests in the same spirit as they have shown in the other questions.

The syndicate of the Confederation of Agricultural Tradesmen considers that France is the natural supplier of the potassium salts and the seeds for our agriculture. It believes also that the conditions of production of Luxemburg agriculture are very much the same as those of Lorraine agriculture.

The Treaty of Peace also provides, in favor of the Grand Duchy, for the right to export without restraint its products to Germany, during a certain time, if the Allied and Associated Powers require it. The Luxemburg Government requests the Peace Conference to impose upon Germany the importation of our agricultural products, which constitutes for us, at least during the transition period, a vital question.

Here now are the steps which this Government has taken up to the present to bring about solution of the economic problem. It hopes at least for the possibility of an economic union with the two neighboring countries. In case this union of three is admitted as possible, it desires to recognize in an indisputable manner the majority [Page 97] of the economic interests of the country. With this idea in mind, and following the proposals of the Council of State, it has brought before the Chamber the draft of a law for the organization of a referendum on the question of the economic orientation of the country. The special objective of this consultation is to establish in an incontestable way the side toward which the majority of the interests of the country leans, in order to settle the controversy which has divided them for several months.

This economic referendum has been proposed also in the hope that the expression of the national disposition would permit the Luxemburg nation to obtain with greater ease overtures on the part of the two countries with which it desires to enter into conversations. By no means did we fail to appreciate the inconvenience which would be involved in submitting to the nation such a problem, the conditions of which are not determined for the moment. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that the great majority of people ask for this plebiscite with the twofold aim that I have had the honor of pointing out.

As a practical conclusion, we have the mission to solicit the benevolent approval of the Conference with regard to opening to the Luxemburg nation the way to conversations and negotiations, so that the economic orientation of the country may be established with full understanding of the advantages and in complete freedom.

We have had the honor of requesting the approval of the Conference with a view to obtaining reparation for the damages of all sorts, which have resulted in the Grand Duchy as a consequence of the German occupation. We hope to be understood especially by our future economic allies.

Not wishing to take unfair advantage of any more of your time which is precious, I close by expressing the hope that the earnest desires stated in the name of this small country, which has always treasured the friendship and protection of the Powers of the Entente, will be kindly received by the delegates of the Great Powers and that, following the friendly terms employed by President Wilson in his letter of invitation, the Council will do its utmost to render service to the Luxemburg nation.

M. Clemenceau: If no one is going to speak, I should like to answer the speech by the chairman of the Luxemburg Delegation.

Three questions have been stated by him:

He has first of all appeared astonished that we have considered the question of neutrality.

The explanation of it is very simple. The war has demonstrated that neutrality was insufficient protection. The experiment has been tried with Belgium and Luxemburg. It is quite natural then that the Peace Conference, which has expressed itself on the main point of [Page 98] the problem, would have thought it was worth while solving it. Such is all that I have the right to say on this point with the conviction that I am expressing the sentiment of my colleagues.

With regard to the second point, I shall be distressed if the Luxemburg Government believes that there was a lack of consideration towards it in the fact that the French Government was not ready for economic negotiations. I am going to explain very frankly, and nobody here ought to be offended if I speak in this manner.

We desire to continue on the best terms possible with the people and the Government of Luxemburg. We know them well. There is a large number of Luxemburgers at Paris and in France, and many have shed their blood voluntarily for the Entente side. These things we can not forget; I am bound to declare it.

However, all this comes back again to the question of general policy. We wish to be on good terms with the Luxemburg people, but we maintain that it is to be likewise with the Belgian people. They threw themselves into the battle with an earnestness to which it is never superfluous to render homage. Because of it we have for them deep gratitude, and we desire that the peace bind tighter, in the strongest and most efficacious manner, the bonds which are formed within the community of a martial tradesunion, if I may speak thus. We possessed Belgian friendship during the war. We desire it very much in peace. We want especially that, in our conversations of all sorts with Luxemburg, Belgium be able to have its word. Simply, it is because it appeared to us that the political situation was not sufficiently clear that certain regulations were not relaxed and that we have deemed it preferable to put off the conversations to which you have alluded. There was no other reason.

You thus know the sentiments which guide us in requesting you to postpone the economic referendum. It appeared to us that it was necessary to permit the passing of time to soothe before considering the different aspects of a difficult question which interests Luxemburg as well as Belgium and France. We should have been very upset had the disposition of the Luxemburg people been expressed as long as the settling of the different opinions on the subject of the recent events of the war has not yet been accomplished.

That is why—speaking in my own name, but believing, after the exchanges of views on this subject, not in contradiction with my colleagues—I request that you postpone this economic referendum. The economic regime and the political regime are two connected questions which must be examined in their several aspects, and I believe that we, one and all, should be embarrassed if this examination were not completed. In any case, my country would want to express its opinion freely. I think, moreover, that the Luxemburg [Page 99] people themselves do not have an interest in expressing their sentiments before the connected questions are in some way cleared up.

I request that you carefully take into account the conditions under which this Conference is meeting. We emerged from the most terrible and bloody war that the world has known, and we came here with a program such as no other assembly ever had. All the questions for Europe, for Asia, and for Africa were admitted. All the old crimes of history, with the consequences that they have produced, were brought before our bar. In the great desire that we all have of making a peace of justice so that it is durable, it is certain that before turning to the question of Luxemburg—and I do not think of saying anything that might offend you—there were others which we considered first.

That is the spirit in which we request of you this postponement. For my part, I congratulate myself in as much as certain disagreements, and certain differences of opinion on the subject of Luxemburg are visible in the path of appeasement. All the world will profit from this happy result anticipated, and first of all the Luxemburg people.

Defer the question of an economic accord.

You have spoken well in admitting that your nation, especially your metallurgical industry and your agriculture, would receive an advantage from a customs union with France. You have also shown your preoccupation—very important for you, no less for us—of grouping the economic relations of Belgium, France, and Luxemburg.

From this point of view, this is the background with which I enter into discussion with you. I am grateful for your presence. I am equally so for the presence here of M. Hymans. If you desire a discussion of three upon the economic regime, France is ready to begin it.

M. Hymans: We have informed the Luxemburg Government that we were ready to treat with them, and we have begun conversations which have touched only the economic question.

M. Clemenceau: I do not require that others be in them. I should be distressed to be an intruder in this conversation of two. If it is necessary, I shall retire with proper discreetness. But since the head of the Luxemburg Government addressed to me an invitation and a small reproach for not having answered sooner, I state that we would be happy to meet for an accord of three. Nothing will establish a more stable and peaceful relationship between the working peoples of the north of France, of Luxemburg and of Belgium than an economic agreement between them. I do not know if you are of this opinion, but it is mine. It was in order not to be [Page 100] accused of interrupting the agreement which was being arranged, that we did not desire to reply sooner. If you will reserve a third chair for us, we shall be very happy to seat our friendship. (Smiles).

I have nothing more to say. You have explained with conviction the meaning of your rights which you wish to maintain. With our populations of the North and of Belgium, you are the people of constant toil. Now, the new Europe must live by steady toil. If these three countries are able to provide the example in setting aside rivalries of the past and in establishing a stable economic order, I believe that by it the peace of the world, for which the Conference takes pride in working, will have advanced a great deal.

M. Reuter: The Luxemburg Delegation is able to do nothing but praise the proposal that comes from the President of the Peace Conference, who is as well President of the Council of the French Government. As I have had the honor of indicating, Luxemburg would see in the realization of a union of three, the economic ideal which would be completely to the advantage of the three countries.

The conversations going on until now between Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg have been entered into with the aim of exchanging information. It is a question of establishing the bases for an agreement to be concluded eventually. The Grand Duchy therefore would not consider it as any sort of inconvenience if the French Government became a party to these conversations. It would consider, on the contrary, this interposition as a fortunate event and advantageous to the interested parties.

The President has also expressed the opinion that the political referendum and the economic referendum are bound together in a certain sense, and that particular reasons recommended their postponement. Since this connection does not seem absolutely necessary, the Luxemburg Government eagerly desires that solution of the problem may occur as soon as posible, for it would help make the internal political situation of the Grand Duchy healthier.

I shall make a report to the Chamber upon the discussions which have taken place, and we shall not fail to inform the Peace Conference of the decision taken on this subject. I have listened with much interest to the very noble speech of the President on the subject of economic rapprochement between the three countries. It is work of great importance, worthy of engaging us, and thus I pledge myself to study it with infinite attention.

M. Hymans: I have listened with care to the noble speech of M. Clemenceau which has promised an economic union between the three countries: France, Luxemburg, and Belgium. It is a new idea which has abruptly come into prominence. It is very important from [Page 101] the political view as well as from the economic point of view. I am not able to express my opinion at this moment, but I shall think about it.

M. Clemenceau: I have answered only the questions which you have presented.

M. Reuter: I wish to add an observation of a practical nature. You request the postponement of the economic referendum; but it is probable that the Chamber, in session, will vote the law settling this measure.

M. Clemenceau: You govern in your country as you understand it; no one is able to encroach upon your rights.

M. Reuter: We are desirous of having a copy of the minutes of this meeting.

M. Clemenceau: We shall get one for you; but it is understood that this document must remain secret.

M. Reuter: I plan nevertheless to communicate it to a commission of the Chamber.

M. Clemenceau: But then under the express condition that it remains absolutely secret.

(The session closed at 6:35 p.m.)