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Brexit Seems To Benefit The Tiny Nation Of Luxembourg

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Remember Brexit? That has already happened, but the U.K. and European Union are still trying to agree on what their post-divorce relationship will look like. And it is not going well. But not everyone loses in a divorce. It seems the tiny European nation of Luxembourg is one of the biggest winners. Reporter Rebecca Rosman wanted to find out why.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: The first thing you need to know is that even Luxembourg isn't that proud of being called a whiner when it comes to Brexit.

GILLES WALERS: It's a disaster from a European perspective.

ROSMAN: Gilles Walers is a legal adviser at the Luxembourg Bankers Association. As a European, he says he's devastated to see Britain leave the EU. But as someone who also works in the financial sector, he's got to admit Brexit has been pretty good for business.

WALERS: We have around 73 new companies which have come to Luxembourg as a direct result of Brexit, so that's quite enormous.

ROSMAN: Those companies include big names like JPMorgan, UBS and Credit Suisse, making Luxembourg second only to Ireland when it comes to the number of companies relocating at least part of their European operations from London. Walers says, sure, if this was a beauty contest, people would probably head to Paris or Berlin. But after the chaos of Brexit, this is a stability contest. And Luxembourg, with its triple-A credit rating, wins on that.

WALERS: And that makes it very attractive for firms to come into a new place where they know they are not going to be faced tomorrow with a completely new political leadership and a completely new economic direction.

ROSMAN: There's also the geography. Just an hour's plane ride from London, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is an easy entry way into the European single market. Analysts say the uptick in business has already led to around 3,000 new jobs for Luxembourg, but some say the benefits won't last long. Carlo Thelen heads the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce. The day before the Brexit vote in 2016, he published an editorial in The Guardian saying Brexit would be disastrous for everyone involved. Four years later, he says...

CARLO THELEN: I think I was right.

ROSMAN: Sure, the job creation is nice, but the U.K. departure is a huge loss for the European single market.

THELEN: I think the project of the European Union always was aimed to set up a single market, a competitive and a single market without borders allowing a free flow of capital, goods, services and people. And Brexit is absolutely the contrary of that.

ROSMAN: With Brexit trade talks still shaky at best, the U.K. may end up cut off from the single market entirely, leaving everyone in the divorce feeling a little shortchanged.

For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.