Check against delivery
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Danish Government, I am proud to open this Quality Conference for Public Administrations in the EU.
I would like to give a special welcome to the representatives of the EU candidate countries. You have greatly impressed us by the way in which you have smoothly and rapidly implemented the extensive reforms of the public administrations in your countries in such a peaceful and democratic manner.
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During the coming years our European countries, and our public sectors, will be faced with a number of significant challenges - from globalisation, from changes in demographic structures and, not least, from the expectations of our citizens.
The European countries and their public sectors have accepted the challenge. Many countries have placed modernisation on the political agenda, and taken new initiatives at all levels. In the EU, we are discussing closer co-operation in many key areas. We have also taken a number of initiatives for modernising the EU system. These initiatives include such things as a reform of the EU administration and personnel policy as well as new methods for combating fraud. And, as illustrated by this Conference, there have also been initiatives to promote the exchange of experience from country to country.
I believe there are five major themes which will assume a key position in the reform initiatives of the Member States in the coming years. These are:
- freedom to choose
- responsibility for the weakest members of society
- the rule of law, transparency and simplicity
- efficiency and quality
First, greater freedom to choose. Instead of one standard solution offered by one public institution, citizens must, to an increasing extent, be offered the choice of several suppliers, both public and private. At the same time, citizens must also have more influence on the contents of the services provided. Freedom to choose and competition must replace one-size-fits-all solutions and monopolies, where there is no competition. Freedom of choice is a logical consequence of the wishes of citizens for increasing freedom and influence on their own lives. However, freedom to choose is also a decisive factor in ensuring the efficiency and quality of public service. I believe that free choice and competition will turn out to be a very strong incentive in the development of the public sector in the years ahead.
The second theme I wish to address is our responsibility for the weakest members of society. The individual has a fundamental responsibility for his or her own life. However, if things go wrong, it is of vital importance to have a social safety net. Not in the shape of passive solutions that chain the individual to the problems, but in the shape of initiatives devised to lead the person back to active participation in the community. The passive dependency on welfare must be replaced by initiatives that emphasise the active participation of the individual. In short, the individual must be activated, not de-activated. This poses entirely novel demands on the solutions provided by public services. It also means that it will be important to involve, for instance, voluntary organisations in this work. To give them a more significant role. A number of European countries have already gained experience from which we all, including the Nordic countries, may learn useful lessons.
My third theme is the rule of law, transparency and simplicity. We must think in terms of people, not systems.
The security for citizens afforded by the rule of law is of fundamental significance for any well-functioning democracy. It is necessary to regularly assess if the laws and judicial framework created to protect civic rights are adequate and function as intended. It is also important that citizens feel confident that they will receive correct treatment within the system.
Free debate, transparency and public access to information of the activity of the public administration are the most effective weapons against corruption and abuse of power. We should, therefore, always to be open to new initiatives in this area. Large and complicated systems may well be necessary, but it is a prerequisite that the systems are open and that there is a dialogue with the population. Which is why transparency is also an important theme of the Danish EU Presidency. We have a clear ambition in this area. This applies in relation to the press, and it applies to the work in the Council. The decision of the Seville European Council to improve the transparency of the work of the Council when rules are adopted in co-operation with the European Parliament has further strengthened our options in this area.
Rules are necessary in a modern society. Without rules, it is not possible to protect such important areas as environment and health, and to secure fair treatment of individuals in our judicial system. However, too many rules and too much administration reduce our welfare and limit the freedom of the individual. Also, excessive regulation has a negative impact on the competitiveness of companies. Therefore, simplification and improved quality of regulation are important action areas. Which is why the Danish EU Presidency also gives its warm support to the initiatives that the EU has already taken in this area.
Efficiency and quality is the fourth theme I would like to mention. Earlier, I mentioned the pressure on our public budgets. In the coming years, there will be a massive demand for better utilisation of our resources, for developments in efficiency and quality. Free choice will be a significant engine for driving this process. However, we also need other instruments: new structures, new ways to co-operate, interaction between the public and private sectors, strengthened management and development of personnel policy. The world about us is not static and we must make use of innovations and new knowledge much more proactively if we are to ensure improved quality and improved efficiency.
A good example of this is digital administration. In Denmark alone, it is estimated that the transfer of public administration to IT methods will involve efficiency gains of approximately 5 per cent of operational costs, and, please note, with the same or better quality and level of service.
My fifth and last theme is decentralisation. Citizens, and not the systems, must be the key concern. This means that tasks must be solved as close to the citizens as possible. This generates commitment and a greater sense of responsibility for the decisions that are made. In a number of areas there will, of course, be a need for issues to be handled in closer and more obligating co-operation between EU Member States, or within larger units of the individual Member States. However, at the same time I believe that both the EU and the individual Member States fully realise that decentralisation will be necessary in future. Our citizens want proximity not alienation!
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Change, and adapting to change, will be key disciplines. There will be resistance from established groups and from those systems which see their interests threatened.
That is also why it is important that innovation and change go hand in hand with security for the individual. This applies both to the necessary innovation of our society and the innovation of our private and public jobs. Change should not be for change’s sake, but for all our sakes.
Once again, I would like to bid you a warm welcome to Copenhagen. I hope that you will have some exciting and rewarding days here at the Conference, and that, to the extent that time allows, you will find the opportunity to enjoy Copenhagen.