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Denmark is in a strong position. We are one of the world’s most well-functioning societies. We are respected throughout the world. We have much to be proud of. Yet, there are also many challenges facing us ahead. There is broad agreement on preserving and developing the Danish welfare state. At the same time, however, we must be ready to innovate, modernise and reform.
Denmark has many, great opportunities. They are out there waiting. We must seize them.
Our greatest asset is the individual Dane. The Danes are a hard-working people. We have a well-organised, effective and stable society. Through generations, we have created output, values and a culture of which we can be proud.
And yet, we could achieve even better and greater goals and results.
This requires that we give more freedom and responsibility to the individual, and that we have more faith in the abilities of the individual.
This requires that we make demands on the individual and show consistency throughout society, and that we acknowledge and reward those who make an extra effort.
This requires that we offer everyone a fair chance, as well as provide funds and compassion in our care for vulnerable groups.
The Government has described point by point how it will endeavour to translate these attitudes and values into legislation. The Government programme, which we published almost a month ago, contains around 200 legislative initiatives.
Let us give the individual greater freedom and greater responsibility. Let us develop a society where there is room for enterprise and job satisfaction, where creativity is encouraged at the expense of rigid systems.
We must exploit the new opportunities offered to us by newly-gained knowledge and technologies. We must be open and receptive to new ideas. We must be ready to do things in a new way.
We must make room for initiative and foster the development of a strong business community that can ensure us prosperity and welfare in the future.
This requires that we create a more dynamic business environment. We must relieve companies of bureaucracy and regulation. Companies that comply with good business practices must not be burdened with unnecessary regulation, whereas those that do not must be made to feel tighter control.
We must have wider and better competition. For all of us as consumers, it is unacceptable if products cost too much as a result of insufficient competition.
And we must make life easier for entrepreneurs. We must show them greater recognition and respect. We must make it easier for people to save up to start their own business. And those who are unfortunate enough to fail at their first attempt must not be barred from making another attempt. We must create an atmosphere where setting something new in motion offers both enjoyment and prospects.
We must develop the public sector through freer choices for citizens, as well as develop greater interplay between the public and private sectors.
Our society is built on the premise that each individual makes a positive effort and that a special effort is acknowledged. On the other hand, the individual must also be made to feel the consequences if they fail to meet their obligations. The individual must recognise that a give and take relationship applies.
For some decades there has been a reticence about making demands and showing consistency.
In schools, academic requirements have been relaxed. Perhaps out of fear that solid academic requirements would have a detrimental effect on the weakest pupils. However, the damaging effect is serious. The weakest pupils have been left in the lurch. Furthermore, Danish school pupils perform worse than their peers in other countries in a number of vital areas.
There is only one way forward. We must intensify our efforts. We must quite simply raise our standards. We must raise academic requirements throughout the education system.
We must recognise that a certain degree of general knowledge is necessary. For three decades, we have rejected the importance of mastering facts. The acquisition of general knowledge has been viewed as dull, outmoded and mindless accumulation of trivia.
It is as if the acquisition of academic skills has been demoted in favour of sitting in a circle and asking: ”What do you think?”
There is nothing wrong with sitting in a circle, discussing and conversing with each other, but the first prerequisite for having a meaningful discussion is that one knows what one is talking about. If uninformed opinions are accepted as equal to informed opinions, everything will be reduced to emptiness and stupidity. If one has to look up something in an encyclopaedia or on the Internet every time one touches upon a concrete subject, the conversation will be very heavy going indeed.
We must not return to dull, parrot-fashion learning. On the contrary, we must have a vibrant school with children and young people who can think for themselves, form their own opinions and are able to communicate, whilst at the same time aware of what they are talking about.
For this reason, we have implemented reforms in the primary and lower secondary schools, the upper secondary schools, the technical and vocational colleges, and the universities. For this reason, we will perform regular assessments of whether pupils and students are learning what they should.
And we will reward extra effort. Let us just take one example: upper secondary school pupils must meet more stringent academic requirements and not skip classes. On the other hand, the Government will propose that upper secondary school pupils who make a special effort by taking extra subjects at advanced level are rewarded: A give and take relationship.
For many years, our immigration policy was characterised by laxity and lack of consistency. And the damaging effect is serious. Around half the immigrants in Denmark are without work and on transfer benefit. There are considerable problems with integration in Danish society.
We must make demands and show consistency in our immigration policy. Immigrants have a major responsibility for their integration into Danish society. They must learn Danish, and they must accept the fundamental values on which our society is based.
We must make it clear that in Danish society men and women have equal rights, that we do not accept forced marriages, and that we refuse to accept that oppressive family patterns can be explained and excused by references to differences in culture and traditions. There must be freedom of diversity, but not freedom to oppress.
We must not accept that religious preachers in this country speak out against democracy, freedom, respect for human life and equal opportunities for women, or seek to obstruct the integration of immigrants and refugees. We must not watch silently while children in Denmark are sent on educational stays abroad and do not learn to live in Danish society.
We must appreciate and reward immigrants who actively work to promote integration, immigrants who make a positive contribution to Danish society. It is only respectful to them that we make demands on everyone and show consistency in our action. Indeed, it is they who are demanding that Danish society shows greater firmness and consistency.
We have tightened the demands on immigrants, partly with regard to work and self-support. On the other hand, immigrants who make an extra effort to integrate may be rewarded in the form of being able to apply for permanent residence as early as after five years in Denmark, rather than after the normal seven years. Also here, the give and take relationship shall apply.
For many years, our justice policy was characterised by laxity and lack of consistency. And the damaging effect is serious. Many young offenders find it difficult to understand the softness of the system in which petty crime simply leads to cautions and discontinued charges. They misinterpret the soft message and the lack of consistency from society, so that minor crime leads to major and more serious crime.
We must adopt a consistently firm line in dealing with young offenders. They must be made clearly aware of where the line is drawn. If they cross the line, they must be made to feel the consequence strongly. And they must feel it immediately.
Unfortunately, the path towards a life of crime starts sometimes at the age of 12 or 13. The criminal age is 15. But it is misguided kindness if society only reacts once the criminal age has been reached. Even children and young people under 15 must be made to feel society’s reaction towards crime, and the reaction must be tangible and without hesitation. These offenders must not go to prison, but confined in specially secured institutions. The Government will expand the number of places in such institutions.
Fewer charges must be dropped. There must be a ban on carrying knives in public places. The maximum penalty for serious drug crime must be raised. Those who are caught in possession of illegal drugs must always as a minimum be given a fine.
And we will propose that habitual crime leads to tougher sentences. On the other hand, prisoners who make an extra effort to break their criminal habit and gain an education are to have the opportunity for early parole. A give and take relationship.
Everyone must have opportunities. No-body should be prevented from a good life because they have grown up under difficult circumstances.
The Government wishes to fight against negative social heritage. Today, there are too many children who are not given a fair chance to have a good life. And there are children and young people whose talents are wasted. Children from socially disadvantaged environments must be afforded better opportunities in life.
Many years’ effort to break the cycle of negative social heritage has failed. Therefore, the Government will pursue a new strategy.
There are some who think that it is just a question of money. Yes, money allocated to a targeted effort is important. But money is not everything. The most important element above all for ensuring all children a good start in life is that they learn something. The acquisition of knowledge is the way to break the cycle of negative social heritage.
This acquisition must start already in kindergarten. We must ensure that everyone, including children with problems, develops during these important years of their lives. Playing and learning must go hand in hand. Every child must learn to express itself, show consideration for others and use its body and its creativity. Every child must have the necessary prerequisites to start school.
We must reform our policy of placing children outside the home. The goal is to help children and young people in socially disadvantaged families before it is too late. We must make wider use of the opportunities to place children with relatives or family friends, and we must give children the best possible opportunities to lead a normal life.
To the Government values and an open debate are at the centre of politics. We reject the old-fashioned way of thinking which reduces politics to budgets, legalese and more of the same.
We want an open debate based on clear values. The necessary innovation of society must go hand in hand with confidence. Necessary reforms must be properly prepared. We must prepare them in openness and dialogue with the Danish population.
Reforms are not to creep up on us like a thief in the night.
The Government finds that there is a need for an open minded look at changes to the local government structure. This is why we set up a Commission on Administrative Structure last year. The Commission is to prepare the ground for reform, and generate an open debate on which to base the political decisions.
The existing structure is now more than thirty years old. Society has seen much change since then. The Government wishes to carry through a modernisation of the structure, a modernisation that offers less administration and improved service. The aim is a public sector which is transparent and attentive, simple and efficient.
The Commission on Administrative Structure will present its recommendations at the end of the year. Until then, we shall not make any final commitment to specific solutions. However, next spring we shall have to make the necessary political decisions.
The Government has just set up a Welfare Commission. The aim is similar: paving the way for the necessary innovation of the welfare state, generating an open debate in order to prepare the ground for the necessary decisions.
The aim is to secure the basis for social security and a well-functioning welfare system in future. In order to fund the welfare tasks in the years ahead, it will be necessary to increase production and employment, and constantly innovate the welfare system.
We know that in the coming years the number of elderly will increase, especially after 2010. We owe it to our elderly to offer them proper conditions in their old age. However, it is also necessary to take an open minded look at possible ways in which to obtain funding for helping those who need assistance.
Now the Welfare Commission will start its work. The Commission must complete its work by the end of 2005. However, we encourage the Commission to generate a continuous public debate. It is important that its work is carried out in a spirit of transparency, enabling the population to follow its deliberations.
The exciting and interesting challenge will be to reach agreement on proposals that find broad acceptance. It is the Government’s clear opinion that major reforms of the welfare system should to be based on a wide majority in the Folketing. In this way, change will go hand in hand with confidence, and the reforms will achieve greater and longer durability.
Creating more jobs is a key goal. We need more jobs. We need growth. For it is by producing more and selling more that we earn the money for funding welfare.
Unfortunately, the international economy has been dragging in slow gear, especially in Europe. This has also affected the Danish economy. The growth rate has been lower than we would wish, and, regrettably, we have also seen a certain rise in the unemployment rate.
In every country and at any time, the opposition will always pin the blame for rising unemployment on the incumbent government. Denmark is no exception.
However, anyone with a professional and fair mind knows full well that no Danish government, irrespective of which party is in office, can prevent negative development in other countries from having a certain impact on the Danish economy.
The truth is that Denmark has so far fared better in the current international slow-down than most other countries. Unemployment is lower than in most other EU Member States. The average unemployment rate in the EU Member States lies three percentage points higher than in Denmark.
We have fared better than many others because Danish companies are very competitive. We must maintain and improve this competitive edge. There is therefore no room for new taxes and burdens to be loaded on companies and people in general. Quite the contrary, we must continually improve our competitiveness.
The Government expects the rise in unemployment to be a temporary phenomenon. We have moved forward public investments from 2004 to this autumn in order to mitigate the effects of the international slow-down. Despite these efforts, the next months may still show rising unemployment figures. However, we expect employment to rise again next year. Practically all prognoses by the pundits agree on this. First, the international economy will recover its momentum. Second, the low interest rates will lead to growing economic activity. Last, also the tax cuts will generate more activity next year.
The Government is monitoring the development very carefully. For it is a sad situation whenever somebody loses his or her job. That is the human perspective. However, there is also an economic perspective, because we need more growth and employment in the coming years. High and growing employment is a key objective of the Government.
Freedom and responsibility. These are key words for the Government. Also as concerns our view of the Unity of the Realm.
I have taken great pleasure in visiting the Faeroe Islands and Greenland several times within the last few years. For some years, there has been a lively debate in both countries on independence, autonomy and the future of the Unity of the Realm. This is a natural development and a healthy debate.
I would like to deliver a clear and unequivocal message to the peoples of the Faeroe Islands and Greenland: you yourselves determine your future and the nature of your ties to Denmark.
It is altogether natural that any people would endeavour to develop its own identity. It is natural that any people would like to take hold of its own destiny. It is natural that any people nurtures a desire for the highest possible degree of self-determination. It is also best that decisions are made as closely as possible to the people they concern.
Therefore, the Government is positive towards the wishes of the Faeroe Islands and Greenland to have new tasks transferred to the Home Rule.
However, freedom and responsibility must go hand in hand. Increased autonomy therefore presupposes less dependence on grants from Denmark and greater ability to bring in money from own efforts.
The session of the Folketing that begins today will see us taking epoch-making steps forward for Faeroese home rule. The Government will submit a general transfer of competence bill, which is to offer the Faeroe Islands the opportunity to take charge of a wide range of new areas of responsibility.
We also expect to make progress for the Greenland home rule. The Greenland home rule commission has now submitted its recommendations. It proposes a new arrangement of Greenland’s relationship to the Unity of the Realm.
The Government is now waiting for an initiative from the Greenland Home Rule Government. However, I am already now able to inform the Folketing that the Government will be positive towards setting up a Danish-Greenland Home Rule Commission. This Home Rule Commission will be able to prepare a new arrangement in the same way that the Home Rule Act was prepared in the 1970s.
I shall not hide that this Government would prefer the Unity of the Realm to continue. We feel that there are such strong historical, cultural and personal ties between the Faeroe Islands, Greenland and Denmark that a continuation of solidarity within the framework of the Unity of the Realm is a natural thing.
However, the Unity of the Realm is not based on coercion, and it must not become a straitjacket. We must constantly modernise the Unity of the Realm to accommodate the changing times.
Consistency applies not just inwardly. We must also show consistency outwards in our relationship with the world that surrounds us. We must make an active contribution to ensuring freedom, peace and democracy in the world. If we are genuinely serious about important values such as freedom, democracy and respect for the individual, we must also provide an active contribution to secure those values. We cannot just drift along under a flag of convenience and let others pull the heavy load.
This is why Denmark has helped maintain peace in Bosnia for many years. This is why we still maintain a presence in Kosovo. This is why we are in Afghanistan. This is also the reason why we are present on the ground in Iraq.
I would like to direct my warm thanks to the Danish soldiers, policemen and others who contribute their efforts to defending freedom, democracy and human rights all over the world. They contribute an effort of which we may be proud.
It was a difficult decision to commit the Danish contribution to the war in Iraq. However, it was the right decision, and it was a necessary decision.
For it must have consequences when a military dictator like Saddam Hussein time and again flouts the demands made by the UN. Pretending nothing is wrong would be a dangerous message to send to all the tyrants and terrorists in the world, and maintaining the obviously futile economic sanctions would merely lead to even more unimaginable suffering for the people of Iraq.
Now, Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical and cruel regime have been removed. All democratically minded people ought to be glad that they are gone.
Nobody would want to see Saddam Hussein restored to power. Therefore, all forces should be united in looking ahead and creating a new future for the sorely afflicted Iraqi people.
The Government supports the endeavours to agree on a new UN resolution. There is a need for a broad international effort. We are working on strengthening the role of the UN in Iraq.
We have sent Danish soldiers and policemen to Iraq to help stabilise and rebuild the country. They face a difficult task. However, it is an important task to contribute to building a new, modern, free and peaceful Iraq, and they deserve our full support to complete their assignment in a secure and proper way.
Later today, the Government will present a motion for a further strengthening of the Danish military commitment in Iraq by approximately one hundred men. It is important that the Danish soldiers posted in Iraq are able to carry out the duties under their mandate in a proper way.
We hear many bad and negative stories from Iraq. This hardly comes as a surprise. For after 23 years of oppression under Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, the Iraqi people have awoken to a freedom that they did not expect and for which they were not prepared. The first reactions and impressions are ones of chaos, and there will probably be many setbacks. For there is no democratic tradition in Iraq.
Nevertheless, the goal is clear: the Iraqis must have their own government, and it must be democratically elected. How long this will take is hard to say. As soon as possible. However, experience from other centres of turbulence in the world shows that it may take some time before the situation stabilises after major upheavals.
Yet, gradually the situation will improve. Recently, Gallup published a survey carried out in Baghdad. The survey shows that two thirds of the city’s population find that the problems of recent months have been worth the price of getting rid of the dictator, and two thirds believe that in five years they will be better off than they were under Saddam Hussein before the war.
This provides only further confirmation that the decision to remove the old, brutal regime was the right one.
About two weeks ago, the Latvian population voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the EU. It was the last referendum to be held in the candidate countries. We are now ready for the historic enlargement of the EU, which was decided at the Copenhagen Summit in December last year.
After the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 Member States, we need a new set of rules for the co-operation. They are included in the new draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for the EU.
The new Treaty makes it clear what the EU is, and what the EU is not. The EU is not a federal state. On the contrary, the EU is based on voluntary co-operation between independent states. Independent nation states that have decided to perform jointly the tasks that they are not able to perform separately.
It is an EU rooted in peoples and nation states.
In Denmark, we shall have a referendum on the new Treaty once negotiations on it have been completed. It will be a decisive referendum. It will be a referendum not only about a new Treaty, but about Denmark’s very relationship with the EU, about our opportunities and position in Europe. Are we to be part of it? Or are we to stand outside without any influence on the development of the new Europe?
Denmark played an active role in bringing the ten new countries into the EU. It would seem strange if we subsequently decided to place ourselves outside the co-operation.
As always, the Danish opt-outs play a huge role in the Danish debate on Europe.
The Government’s position is well known. We wish to abolish the opt-outs. They mean that Denmark has no influence in important areas. They do not serve Denmark’s interests. However, the opt-outs can only be abolished by the Danish population through a referendum.
There must be no doubt that the Government will participate in the Intergovernmental Conference with full respect for the Danish opt-outs. The opt-outs will be transferred to the new Treaty.
There will be no chipping away at the opt-outs. They will remain intact in the new Treaty. And this Treaty, inclusive of the Danish opt-outs, the population will have to decide on through a referendum.
In other words, people will have the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to the new Treaty, including the well-known and existing opt-outs.
However, as the scope of the Danish opt-outs is growing quite substantially, it is only fair that the population should have the opportunity to decide on them, in the fullness of time.
The overriding concern is that the population is given a fair and real opportunity to decide on both the Treaty and the opt-outs.
Therefore, the Government wishes to incorporate in the new Treaty the possibility for the population to decide on a modernisation of the Justice and Home Affairs opt-out by referendum.
In specific terms, we wish to propose a model according to which the Folketing decides on participation in the Justice and Home Affairs co-operation on a case-by-case basis.
I have made it clear at a very early stage that the Government is not going to relax the immigration policy. We have given clear pledges on that. The immigration policy has been firmly established, and it enjoys broad support in the population.
The proposal is to be seen as a reflection of the Government’s wish to give the population as much scope as possible, namely to be able to maintain the present tight immigration policy and, at the same time, to be able to participate in the co-operation on combating cross-border crime.
The present wording of the Justice and Home Affairs opt-out does not allow for combining regard for these two wishes. The Government’s proposal does. The Government’s proposal offers the Danish population the opportunity for an honest and genuine choice.
However, in the debate about the Danish opt-outs, we should not forget the big picture. The EU is the framework for the development of the new Europe. The EU is the framework for the unification of East and West, North and South in Europe. The EU is the framework for the crucial decisions on the future development of Europe. The enlargement will generate new force and dynamics in Europe.
We need the EU. We need a stronger EU. We need an EU where the countries of Europe may co-operate on performing tasks across borders.
It is a key task for the EU to constitute the framework for free trade among the countries of Europe. However, we need an EU that encompasses more than trade. We need the EU to handle cross-border environmental problems. We need the EU to combat cross-border terrorism and organised crime. We need the EU to lend greater weight to the European countries in international politics.
As Danes, we need the EU, and the EU will continue to be there in all circumstances. We depend on the decisions taken by the EU. That is the reason why Denmark must participate and play a strong and active role in the EU. We have shown on previous occasions that we are able to do that.
Denmark has, indeed, many and great prospects. In order to realise them, we must be an open and extrovert society, open to impulses from outside, prepared to learn from our surroundings. However, we must also be conscious of what we can do ourselves, and what we stand for ourselves.
Strong international involvement must take its point of departure in strong awareness of Danish history, Danish culture and national consciousness.
We Danes can succeed if we wish to. There is no reason why we should fear the future.
From time to time there are voices expressing fears that globalisation is threatening what we consider Danishness, that individualism is putting our community at risk, that moral standards are being eroded by materialism.
Enough gloom and doom. Open the windows and take a look.
Most people live better, freer and more exciting lives than a generation or two ago. At least, they have the opportunity to do so.
Admittedly, we are being inundated with American movies and influences from abroad. Nevertheless, what we consider Danish stands tall. Today, more Danish books are being published and more Danish films are being released than ten years ago.
Indeed, our community is changing. Today, we join associations, not because our parents did, but because we want to. We make conscious choices, but we do not opt out of the community. More people are involved in charities today than ten years ago.
It is true, we are not tied to our parish. We want out, we go abroad, we bring the world into our sitting rooms via TV and the Internet, we create new communities.
With respect to moral standards, I do not wish to be a judge of whether they are better or worse than in the old days. However, I believe we can see the outline of a strongly personal ethical consciousness the like of which we have not seen before in history.
The class-based society has disintegrated. The class struggle is over. Totalitarian ideologies of the past century, Nazism and Communism, have been throttled.
We bid farewell to the kind of systems thinking that is far removed from reality. Farewell to dogmatic ways of thinking. Farewell to the stifling grip of political correctness.
We are indeed witnessing changes. Fortunately so. The cultural shift that has taken place does not imply impoverishment; on the contrary, it holds out prospects of enrichment. It should give rise, not to prophesies of gloom and doom, but to optimism and vitality.
Human values and common sense have prevailed. Man before the system. Common sense before ideologies. Reality before unsubstantiated theories.
Let us develop a society where we give the individual freedom and responsibility. A society where we make demands and act consistently. A society which offers room for enterprise and creativity.
There is no contradiction between making demands for consistency and making room for creativity.
There is no contradiction between keeping things in order and making room for expressions of exuberance.
There is no contradiction between responsibility and freedom.
We wish to develop a society in which we recognise, appreciate and reward those who make an extra effort.
A society where there is more room for entrepreneurs, private enterprise and fertile imagination.
A society offering help and care for vulnerable groups.
We wish to invite the parties in the Folketing to broad co-operation for the benefit of Denmark.
Allow me to propose that we begin the work of the Folketing with a “long live Denmark”.
LONG LIVE DENMARK