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Yesterday, we said goodbye to 2006, a year we shall remember for a long time because of the dramatic images of violent demonstrations against Denmark in a number of Muslim countries. It made a forceful impression on us all to see our flag, the Dannebrog, burning; to see Danish embassies go up in flames; to hear and see threats uttered against Denmark and Danes.
This is such an unusual situation for us. Many felt uncomfortable, even afraid of all this violence and display of aggression.
And most people found it difficult to understand that 12 drawings in a newspaper could cause fury on such a scale.
Those were difficult weeks for Denmark. Much was at stake. However, we pulled through. Especially because we stood united when the situation was difficult.
Today, Denmark is looked at with respect. Because we stood firm when our fundamental values came under pressure. We stood guard to protect freedom of expression, which is our most precious fundamental freedom.
The right to publish our thoughts in speech, in writing, in drawings,
- the right to communicate freely our thoughts with earnestness and humour, with seriousness and satire, with facts and caricature,
- the right to speak out freely against those who hold political power, against religious authorities and against established and entrenched mindsets,
This is the very core of democracy.
And it is the driving force of enlightenment, education and development.
It is freedom of expression that has generated progress in Denmark, in Europe and other free societies in the World.
This is the liberty that totalitarian forces are trying to restrict.
Each of us has the responsibility for applying freedom of expression in a way that does not generate violence and hatred.
However, we also have a responsibility for not bowing to whatever authoritarian demands that would dictate what we should be allowed to depict and speak about.
A responsibility for remaining true to ourselves and to the values that have created the freedom, peace and prosperity we enjoy in our part of the World.
And, in this way, also provide support for the millions of people all over the World who want the same fundamental freedoms.
In May, I visited the Danish soldiers in Iraq. They are positive and committed young men and women, who have chosen to serve Denmark under very difficult conditions.
The changing contingents of Danish soldiers have made a considerable contribution towards creating progress and assisting the Iraqis in building a better life.
Over the past year, we have suffered tragic and painful losses when Danish soldiers have lost their lives. Our thoughts and sympathy reach out to the loved ones of the soldiers who died, and to the soldiers who were injured in the attacks.
I hope that 2007 will be the year when the Iraqis are able to assume responsibility themselves for the security in Southern Iraq, where United Kingdom and Denmark are currently cooperating.
As the Iraqis themselves gradually take over responsibility, we shall be able to reduce the number of British and Danish soldiers and adapt the nature of their assignments.
We have soldiers, police officers and civilian experts posted in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Sudan and other flashpoints of the World. They put in admirable efforts to help other people build a better life. They make a contribution which means that we Danes accept our responsibility and shoulder our share of the task of securing freedom and peace.
They have families and loved ones who carry a great share of the burdens here at home.
They deserve our support, our respect and our recognition. And they deserve our heartfelt gratitude.
Denmark is doing better than ever before. Never before have so many been employed as now, and the unemployment rate is at the lowest level seen for more than 30 years.
Just before Christmas, Denmark was recognised as having the most competitive and dynamic economy in the EU.
Other countries look at Denmark as a role model. The reasons for this include the fact that we made the necessary decisions concerning our future in good time.
Most recently, we have implemented a long-term adjustment of the pre-retirement benefit and retirement pension schemes. And, at the same time, we make massive investments in the future of Denmark, through support for, among other things, education and research.
We must make Denmark a country that overflows with innovative ideas, inventions and development.
We must translate ideas and inventions into new jobs.
We must develop a culture of entrepreneurial initiative to encourage more people to establish their own enterprise.
We must make it attractive to work in Denmark, to locate enterprises and make investments in Denmark.
And we must ensure that all are included in this development. We must not create a divided society in which we have an elite group that is able to handle everything and a residual group that is left behind.
With the unemployment rate at a historically low level, we have a unique opportunity for bringing everyone onboard, in order to realise the old dream of giving “all of us at seat at the great table of society”.
I am well aware that we may disagree on many things in our day-to-day work. However, if we take one step back and look at the overall picture, it is a wonderful strength for Denmark that we are able to take a united stand on the long-term issues.
Since 1982, changing governments have pursued policies that have had long-term economic stability and durability as their goal.
And we have responsible trade unions and responsible employers, who also consider the interests of society as a whole when they make collective labour market agreements.
This reflects the fundamental sense of responsibility that characterises Danish society.
It is this broad basis of support that we must maintain and develop even further.
Today, the new local government reform enters into force. It is the greatest reform of the public sector ever. It is a huge and demanding task for the thousands of employees who are changing jobs these days.
I would like to appeal to everybody to back them up – and show a little patience until all the new measures are up and running.
And I wish to say to all of you who are directly affected by the great change: I understand very well if you find that it is a hard period of time. But I am convinced that you can do it. And we appreciate your efforts to establish a good framework for public service and social security in the future.
The next great task will be to ensure continued innovation and development of the standards of childcare, schools, care for the elderly and hospitals.
The vast majority of families in Denmark have experienced that the economy is performing very well. And if we have just got a new kitchen at home, we are perhaps even more attentive to whether the standard of the kindergarten, the school, the nursing home and the hospital is first rate.
That is only natural. When our society gets richer, we can also afford to provide a high standard of public services.
However, the greatest challenge in the years ahead is that we will be short of labour. Primarily because it is baby-bust generations that are entering the labour market, and it is baby-boom generations that are leaving the labour market. About every fourth employee will retire in the course of the next ten years.
It will be difficult to find sufficient people to replace them. Quite simply because there are not enough people on the labour market.
Therefore, the Government will launch a quality reform. A reform that will place quality and user satisfaction at the centre.
We will involve broad representative groups in this work, for example users and relatives, staff members, managers and key organisations.
This task should bring all those together who want high quality welfare as well as a healthy and sound economy in future.
Let us join forces to establish new sightlines, new goals and visions for a modern, dynamic and high quality public sector.
New goals and visions also imply that we assume personal responsibility.
We must have high-quality nurseries and kindergartens where children receive care and meet challenges. But as parents, we also have responsibility for spending time together with our own children.
We must have high-quality schools where children are taught both academic subjects and learn to be creative. But as parents, it is also our responsibility that the children are ready to receive instruction, for example by making sure that they go to school after a good night’s sleep and that they have done their homework.
The home care service and nursing homes must provide good care. But even the best public-service care is no substitute for our companionship with those who are our closest relatives.
We must have top rate hospitals. But we should also, each and every one of us, make an effort to prevent lifestyle diseases, for example through the adoption of a healthy diet and exercise.
We have a good social security system in Denmark. It includes, among other things, unemployment benefits or cash benefits if people lose their jobs. It is a good system. But the system is also based on responsibility. A sense of solidarity which means that the person who receives support is, in return, prepared to take a job when it is offered.
Our society must make an effort to ensure that Danes with an immigrant background get an education and a job. But families with an immigrant background also have responsibility, responsibility for ensuring that their children and young people learn Danish and get a good education, responsibility for adjusting to the rules and traditions that apply to Danish workplaces, and responsibility for ensuring that women get the opportunity to find a job.
The Government must establish an overall regulatory framework for the protection of the environment. But we are all of us responsible for the protection of nature and the environment through our everyday behaviour and personal choices in terms of foods, transport and energy.
We have set up some of the best conditions in the world for operating private businesses. It implies that it is the responsibility of the individual company manager that the enterprise is operating in a decent manner. It implies accepting responsibility for not obtaining advantages at the expense of others by exploiting tax loopholes, by resorting to moonlighting, by underpaying foreign workers or by selling meat that is long past the sell-by date.
My vision of a true welfare society is a society that encompasses both freedom and security.
However, freedom must not develop into a dogfight where those with the loudest and most impudent bark get most out of it.
And security must not develop into a cushion that blunts the responsibility of the individual.
Freedom is inextricably linked to responsibility. Let us develop a welfare society in which individuals have the freedom to realise their dreams. And responsibility – both for themselves and for the community.
Happy New Year!