Today, we have opened a new year. Fresh and new, it lies ready ahead of us with its opportunities and challenges - and ready for us to set to work with our hopes and expectations.
Denmark is a society of opportunities. A wealthy and well-functioning society. A society in which the individual has the freedom to take initiatives, develop and think innovatively. A society with freedom for diversity.
And innovative ideas are indeed put into action. A few months ago, I visited the Technical University of Denmark. I met a team of students who had won the world championship for hydrogen-powered cars. Their experimental car achieved the highest mileage to a litre of hydrogen fuel.
This achievement holds perspectives. Because hydrogen is a promising source of energy for the future. This offers opportunities for good business as well as improvements of the environment.
Young Danes are able to play a part in revolutionising the world’s energy supplies.
We can all rejoice when Denmark and Danes do well and make an imprint on the world.
When Danes receive international awards in recognition of their achievements.
When Danes perform well in international competitions.
When Danish enterprises win large orders and contracts abroad.
This is the result of the hard work, perseverance and innovation of gifted and skilful Danes.
To many in the world around us, Denmark is a model and an example to be followed.
The strong Danish economy attracts attention. Denmark is doing better than ever before. Never have so many been employed. The unemployment rate is at a record low.
The vast majority of Danes have felt the advances of recent years. We experience enormous social progress. Tens of thousands of people who used to stand outside the labour market have now found jobs. They have got tasks and responsibilities. They have got a new dimension in life.
The economic upswing is a social revolution.
Things are going so well that the greatest risk in the new year actually is that things start going too well.
The economic upswing implies that we are short of labour - both in private sector enterprises and in public sector institutions. Employers compete to attract the manpower available.
If this means that payroll and other costs rise faster in Denmark than in other countries, the present upswing may swiftly turn into a downswing. Because then we can no longer sell as many products for export. Or enterprises will be forced to relocate their production abroad.
And then unemployment will rise. We may enter into a vicious circle that will jeopardize the progress that has been created. This will affect us all, but especially the most vulnerable groups.
We have a common responsibility for securing sustained progress in Denmark. By being realistic in our demands and expectations to public services, private consumption and pay.
Nobody benefits from making too great demands today - only to receive a bill for twice the gain tomorrow.
In Denmark, we have never been in a better position than we are today. We have reached this point because we have made the right decisions at the right time.
Across traditional divides, employers and trade unions, between the Government and the opposition, the past 25 years have been characterised by broad agreement on the most important elements of a strong and sustainable economy.
Let us now jointly continue this tradition and demonstrate that we can show responsibility when the times are good. And ensure that they continue into the future.
We have a strong basis for creating a Denmark with even better opportunities for all. A Denmark with plenty of entrepreneurship and with security when the need for help arises. A Denmark that not only has enough for itself, but also has surplus resources for helping others.
In May, I visited the Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. Whilst sharing the field rations, I talked with the men and women who put in an altogether extraordinary effort to help others. Being there in the group of young Danish soldiers filled me with great joy. With pride in their skilfulness. With admiration for their attitudes and values. With gratitude that they have so bravely volunteered for such dangerous service for Denmark.
In the year that has passed, several Danish soldiers have been killed in service. And others have been wounded.
Every loss of life causes pain. And my thoughts and deepest compassion reach out to the families and relatives. We know that your loss and your pain will be felt even more strongly at Christmas time.
My thoughts also reach out to the comrades of the soldiers who were killed. I would like to send special greetings to Unit 4, which is posted in Afghanistan right now. You have experienced that five of your comrades did not return from the mission on which they had been sent. We share the pain and the loss that you have experienced. And we owe you the sincerest gratitude and deepest respect for the service you perform under difficult conditions.
There are many who ask: what is Denmark doing in distant Afghanistan?
I understand the question very well. However, I ask each of you to bear in mind that we live in a new world. Denmark must also assume its share of the responsibility for freedom and peace.
On 11 September 2001, terrorists caused the death of thousands of innocent people in the USA. Afghanistan served as a starting point for the terrorists. The Taliban regime provided assistance and facilities for terrorists, who were able to strike anywhere in the world.
Afghanistan must not be allowed to become once again a safe haven for terrorists. This is the reason why we are in Afghanistan. Our own security is also at stake.
Democracy is under pressure in the region. We see it in Pakistan. Most recently, the killing of Benazir Bhutto testifies to this pressure. We must unambiguously support the democratic forces.
It is a matter of Denmark taking joint responsibility in the world. If everybody said: we will not send soldiers abroad to defend freedom and promote peace - then tyrants would terrorise the world. Unfortunately, world history has shown us many examples of that.
We cannot just sit on our hands, close the curtains, and hope that evil will go away.
We have to join forces with other free and democratic societies to defend freedom and human rights.
I am grateful that so many volunteer to serve Denmark in the hotspots of the world. We owe you and your families and relatives sincere thanks. You deserve full support from all of us at home. You contribute to making life better for people in various places in the world. You contribute to fostering freedom, peace and progress. And you show that Denmark can make a difference in the world.
We can also make a difference in Europe. Five years ago, a historic summit took place in Copenhagen. Denmark held the Presidency of the EU. And I remember so very clearly the December evening in 2002 when we decided to enlarge the EU from 15 to 27 Member States.
It was a deeply moving moment. Europe’s leaders quite spontaneously hugged each other for joy at the reunification. After the terrible devastation of World War II. After the brutal East-West division of the Cold War. After hard Communist oppression of two generations behind the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, we could finally close one of the darkest chapters in the history of Europe.
A new Europe was born.
A Europe in which we can trade and work across borders for our mutual benefit.
A Europe in which we can join forces in the fight against terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking and illegal immigration.
A Europe in which we can jointly fight pollution and ensure a better environment.
A Europe in which we can speak with one voice to a greater extent and, consequently, with greater weight on the international scene.
For example, in the fight against man-made climate change. In 2009, Denmark is to host the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The goal is to reach an international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For a better climate.
It will be a difficult task to persuade the big countries in the world to sign such an agreement.
But by joining forces and speaking with one voice, Europe can make an impact on big countries such as the USA, China and India.
The world of today makes it necessary that we Europeans join forces to foster our common goals and values. And to influence global developments.
The world of today makes it necessary that we Danes are placed at the heart of Europe. To pursue our own interests. To exercise influence. To leave our imprint on the future of Europe.
Unfortunately, however, Denmark is not placed at the heart of Europe. For we have decided not to be part of important elements of the cooperation.
14 years ago, Denmark obtained opt-outs from the EU cooperation in a number of important areas. The opt-outs mean that Denmark is without any influence on these areas even though the decisions in the EU also concern us.
The opt-outs are harmful to Danish interests. They have placed Denmark on the sidelines.
They prevent us from influencing the future of Europe on equal terms with other countries. They prevent Denmark from playing the role in Europe which we could play as one of Europe’s most well-functioning societies.
That is why we should abolish the opt-outs. For Denmark’s sake. So that we can contribute fully to making decisions about Europe of the future.
We were a driving force for bringing more countries into the EU. Therefore, we should also be a driving force for shaping the new Europe.
Considering what Denmark is capable of and represents, we can rightly stand tall. And to many countries, Denmark represents a role model.
Now we have to ask ourselves if we will be satisfied with being a model, or if we also want to play a role.
We are a small country. But we can achieve great things in cooperation with others.
We want influence on the world. But then we must also be fully committed to shaping the future in cooperation with others.
We have a strong democracy with solid fundamental freedoms. But then we must also be prepared to defend freedom in cooperation with others.
We have the right to be ourselves. But being ourselves must never be enough.
Happy New Year