This is the first day in the New Year. We are always excited to see what a new year will bring. But this year we are perhaps more excited than usual.
Because the world has changed since last New Year.
2008 turned out to be more turbulent than we have been used to. An economic storm is raging in the world around us. And we are also affected.
Enterprises have run into difficulties. Some employees have been laid off. Others are afraid of losing their jobs. Some people experience that their pensions are worth less than expected. Others have difficulties in selling their house.
I understand very well that many are concerned or feel insecure.
The Government takes the situation very seriously. We will not hesitate to launch the initiatives that are necessary for Denmark to weather the crisis successfully. With high employment and a sound economy.
2008 was also the year in which international terrorism came close to Denmark. Our embassy in Islamabad in Pakistan became the target of a terrorist bomb. Several people were killed. Later, a Danish police officer posted to Islamabad was killed in a terrorist bomb attack on a hotel in the same city.
Our thoughts go out to the bereaved families who became the victims of ruthless terrorism.
And many ask themselves fearfully what will happen next. The Government is monitoring the situation closely. We are doing our utmost to ensure security and safety.
And together with our partners, we will fight terrorism at its root.
Unfortunately, this fight comes at a price.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, five Danish soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. It is a terrible tragedy and a great shock to the families and relatives who so brutally have lost one of their loved ones.
In the past year, a number of Danish soldiers have lost their lives on active service. And others have been wounded.
I wish to express my deepest sympathy with their families and relatives. My thoughts go out to you who have suffered such painful losses.
My thoughts also go out to the fellow soldiers of those who have been killed. We owe you the most profound gratitude and respect for the work you carry out under difficult conditions.
Many ask whether it serves any useful purpose.
Yes, it does serve a useful purpose.
A few months ago, I visited our soldiers in Afghanistan. I was impressed to see what they have achieved. We can be proud of them. They are making a praiseworthy effort to ensure security and provide a better life for the local population. They are a credit to Denmark.
We live in a new world. A world in which terrorists can strike anywhere – also in Denmark. A world in which the defence of our security begins far away from Danish soil.
Afghanistan must not be allowed to become a safe haven for terrorists again. That is why we are in Afghanistan.
It is a matter of security. And it is a matter of us Danes taking co-responsibility in the world around us. We want freedom, peace and security. Then we must also make a contribution ourselves.
That is why Danish soldiers, police officers and others posted abroad contribute to fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and pirates off Somalia and contribute to keeping the peace in Kosovo and Georgia and in other hot spots throughout the world.
I wish to express my warmest thanks to all of you who are on active service for Denmark throughout the world.
You have not asked whether it serves any useful purpose.
You have done what you found was the right thing to do.
You are a source of inspiration to us all.
You inspire us to take a responsibility ourselves. And not just offload the task onto others.
To make an effort ourselves. And not just make demands on others.
To see opportunities. And not just give up.
It is this attitude that commands respect for us Danes in the world at large.
It is this attitude that is necessary to respond to challenges and opposition.
And it is also this attitude that is now going to strengthen our resolve to ride out the economic storm.
It is still too early to say how long the economic crisis will last. Or how hard it is going to be. But compared with many other countries, we in Denmark are well prepared for a difficult time.
We have a low unemployment rate. Whereas other countries have a high unemployment rate.
We have a balance-of-payments surplus. Whereas other countries have a balance-of payments deficit.
We have low public debt. Whereas other countries are burdened by huge deficits and growing debt.
We are well prepared because we for a great number of years have pursued a sound and stable economic policy.
In recent years, we have seen huge budget surpluses. We have used these surpluses to repay debt.
We have put aside during the fat years. This means we have accumulated reserves for more lean years.
Therefore, we now have greater freedom of action.
And we will make use of that already this year. We will give the Danish economy a boost.
Among other things by lowering taxes. So that most families will have more money at their disposal this year.
And we must encourage the banks to grant loans for sensible projects.
It is a good thing when banks slam the lid shut on speculators and gamblers.
But it is unfortunate if banks now go to the other extreme and stop lending money to sound enterprises with good business ideas. Or to families who want to make sensible purchases of a house or a car. If that happens, society will grind to a halt. To the disadvantage of us all.
Already now in January we will therefore offer to inject new capital into well-managed banks. Not for the sake of the banks as such. But to enable the banks to continue to lend out money. To the advantage of us all.
On conditions, naturally. The money must be put to work. And the banks’ operations must be sober, solid and sound.
If all this is not enough, we will take further steps to ensure economic activity.
We have planned massive investments in the modernisation of Danish society over the years ahead. If necessary, we will move a number of these investments forward.
In new and modern hospitals.
In better schools, child-care facilities and housing for the elderly.
In more modern, efficient and environmentally friendly transport – in cars, trains and buses.
We will kill two birds with one stone: boost the economy here and now and improve welfare, the environment and our competitiveness in the future.
And we are prepared once again to use taxes to boost the economy.
The Government has a tax reform in the pipeline. A tax reform which means that we lower taxes on what we want more of – work. And raise taxes on what we want less of – pollution.
If the economy continues to look gloomy, we can phase in the tax reform so that Danes get more money to spend as a start.
In that way we can achieve several objectives at one and the same time: boost the economy, make it more worthwhile to work and make it more worthwhile to take care of the environment.
We face a considerable challenge. An international economic crisis of historic dimensions.
A crisis implies both danger and opportunity.
Danger if an unduly pessimistic attitude leads to a vicious circle of additional crisis, chaos and collapse.
But a crisis also gives us the incentive to think new thoughts. To find a way out of the difficulties through new ideas, new methods, and new initiatives.
Let us pave such a way. A way to new, sustainable growth. Green growth.
Let us make it our vision to create a new, green economy. A society in which we are completely independent of polluting fuels like coal, oil and gas.
It requires that we change our production and consumption. Gradually, but in a targeted manner.
In Denmark, we must develop green solutions that will be of benefit to the entire world.
In this way, we can boost the economy, create tens of thousands of green jobs and turn society as such towards green, sustainable growth.
That is the way ahead.
The green society is not a society without growth. By contrast, we must boost growth through new technology, green ideas and booming exports. We must make Denmark a Green Winner Nation.
Not with rules and regulations that stifle creativity and enterprise. But with dynamic green growth.
With green energy from wind, bio-fuels, solar and other renewable energy sources.
With impressive plus-energy houses that produce more energy than they consume.
With high-speed trains and state-of-the-art railways.
With modern and fast electric cars.
With proper roads that are built so as to give due consideration to nature.
With an agricultural sector that protects nature and produces green energy, safe food and continued large export revenues.
And we must take global green leadership. In December, Denmark will host the UN Climate Change Conference. At the conference, the goal is to reach a global agreement to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. In order to address climate change and protect the environment.
But it is also a matter of security. The Western World’s dependence on oil and gas imports implies a massive transfer of prosperity from the world’s democracies to the world’s oil states. To regimes that do not always share our views on freedom and democracy.
By reducing the transfer of money to them, we can strengthen our own independence.
By reducing the need for energy imports, we can strengthen freedom and security.
By reducing the dependence on oil and gas, we can strengthen the democratic world.
Achieving green, sustainable growth is the greatest challenge facing this generation and the next. It will be a huge task. It will require commitment and it will take time.
But it is a task we can perform by standing together in this difficult time. Let us jointly push Denmark forward. And let us jointly transform the crisis from a danger to an opportunity.
The danger is if we fear the future. And allow short-term problems to block long-term solutions.
The opportunity is that we believe in progress. And allow long-term solutions to alleviate the short-term problems.
Everything may grind to a halt if fear of taking action is greater than the wish to improve.
But everything may result in success if the will to take action is greater than the fear of failing.
Happy New Year!