Good evening – and Happy New Year!
Most Danish families have just celebrated Christmas, with a Christmas tree, church service, visiting family and enjoying a special holiday time in their home. We value and guard our traditions, and we take it for granted that we can celebrate Christmas in the good old Danish way.
Some months ago, I met an acquaintance from Latvia, who told about Christmas in Latvia when the Soviet Communists were still in power. The authorities strongly discouraged the celebration of Christmas in the Christian fashion. Families virtually had to celebrate Christmas secretly behind closed curtains or shuttered windows.
Not many years have passed since things were like this.
I belong to a generation that grew up with the Cold War. We grew up with the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. I am sure we did not seriously believe that things would ever be much different.
However, reality has surpassed imagination
At the Copenhagen Summit, we decided, at long last, to reunite the Europe that for so many years had been divided and fragmented.
It was a great joy for me that the Danish EU Presidency completed the historic task of the enlargement of the EU.
I also wish to thank those who contributed to ensuring peace around the EU meetings in Denmark. Thanks to the police for efforts that are a model to emulate; and thanks to the representatives of the demonstrators, who helped ensure peace and order.
I am proud that we Danes could show the world how political viewpoints may find peaceful expression.
Denmark must continue its active participation in the development of the new Europe.
We must be a full and unconditional part of the EU. It is detrimental to Denmark’s interests that we have placed ourselves without influence in key areas as a consequence of our opt-outs from the EU co-operation.
For this reason we should abolish the opt-outs. This, however, is naturally subject to referendum.
I would like to present my considerations of this issue tonight
In an EU with 25 Member States, there will be a need for a new EU Treaty to secure both efficiency and respect for national identity. The work on such a new Treaty is already in progress. Denmark must be active in bringing our influence to bear on this work.
If, at a later date, a decision is made on an entirely new EU Treaty, ratification will presumably require a referendum in Denmark. Such a referendum will probably take place in 2004 or 2005.
I find it most fair to the population that we know the contents of the new Treaty before we make a decision on the Danish opt-outs.
If we have a referendum on the opt-outs already now, many will feel that they have no way of knowing what they are getting themselves into. In that case, we would be asking voters to abolish the opt-outs without knowing the whole picture.
Therefore, I believe that the right sequence will be to consider the new Treaty first, and then decide what we want to do about the opt-outs.
After the great task of holding the EU Presidency, it is once again time to address a number of domestic challenges.
Our children and young people must learn more. We have started work on primary and lower secondary school. There will now be binding benchmarks for what pupils must have learned at various grade levels. The next step will be a reform of upper secondary school.
It is sad to read international surveys which show that Danish children and young people learn too little in a number of important areas. We must raise the academic level. This is the requirement for meeting the demands of the future.
We must shape a society in which also children from socially disadvantaged homes are offered a proper chance in life. We must be better at breaking the so-called negative social heritage. The first condition for this is that children acquire knowledge and skills at school. A laid-back academic attitude especially affects the weakest students.
There must be security in our everyday lives. We have stepped up the effort against violence and rape. However, much remains to be done, among other things against crime springing from the biker community.
I find it appalling to see how bikers drive young people to commit robberies, burglaries and credit fraud, by means of threats, raw violence and extortion.
We must stop this terror regime of the bikers. Also here, the Government will fight fire with fire.
More immigrants must find employment. If as many immigrants as Danes were in employment, it would mean that 50,000 more immigrants held jobs instead of living on transfer income.
We have tightened the Aliens Act, and to good effect. During 2002, the number of asylum seekers has fallen by more than half, and the trend is the same for applications for family reunification.
The falling number of asylum seekers and family reunification cases makes resources available for making an extra effort to secure work and education for the immigrants who are already here.
The Government and the municipalities will strengthen the efforts to find employment and education for immigrants. However, employers, unions and each individual on the labour market must also make a contribution. Everybody must have a fair chance, whether the name is Rashid or Rasmussen.
And then, of course, the immigrants themselves must make an effort. Among other things by making themselves familiar with the values upon which Danish society is based.
Many of these values we have taken for granted. One of the reasons is that they have developed over many generations.
However, these years they are being challenged
We have felt revulsion by the fact that small girls are subjected to mutilation by circumcision. It has filled us with disgust that imams residing in this country support capital punishment by stoning. And it is horrifying that an imam expresses understanding for suicide bombers in Friday prayers.
This is medieval religious thinking, which we must denounce and fight in the strongest terms.
We have freedom of speech. Also the freedom to speak nonsense, and there must be freedom to be different. We neither must nor intend to interfere in the way people dress, what they eat and what they believe in. Being Danish is something else, and much more than meatballs and brown gravy.
However, Danish society is built on some fundamental values which any individual must accept if he or she wishes to live in this country.
In Denmark, politics and religion are kept separate. Denmark maintains fundamental respect for human life. In Denmark, women are equal with men as a matter of course.
And we will not accept that these rights of freedom are suppressed under reference to the Koran, the Bible or other sacred writings.
For too many years, we have been too gullible. We have been reluctant to state that one thing is better than another thing. However, now we shall have to do so.
We owe this also to the thousands of immigrants who each day make a positive contribution to Danish society. They go about their job, their school and their studies, and have no problem fitting into daily life in Denmark.
The immigrants who fled from the darkness of the mullahs should not experience that we now permit medieval forces to take root in Danish society.
Therefore, I have two clear messages this evening: we must denounce the fundamentalist imams and prevent religious and political fanaticism from finding fertile soil in Denmark. However, we must also show the immigrants that there is room for them in a modern society if they wish to participate.
And then, perhaps, we ought all of us to set a high goal for the coming year. I would like to see personal responsibility play a larger role in our everyday lives, and that we each of us reflect on what we might be able to do to create a better society.
Politicians cannot solve all problems.
When children are restless in class and learn too little, it is not just the teachers that are responsible. As parents, we also have a responsibility for providing our children with a supporting home and making sure that they are ready to be taught.
When children and young people join gangs and commit crime, it is not merely an expression of scarcity of police patrolling the streets. As parents, we also have a responsibility for keeping an eye on what our children are up to.
It is all very well to ensure that there is a guarantee for child care, but this does not relieve us of the ultimate responsibility for the welfare and upbringing of our children. Children require time and attention.
The Government is not in a position to guarantee happiness. Politicians can provide a framework. However, it is up to the individual to fill out the framework.
It takes so little to create more joy in our everyday lives. A little attention to those who are nearest and dearest to us. A little encouragement, appreciation and reward for those who go beyond the call of duty. A little more concern and consideration on the roads. A little smile to the shop customer and the client at the public office.
Let us do away with the tyranny of busyness and urgency, turn off our mobile phone once in a while, refrain from checking the latest e-mails and take a little more time for each other.
Happy New Year!