Speech

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Opening Address to the Folketing on Tuesday 2 October 2007

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The other day, Denmark won yet another world championship.

This time, we won a highly special discipline. The discipline of democracy.

According to the World Bank, Denmark is the World Champion of democracy. The reasons for winning include our free press and our fight to uphold freedom of expression.

We may allow ourselves to take pride in this.

However, this is also a championship that brings obligation. The obligation to guard personal civil liberties.

In Denmark, we take freedom for granted. We see democracy as self-evident. And respect for life, freedom and property as obvious rights.

Unfortunately, we have seen many examples showing that our values are facing pressure. We are in the middle of a global struggle over values. This struggle leaves us no room for remaining neutral. We must take a firm stand to defend the fundamental freedoms.

In Burma, the people are oppressed by a brutal military regime.

In Zimbabwe, a cruel and violent regime has cast the country into famine, poverty and caused a flood of refugees.

In Sudan, a tyrannical regime has been sponsoring activities in Darfur that resemble genocide. Millions are suffering from the impact of famine and oppression.

We cannot just stand by and watch. The international community must make a commitment to act. And insist that regimes respect human rights, cease oppressing their populations and introduce democracy.

The peoples of Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq have chosen democracy. They have turned out in large numbers to vote in elections and referendums in order to build new democracies.

However, the fledgling democracies are under threat from terrorists and reactionary forces.

We who live in free, democratic countries have an obligation to help the peoples who fight for freedom and democracy.

For this reason, Denmark has made a contribution to the international force in Lebanon.

For this reason, we are sending more soldiers to Afghanistan. I am pleased that a broad parliamentary majority supports this effort. We cannot allow Afghanistan to become once again a safe haven for terrorists.

And we participate in the international coalition in Iraq. After four years’ efforts, we are now making adjustments to our contribution. The battalion has been returned to Denmark. Instead, we have contributed helicopters. We have also made adjustments to the reconstruction effort.

We have reason to express appreciation for the effort which the Danish soldiers have contributed, and continue to contribute, in Iraq. They have ensured that the Iraqis were able to hold free elections. They have contributed substantial assistance to the reconstruction of Iraq. They have provided education and training for the Iraqi security forces.

The time has now come for the Iraqis themselves to assume a greater share of responsibility. Responsibility for bringing about reconciliation between the population groups. Responsibility for waging their own fight against the terrorists.

It is profoundly tragic when soldiers lose their lives in the fight to secure better living conditions for fellow human beings. Only last week, the fighting in Afghanistan cost the lives of two Danish soldiers. Our thoughts and our condolences go out to their families, their relatives and friends.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Danish soldiers who serve under difficult and dangerous conditions in hotspots around the world. They make an admirable effort to create freedom, peace and prosperity for oppressed peoples. They deserve our deep respect and strong support.

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The struggle for fundamental freedoms has become part of our everyday lives. We have experienced death threats against persons who - in writing, speech or drawings – expressed themselves in a way that was perceived as offensive to a religion. Denmark experienced this in connection with the cartoon crisis. And we have now seen this repeated in Sweden.

In March, we also saw that this is a profoundly serious matter.

A number of Muslim countries presented a UN resolution calling for the Member States to introduce legislation that limits freedom of expression out of respect for religion.

The resolution was adopted.

We must take clear issue with these attempts to encroach on freedom of expression, because freedom of expression also encompasses the right to conduct a critical debate on religion.

We firmly support freedom of religion. Therefore, we fight to establish the right of the individual to practise his or her religion anywhere in the world. Therefore, we condemn any attempt to demonise humans on the basis of their religion or ethnic background. And therefore, we fight against any persecution of or discrimination against human beings on the basis of their religious convictions.

However, freedom of religion is also the freedom not to believe what other people believe. And give expression to this. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression are entwined.

For this reason, the Government intends to intensify the fight for freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

We intend to improve the possibilities for granting residence permits in Denmark to authors from other countries who are persecuted in their home countries.

In the UN forum, we will strongly oppose any attempt to adopt resolutions that aim at limiting freedom of expression. In fact, there might be a need for making it absolutely clear that freedom of expression encompasses the right to engage in free debate on religion.

We will make a focused endeavour to secure and improve freedom of religion and impress upon all countries that they must respect and guarantee the rights of religious minorities.

And we intend to intensify the EU cooperation on human rights in order to strengthen the common efforts in the UN and other international assemblies.

We want a world in which people have the freedom to express their opinions, broadcast their ideas and practise their religion in the way they see fit.

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Unfortunately, Denmark also harbours groups of religious extremists who do not recognise and respect the fundamental principles upon which Danish democracy is based.

We have seen arrests of suspects in cases involving the planning of terrorist attacks and calls to commit acts of terrorism. Some of these have also been convicted and received prison sentences.

There is good reason to commend the police for their fine efforts. The police have managed to track down the fanatics and prevent terrorist attacks. In the light of the experience gained from the concrete cases, we are constantly considering which approaches best protect Danish society against terrorism.

Those who have been arrested have an education and have had traineeships and jobs. They fulfil the parameters for what we normally consider successful integration. This particular fact obviously gives extra cause for concern. We see that employment and education are not in themselves sufficient to prevent the radicalisation of young people.

We must take due note of this. There is a great need, indeed, for giving higher priority to the side of integration that relates to values.

This autumn, the Government will introduce a comprehensive action plan intended to strengthen efforts to prevent extremist views and the radicalisation of young people.

Young Danish citizens with an immigrant background must not merely receive education. They must also be made familiar with the principles upon which Danish democracy is based. Respect for a democratic view of human beings that encompasses the liberty, equality and responsibility of all must be a characteristic element of teaching at all levels.

We intend to enhance the Danish language training for adult foreign nationals with instruction in social studies, democracy and citizenship.

And we intend to develop a range of citizenship instruction for imams and other religious preachers.

Concerning the supervision of independent schools, we will take steps to ensure that the instruction in Danish life and society and democratic values is up to standard.

We intend to increase the dissemination of knowledge of democracy. For this reason, the Government has taken the initiative to draw up a canon of democracy. A canon of the key events, philosophical trends and political texts that have made an impact on the development of Danish democracy.

I hope that this canon of democracy will be used for teaching, used by societies and associations, in liberal adult education and for strengthening the awareness of, consciousness of and debate on democracy throughout Danish society.

We will also include the knowledge that teachers, integration consultants, social educators, social workers and others possess concerning extreme religious behaviour and signs of radicalisation.

And we will apply the resources that well-functioning Danish citizens with a Muslim background possess. They can contribute by serving as positive role models to young people at risk of being attracted to militant Islamism.

I have an urgent appeal to all people in Denmark. Please do not let the terrorist prosecutions lead to demonisation of Danes with a Muslim background. We are looking at a small minority who hold extremist views. They must not be allowed to destroy the lives of the vast majority of Muslims in Denmark who have created good and peaceful lives for themselves in Denmark with education and employment. Let us join forces in fighting the threat from extremism.

Let us stand together as a society in which we enjoy the freedom to be different. A society in which the individual citizen is respected for his or her human qualities and not in terms of adherence to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or atheism. A society that welcomes people who want to work, get an education and make a positive contribution to their community.

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It is a great strength of Danish society that we have a high degree of cohesion - socially, economically and culturally.

It is a key goal for this Government to maintain and develop this cohesion.

By providing opportunities and chances in life for all.

The level of employment is high – at no time before have so many Danes been employed. The unemployment rate is low. The number of unemployed is down to approximately 90,000 people, the lowest figure since the beginning of the 1970s.

The high level of employment and the low rate of unemployment constitute the greatest socio-political step forward that we have seen for decades. The reason is that the group of vulnerable people who have been left outside the labour market for many years have now found the opportunity for finding a job. And a job helps give meaning in the life of the individual and helps reduce social and financial inequality in society.

However, we are facing a new challenge. A challenge that we might call the new inequality. An inequality that does not primarily have its root cause in a lack of money but rather in a lack of opportunities in life. A lack of opportunities caused by a lack of social, educational and cultural skills.

The Government will initiate a broad effort to combat this new inequality.

We intend to strengthen efforts to provide further help for the most vulnerable children and adults.

First, we have presented a comprehensive multi-year plan to secure equal opportunities for vulnerable children and young people. The plan includes initiatives intended to strengthen the ability of parents to assume responsibility for their own lives and the lives of their children. Strengthen the education of vulnerable children, and strengthen the networks of vulnerable families. We must break the negative cycle of social heritage.

Second, we will strengthen efforts to prevent health problems among the vulnerable groups, because there is increasing inequality in the area of health. The Government will draw up a national action plan with clear targets to prevent unhealthy lifestyles.

Third, the Government will make further enhancements to the effort to help people with psychiatric problems. We will establish acute social treatment initiatives for the mentally ill. Initiatives that are to help people suffering from mental illness to establish meaningful daily lives with a family life, networks, employment, education and recreational activities.

We will improve equal opportunities for women and men.

It contributes to creating strong cohesion when women and men have equal opportunities.

However, not all people in Denmark reap the benefits of equal opportunities. Some immigrant women have no contact with the surrounding society. They do not know their rights. They have no power to decide over their own lives.

This lack of equal opportunities for many immigrant women is also part of the new inequality.

The Government will initiate a concerted effort to promote equal opportunities for women and men with an immigrant background.

First, we will encourage also women with an immigrant background to get jobs, get an education, achieve financial independence and participate in sports activities and the activities of societies and associations. The Government will step up efforts to help female entrepreneurs with an immigrant background.

Second, we intend to ensure that all people know their rights. We want to reach all new Danes with information and debate material concerning women’s rights and gender equality.

Third, we want to do more to help the hundreds of women and children who are subjected to domestic violence every year, and who end up in crisis shelters. Nearly half of these women and children have an immigrant background.

In future, therefore, all women with children at crisis shelters must be offered the services of a family counsellor, who is to provide guidance on housing, finances, the labour market, schooling, health and equal opportunities.

Fourth, the Minister for Gender Equality will conduct a series of dialogue meetings with women with an immigrant background all over the country. This will allow these women to speak for themselves.

We want a Denmark with equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibility for the common good.

Let us keep together a Denmark without deep divisions separating the population groups, a Denmark with strong cohesion.

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The Danish economy is healthy and solid. But we are facing new challenges. The greatest task in the coming years will be to ensure an adequate supply of manpower in the labour market – in both the private and the public sector.

One in three companies that has tried to recruit labour has done so in vain. And in the spring of 2007, Danish companies were unable to fill 58,000 vacancies. Also in the public sector, there are a great many unfilled positions.

This shortage of labour impacts negatively on our prosperity and welfare. Private companies lose orders and production, whilst public institutions cannot deliver the services we want.

And the challenge will only become greater in the years ahead. Because we know that the number of Danes of most employable age will fall by 40,000 by 2015. And we know that over 200,000 public employees will retire during the next ten years.

This is the greatest challenge facing Danish society.

In order to ensure continued progress in terms of prosperity and welfare, we must make a supreme effort to find more manpower, both for private companies and for public institutions.

In order to plan the long-term efforts, the Government will set up a labour market commission composed of independent experts. The commission is to draw up proposals for how we can increase employment in the years ahead.

However, already this autumn the Government will present an ambitious plan for enlarging the workforce in Denmark. This will be achieved partly by getting even more people in this country who are on transfer income into work, and partly by attracting skilled workers from abroad.

The plan contains ten main items:

1. We will continue and broaden efforts to get the remaining unemployed people receiving unemployment benefit and cash benefits into work.

2. We will give early-retirement pensioners who have been awarded a pension before 2003 the possibility of working for a number of years with a guarantee that they will not lose the right to go back on early retirement later. And we will strengthen efforts to ensure that young people do not end up on permanent early-retirement pension.

3. We will give old-age pensioners a better opportunity to work without any cuts to their pension. And we will make the rules on deferred pension more flexible to make it financially more attractive to postpone the moment of retirement.

4. We will introduce a special earned income tax credit of maximum DKK 100,000 for taxpayers aged64. In order to be eligible for the tax credit, people must have had full-time employment since the age of 60.

5. We will give students better opportunity to take paid work without any cuts to their state education grant.

6. We wish to reduce sickness absence and improve the opportunity of public sector employees to go from part-time to full-time employment.

7. We wish to attract more skilled foreigners to work in Denmark. Therefore, we will further expand the green card scheme, the job card scheme and the 25% tax scheme for researchers and other key employees. And we will introduce a special business visa.

8. We wish to reduce the red tape and shorten the waiting time for companies seeking to recruit foreign labour.

9. We will focus effort on recruiting foreign workers to the public sector in areas with many unfilled positions, for example within the health sector.

10. We will launch a massive campaign to increase awareness of Denmark as a good country in which to work and live. And we will intensify efforts to retain and integrate the people who come to Denmark.

In order to ensure continued progress in terms of prosperity and welfare in Denmark, we need to bring more foreign workers to Denmark.

But this must take the form of controlled immigration, which ensures that those who come to Denmark have the right skills and qualifications and can support themselves.

And, naturally, foreign workers must work under the same terms and conditions as their Danish colleagues. We do not wish to undermine and diminish the pay and working conditions on the Danish labour market.

Denmark needs foreign labour – in the right way.

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Since 2001, we have secured the adoption of a number of important reforms.
A local government reform , which has created larger and more sustainable municipalities and regions; a reform that ensures a better framework for the welfare state of the future.

A welfare reform , which gradually raises the age for early retirement benefit and normal retirement pension; a reform that contributes to the financing of the welfare state of the future.

A globalisation reform , which allocates considerable resources to research, development, education and entrepreneurship in Denmark; a reform that prepares Danish society to face keener international competition.

An education reform , which raises academic standards throughout the education system, right from primary and lower-secondary school to university; a reform that prepares our young people better for their future worklife.

And we have lowered taxation, so that it is financially more attractive to work.

The Government will now embark on the next major reform. A quality improvement reform, which over the coming years will innovate and develop public welfare through better management, better framework conditions for workers, debureaucratisation and modernisation of public institutions; a reform that will result in extensive innovation of the welfare state – benefiting both users and employees.

Over the next ten years, the Government will set aside DKK 50 billion to investment in modern public institutions; in efficient hospitals with the latest technology; in schools with a healthy indoor climate, modern classrooms and hygienic toilet facilities; in modern sheltered housing for the elderly and nursing homes; and in day-care centres with more space available for the children.

We will put users at the centre. They have a right to be heard. Therefore, we wish to have regular user surveys that assess the satisfaction of users with day-care centres, nursing homes and hospital wards. This will reduce the need for centralised monitoring and regulation in detail.

Elderly people who need help in the home must not find themselves being visited by many different home helps.

There must be a good emergency service system in place. Also in remote, thinly populated areas. Under normal circumstances, from the time a person calls 112, no more than a maximum of 15 minutes must pass before help arrives.

Parents with children in day-care centres must not be inconvenienced by arbitrary closing days on normal weekdays.

We will implement a management reform. It is designed to ensure that 70,000 public sector managers are given proper training and a clear management structure.

We will provide the 800,000 public sector employees with the best opportunities to undergo professional development and upgrade their skills and competencies.

We will simplify and reduce bureaucracy. Employees must spend less time on paperwork and more time on delivering practical care and nursing.

And we will endeavour to attract the necessary manpower to the public sector. By ensuring more training places, better integration and a strong age management policy.

The main premise of the entire quality improvement reform is that better quality must come from below. The Folketing and the Government cannot and should not decide everything.

People are different. As our point of departure, we must look at the individual person’s needs and wishes. And we must give employees working in nursing homes and in kindergartens the freedom to find the solutions that best fit local conditions.

There are numerous examples of good and secure public service. Delivered by talented, competent and dedicated staff and managers. Every day, nurses, nursery and kindergarten staff, social and healthcare assistants, primary and lower-secondary schoolteachers, and many others perform a huge, professional and committed job. They do their job so well that eight out of ten users are satisfied with the public service provided.

We will now improve it even more by launching a quality improvement reform; a reform that is to be implemented in close interaction with employees and their organisations. The Government has therefore entered into an important agreement with the trade unions on competence development, recruitment, health and safety, and management.

We have set a course towards building a new welfare model for the 21st century.

Within the health sector, there are special challenges. Tackling these will require a special effort. This applies particularly to cancer treatment.

I think we all have a sense of how psychologically hard it must be for a person to hear that they have been diagnosed with cancer.

We just cannot accept that cancer patients must wait unnecessarily for examinations and treatments. In the worst cases, it can cost lives.

Since 2001, the Government has injected considerable funds into cancer treatment, and there has been a significant increase of activity in this field. Today, over 67,000 more cancer operations are performed than in 2001; and over 38,000 more radiotherapy treatment procedures.

Progress has been made. But despite the massive focus on cancer treatment, it is not good enough.

Suspicion of life-threatening cancer or a cancer diagnosis must trigger immediate and resolute action.

Therefore, the Government will now impose very firm demands on the regions and the hospitals.

First, examination for and treatment of cancer must be carried out without any undue delay.

Second, all cancer patients must be assigned a fixed contact person.

Third, clear guidelines for providing information to patients and relatives must be formulated.

In collaboration with the regions, the Government will ensure that the funds necessary for implementing the cancer plan are provided.

However, it is just as much a matter of reviewing procedures and routines; and learning from the hospitals where things actually work.

We pay high tax rates in Denmark. So we also have a right to expect first class hospitals. Cancer patients should have access to treatment of the highest international quality – in any part of Denmark.

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Next year, the Government will allocate considerable funds to continued improvements in welfare and quality in the public sector; and towards further boosting research, education, innovation and entrepreneurship.

There is scope for this within an economically responsible framework.

The easiest thing in the world to do is to dispense promises of more welfare, higher salaries and lower taxes. Anyone can do that.

But the Government has a responsibility to ensure that things fit together, and that the economy is sustainable.

The Government lives up to this responsibility.

We have presented a comprehensive package in the form of a quality improvement reform that gives an unprecedented boost to public welfare, and a taxation package that lowers taxation further on earned income.

It is an ambitious package. But it is well balanced. And it is financed.

The Government has presented an economic plan for the years leading up to 2015. It shows that the economy is sustainable if we ensure that there continues to be a surplus on public finances, that public expenditure grows in step with the economy in general, and that structural employment increases by 20,000 up to 2015.

The Government intends to meet these objectives.

We will not take part in a bidding contest on economic promises.

Today, Denmark has a strong economy and considerable economic freedom. The reason is that for many years an economically responsible policy has been pursued. This is a policy we must maintain.

The economy needs to be sustainable – in both the short term and the long term.

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We also have responsibility for securing Denmark’s future energy needs. In a manner that is economically sound and environmentally sustainable.

Today, Denmark is practically self-sufficient with regard to energy, among other things as a result of oil and natural gas from the North Sea.

This has given us security of supply and a good economy.

However, some day the North Sea oil and gas bonanza will come to an end. And when that happens, we must have other energy sources ready and available. For we do not wish to be dependent on oil and natural gas supplies from countries and regions in the world that are prepared to exploit their energy production as a tool in their foreign and security policy.

Energy consumption impacts on the environment and climate. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has established that increasing CO2 emissions have negative consequences for the environment and climate throughout the world. And that a considerable portion of global warming is man-made.

Science has spoken. It is up to politicians now to take action.

As a first step, the Government has presented an ambitious energy proposal.

We want Denmark, in the long term, to be 100 per cent independent of fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal. It is a very ambitious goal. And it will take many years to reach that point. But it is important to make the first decisions already now.

We want to double the share of renewable energy in order to reach a minimum of 30 per cent by 2025.

We want to make sure that Denmark is one of the countries in the world that uses energy in the best and most efficient manner through continued energy savings.

We want to increase research and technology development significantly. Up to 2010, we will double the investment, which means that it will reach DKK 1 billion a year.

And in the years ahead, we will follow up on this with several other necessary decisions.

Also at international level, the Government has taken a lead position to ensure an ambitious climate change policy.

As host country for the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009, Denmark will assume a key position in the work for a new global agreement on climate change. We will use this occasion to promote Danish climate technology.

And we will make a great effort to reach an agreement comprising all the big greenhouse gas emitters, including the USA, China and India. An agreement that contains binding targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions. An agreement that promotes the global development of cleaner and greener technology. And an agreement that takes into account the developing countries’ need for financing and adjusting to climate change.

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The developing countries are the countries that contribute least to the emission of greenhouse gases. At the same time, they are the countries that will suffer most from the impact of climate change.

This applies in particular to the poor countries in Africa.

Danish development policy will focus on Africa in the years ahead. Next year, Danish development assistance will increase by approximately DKK 500 million. The extra funding is primarily to be spent in Africa.

In the Government’s new Africa Strategy, we will incorporate climate change and environmental considerations. We will combat poverty, promote job creation and ensure better prospects for the young.

We will focus on education and training. We will foster freedom and democracy. We will work for good governance, for free media, and we will fight corruption.

We will combat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

And we will ensure women’s rights. By giving women stronger rights and the same opportunities as men, Africa could achieve great economic and social progress.
Therefore, the Government has decided to double its support for women in Africa. By supporting a woman, we give a helping hand to an entire family.

We have joint responsibility for our world. For ensuring freedom, justice and peace. For ensuring sustainability with regard to nature, the environment and climate. For ensuring that humanity does not fall victim to hunger, poverty and dangerous diseases.

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We are very pleased that the EU has assumed the role of international leader in the climate change debate. The EU has set as its target that the Member States are to achieve a general 30 per cent reduction in their CO2 emissions by 2020 as part of a global agreement. And we have set binding targets for the application of renewable energy in Europe. This means that the EU is taking the lead in the fight against climate change and for a greener future.

We want to strengthen the EU’s common policies on climate change, the environment and energy. And this is one of the specific elements of the new Reform Treaty.

It is necessary to set up new ground rules for EU cooperation. Because the EU has been enlarged from 15 to 27 Member States. Because we must become better at taking joint decisions, for example regarding the fight against organised crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. Because we want greater transparency about EU cooperation. And because we wish to strengthen the role of the EU on the international scene.

We must make Europe strong. We must stand together. By creating a framework for the cooperation that is in keeping with the times. By adopting a new EU Treaty.

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Cooperation with the Faroe Islands and Greenland is making continued and innovative progress. The strength of the Unity of the Realm is cooperation.

The Faroe Islands and Greenland have taken on a stronger role in international cooperation. On this basis, the Faroe Islands want to become a member of EFTA. The Danish Government fully supports this wish.

Faroese self-government is expanding on an ongoing basis. Earlier this year, the Faroe Islands assumed responsibility for the national church and civil emergency preparedness. And the Faroe Islands are making preparations to take over responsibility for company law and aviation.

With respect to Greenland, we await the findings of the work carried out by the Greenland-Danish Self-Government Commission. It is my clear expectation that, in the wake of the Commission’s recommendation, we will see a development towards increasingly strong self-government in Greenland.

I have deep respect for the ambitions of the Faroese and Greenland peoples to assume increasing responsibility at national and international levels. It is a natural development. And the Danish Government supports these efforts wholeheartedly.

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We are facing a comprehensive political programme:

• A large-scale plan for enlarging the workforce

• A comprehensive quality improvement reform

• A cancer plan

• An ambitious climate change and energy plan

• A reduction of tax on earned income

• Proposals from the Infrastructure Commission on future years’ large investments in, among other things, the construction of new transport facilities

• Fiscal Year 2008 Budget

• A plan for strengthening value-based integration

• A broadly-planned proposal to ensure equal opportunities, combat negative social heritage and strengthen cohesion in society.

• A programme to ensure rights and gender equality for immigrant women

• A new EU Treaty

• Preparations for the 2009 Climate Change Conference

• A new Africa Strategy

• A plan for fostering more Greenland self-government

There will be plenty of work to do.

And the Government invites all the parties of the Folketing to participate in broad cooperation on the many tasks.

Allow me to propose that we commence the work of the Folketing with three cheers for Denmark.

Long live Denmark!