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These are good times in Denmark. Times of growth and affluence.
Denmark is prospering. The tax freeze provides a boost for the economy. So does the Government’s Spring Package, through which we provided lower taxes and moved forward public investments.
Employment is rising. The unemployment rate is falling. Over the past 18 months, unemployment has been reduced by more than 25,000. And we expect the unemployment rate to continue falling over the coming year.
The Danish economy is in the top league of Europe. The public sector budget surplus is the highest in the EU. Danish public sector debt is among the very lowest in Europe. The interest rate is very low. The inflation rate is modest.
The balance of payments is solidly in the black. And exports show progress. We have a flexible labour market and a strong social safety net. We have a strong and competitive economy. International surveys consistently rank Denmark among the most competitive countries. And Denmark has been voted the country with the best investment climate in the World.
The Government intends to do its utmost to sustain the favourable Danish economy. With the tax freeze, which provides security for private citizens and enterprises. And with a responsible economic policy, which maintains the public sector surplus and reduces debt.
We must not give in to the temptation to go on a spending spree. This would not do. It is during good years that we must set aside provisions and reduce debt. This will put us in a better position when we are to face leaner years.
Much too often we have seen public sector expenditure soar. Only to be followed by soaring tax rates. Higher taxes will cost jobs. Therefore, we must maintain the tax freeze. And we shall lower the tax on earned income further if we can provide the financial scope for doing so.
Not only the economy is in better condition. So is the environment. The quality of air has been improved significantly. The quality and purity of water along our coasts has been constantly improving. We have more forest and we have improved protection of the natural environment in Denmark.
However, although the environment and nature are now in better condition, much remains to be done to achieve further improvement.
We need more green areas. We must reduce the emissions of harmful particles, especially from diesel-powered vehicles. And we must reduce the volume of hazardous substances.
Over the next four years, the Government will appropriate an additional DKK 1 billion to be spent on, among other things, restoration of natural environments, purer water and planting of new forest.
So Denmark is prospering. And the vast majority of Danish citizens have felt this prosperity. Not only is Denmark one of the most affluent societies in the world, it is also one of the most equal societies in the world, when we consider the gap between those who earn more and those who earn less.
This was so before the change of government in 2001. It remains true today.
However, in the light of the debate of recent weeks, it might be appropriate to provide a quiet reminder of the three key benchmarks of this Government’s policy.
First: The weakest people in our society must be treated well and receive the help that is necessary. This has been the policy of this Government throughout, and this will remain the policy of this Government.
In broad cooperation, we have implemented focused improvements for vulnerable groups in Danish society. This applies, for instance, to homeless people, drug addicts, substance abusers and patients with mental illnesses.
We have implemented a number of improvements for the disabled. Pensioners with a low income have received a cheque for a supplementary amount. And lone providers enrolled in an education programme have had their student grants doubled.
The Government has set up the Council for Socially Marginalised People. The Council has just published its report for 2005. We will follow up on the findings of the report in broad cooperation with the majority of the parties in the Folketing.
The Government places its efforts where there is a need.
Second: We want to create a society in which it is easier for people to work their way out of difficult social circumstances. In which there are better opportunities for everybody, regardless of where they started out in life. Where social and financial prosperity is not the privilege of the strong, but an opportunity for all. This has been the policy of this Government throughout, and this will remain the policy of this Government.
We wish to create a society in which there is great social mobility. A society in which more people break away from the set pattern, and create a good and independent life for themselves in spite of difficult and unpromising early years. A society in which we fight to break the cycle of negative social heritage.
We have our work cut out for us. Because much too often, a difficult social situation is the legacy that parents leave to their children.
Therefore, we must equip children and young people to break the cycle of negative social heritage. This is not merely a matter of money and the distribution of income. This is equally a matter of social and cultural skills. First and foremost, it has to do with education.
Therefore, we intend to ensure that all young people, irrespective of their social background, get an education.
Therefore, we intend to ensure that all students are able to read when they complete primary and lower secondary school education.
Therefore, we intend to modernise the vocational training programmes, so that the young people who are less academically inclined also get an opportunity to learn.
Therefore, we intend to ensure that children and young people with an immigrant background acquire proper Danish language skills.
Therefore, we intend to encourage parents more strongly to accept responsibility for the raising and education of their children.
And these efforts must begin already at the level of day-care centres. Children must be taught the skills that are necessary in order subsequently to cope in the education system and society. Day-care centres are not to be schools. However, playing and learning must go hand in hand. And we must make a focused effort in the day-care centres where there are many children with a disadvantaged social background. Over the next four years, the Government will appropriate DKK 2 billion for improving the quality of day-care centres.
Third: It must always pay to work and put in an extra effort. This makes for a dynamic society. This makes a society prosperous. And the more growth and prosperity we have, the better our opportunities for helping those who are in need of help. This has been the policy of this Government throughout, and this will remain the policy of this Government.
We must avoid a situation where a large group of people are excluded from the labour market for years because it does not really pay to work. This will not do at all. Letting things slide like that will inevitably lead to a divided society. A divided society, in which some people are excluded from the labour market more or less permanently. This generates less wealth, less welfare and less social cohesion.
It must pay to work. This is the reason we introduced the tax freeze. This is the reason we maintain the tax freeze. This is the reason we have reduced the tax rate on earned income, which primarily benefits those who earn low wages. And therefore we have, through broad political agreement, put a ceiling on cash benefits. So that it will pay to put in an extra effort.
We must develop a society in which everybody has the opportunity for creating a good life for themselves. A society in which the abilities, will and talents of the individual are more important than background, position and purse.
During the Government’s first election term we devoted considerable energy to cleaning up.
We put a brake on soaring tax and excise rates.
We dealt with excessive treatment delays in our hospital system.
We introduced a firm and fair policy on immigration.
We implemented a firm and consistent policy on the administration of justice.
We abolished redundant councils and boards.
We introduced freedom of choice regarding public services.
It was a time for change.
This second term is also a time for change. It will be a period of reform.
Previously, major changes would come upon us like a thief in the night. Without any prior warning to voters. This is the old-school political approach.
This Government will do the very opposite. We will announce well ahead of time any intention we have to introduce changes. We will prepare the Danes thoroughly by establishing various groups of people. They will initiate a debate. And they will produce proposals for major changes in Danish society.
This approach offers everybody the opportunity to take a position on the changes. Everybody will get the opportunity to become involved in the changes. This offers security for the individual. And improved understanding of the project.
When we have had a broad public debate on the various proposals, the Government will introduce specific, focused initiatives. This is the modern approach to policy making. The modern and involving democracy.
During this election term, the Government will introduce substantial and thorough reforms of Danish society. We have already passed a major local government structural reform. Now we will move on. Move on to prepare Denmark to meet the challenges of globalisation and to secure our welfare in the future.
Reforms that reach far into the future, and which, in crucial areas, will provide Danes with better, simpler and richer everyday lives. We shall implement this in a calm and orderly fashion. To bring everybody on board. Thus we shall be able to transform Denmark while, at the same time maintaining security for the individual.
Change must go hand in hand with security and safety.
We must ensure that the good times are here to stay. Therefore, we must have world-class education and research.
We have strong foundations. Our primary and lower secondary schools, upper-secondary schools, vocational schools and universities, in fact our entire educational system possesses many qualities that we must protect.
However, there is also much that we can do better.
We want to have the best primary and lower secondary school system in the world. A school system in which children learn and thrive. A school system that prepares children for the Denmark of the future. A school system of which teachers, pupils and parents are proud.
Therefore, the Government intends to give the academic level of the primary and lower secondary school system a boost. Danish children must be among the best in the world in terms of reading skills, mathematics, natural sciences and English. Academic skills are of decisive importance. On this point, the aim of the primary and lower secondary school system must be crystal clear.
And we shall introduce evaluation and tests. So that teachers, parents and pupils will be able to see which areas are in need of further efforts. So we can address problems in time. So that everybody leaves school with the skills required.
The training of teachers must involve a much higher degree of specialisation than it does today. And they must teach the subjects in which they major. This will produce better teaching. This will make students able to reach a higher level of achievement.
After finishing primary and lower secondary school, all young people must enrol in an education programme. A couple of generations ago, many Danes were sufficiently equipped with just a few years of school. This will not suffice today. Everybody must have an education.
This places great demands, not least on the vocational training programmes. There must be something on offer to everybody. The programmes must be of top quality. Young people must be equipped to perform well in a labour market that is increasingly subject to change. And employers, large as well as small, must accept their part of the responsibility. And see to it that there are trainee positions for everybody. The Government places great emphasis on this.
More people must take a college or university education. And we must train students for employment, not for redundancy. Education programmes must be better adapted to meet the needs of the labour market. More students must choose natural science or technical education programmes.
Our talented young people must have better opportunities for taking an international education. Today, Danish universities receive a per-capita grant on the basis of the number of students enrolled. This grant must be allowed to follow the student who goes abroad to study. So that a Dane who has the academic level to be accepted into a good academic programme abroad will be able to spend the grant on that programme.
Everybody must be prepared for life-long education. Denmark has good adult and supplementary education programmes. We are among those in the world who put in the most efforts to upgrade skills and qualifications. This is good. But in future, more efforts will be necessary. In this area, the social partners must assume responsibility. In the best Danish tradition.
Up to the year 2010, the Government intends to appropriate DKK 10 billion for making Denmark better equipped to face the challenges of the strong international competition. Most of this funding will be spent on strengthening research. So that publicly funded research will reach the level of one per cent of GDP by 2010.
This is a substantial amount. However, we shall not merely issue a blank cheque. We shall demand value for that money.
We must build world-class research environments. And we must perform research in the areas that society needs. Natural science and technology research have received less priority over the past ten years. We intend to correct this. We will ensure the quality of research by increasing the level of competition for funding. We must secure fruitful interplay between public and private sector research.
And we must have more private research and development. It is to a very high degree in private enterprises that knowledge generates growth and jobs.
We must have even more entrepreneurs who are able to generate growth, jobs and innovation. In Denmark, we are industrious at starting new enterprises, but far too few eventually become large-scale operations. We must have more growth entrepreneurs. We must cultivate a stronger entrepreneurial culture. And it must begin already in the education programmes.
In future, we must become better at generating new jobs. For this reason, we must make Denmark a leading knowledge-based society. A leading entrepreneurial society. We must secure world-class education. And create the World’s highest competitiveness.
These are ambitious goals, indeed. However, they are goals that we are able to reach, and must reach.
The Government will implement the necessary reforms. And I call on all members of society to pull together. Then we shall be able to make Denmark a winner in the globalisation process. And secure employment, growth, prosperity and welfare in future.
We must have innovation in all areas of society. Not only in private enterprises. Not merely in laboratories. No, innovation must characterise all parts of society, including municipal administration, kindergartens and hospitals. Denmark has a large public sector and therefore it is crucial that it is dynamic.
We are now in the process of implementing the planned local government structural reform. This involves a very extensive restructuring of the public sector in Denmark.
Where the municipalities will assume responsibility for executing a large number of core tasks in our welfare society as closely as possible to the individual Dane. Where the five new regions must provide a public health service of world-class quality.
Where focus is on the individual Danish citizen’s wishes and needs. And not on the system. Where focus is on public-minded service. And not on superfluous bureaucracy. Where focus is on innovation. And not on conventional thinking.
The Government will continue to innovate and improve the public sector to the benefit of the Danes. The next step will be to carry out a reform of the police in order to ensure an up-to-date and efficient police force. A police force that, with large and dynamic police districts, has the necessary capacity to operate effectively throughout the country. A police force that operates close to the general public in the local communities. An efficient police force should not be the sole privilege of the large towns and cities. The police must be present everywhere in the country to the benefit of all Danes.
Danes are living longer. During the last four decades, average life expectancy has risen by 4-5 years for both men and women. And we must anticipate that life expectancy will continue to rise. Naturally, this is a development to be rejoiced at.
However, it also brings challenges. For at the same time as we are living longer, we are spending less time in the labour market. Over approximately the last 20 years, the part of our life that we primarily spend in the labour market has dropped by approximately two and a half years, whereas the part of our life that we spend in retirement has grown by two and a half years.
If this trend continues, there will in the future be more and more people drawing on the public purse, and fewer and fewer people paying tax. It goes without saying that this is unsustainable.
It will be necessary for us to gradually postpone the point in our lives when we normally retire from working life.
In December, the Welfare Commission will present its final report with proposals for reforms of our welfare society. Although I do not wish to anticipate the contents of the Welfare Commission’s proposals, a central theme will be the question of retirement from the labour market.
At the beginning of the new year, the Government will present its proposals for reform. We shall invite all the parties in the Folketing to take part in the negotiations. The aim is to reach a broad political agreement regarding legislation in 2006.
And with the healthy Danish economy, we have the opportunity to implement the necessary changes in gradual stages over many years. This will allow each Danish citizen ample time to adjust to the new conditions.
Change will go hand in hand with security and safety.
I believe the time has come to examine with a fresh pair of eyes our general organisation of society and our everyday way of life.
We must ask ourselves whether the labour market, enterprises, public institutions and legislation have fully kept up with developments in modern-day work and family life.
Let me take one concrete example. Many families experience a normal everyday life that is hectic and stressful. At the same time, economic experts tell us that we must work more and not less if we are to finance our welfare in the future. How do we reconcile these facts?
There is perhaps a need for greater flexibility. Differences in life-styles and between phases in our lives mean that we have different needs and different expectations of society. For some, flexible working hours are the major wish. For others, home-based workplaces may be of help. And for yet another group of people, the opening hours of shops and public institutions may be of decisive importance.
We stand before a major task that will affect all sections of Danish society. And it may be necessary to dispense with old systems as well as outdated and conventional thinking.
The Government will now prepare reforms. We will start by mapping and analysing which demands modern-day work and family life impose on a more flexible society in the future. We will, therefore, set up a commission comprising members from a variety of backgrounds. The work of this commission will lead to specific recommendations for ways in which we can organise and structure our society so that it addresses the needs and circumstances of the individual person and the individual family more effectively.
The Government wishes a society that is not only efficient and productive but also flexible and accommodative.
Immediately following the general elections in 2001, the Government embarked on implementing a firm but fair immigration policy. This has resulted in a marked fall in the number of refugees and immigrants entering the country. And this means that we have created the preconditions for effective and positive integration of our new fellow citizens.
One of the Government’s key objectives is that a greater number of new Danes find their way into education and training, as well as into the job market. Taking an education and getting a job are the best way to become integrated into Danish society.
Consequently, the Government has, among other things, strengthened the provision of Danish language instruction for bi-lingual children as well as their parents. Furthermore, we have made it more attractive for immigrants to take a job.
Most recently, in June, the Government reached an ambitious agreement with the Danish People’s Party and the Social Democrats on integration. There are, unfortunately, far too many young new Danes who do not take an education. With this agreement on integration, every young person will be offered an education or training programme that suits his or her abilities and qualifications.
For practically orientated young people, we shall introduce a new apprenticeship training scheme. A new way to follow a vocational training programme. We will intensify our efforts to secure work placements by rewarding enterprises and vocational training colleges that provide extra placements. We will reward municipalities that are adept at getting people with a non-Danish ethnic background into work. Furthermore, any person wishing to receive financial assistance will be required to make an active effort to find a job.
As society, we have a duty to ensure that the structures facilitating integration are in place. However, the individual foreigner who comes to Denmark also has a responsibility. Immigrants must also show a willingness to be integrated. We have, therefore, decided that all foreigners who are granted resident permits in Denmark must sign a contract. A contract in which they pledge to learn Danish, to make an active effort to seek work, and to respect the fundamental values of Danish society.
For a strong, cohesive society is also a society in which the individual citizen takes personal responsibility and does his or her very best to be part of the community.
During the summer we experienced deadly terrorist attacks in London. It is shocking that young people in the heart of a society that closely resembles ours can commit such a despicable act. It is shocking that they allow themselves to be so completely seduced by an ideology of hatred and evil.
This must never happen in Denmark. Immediately following the attacks in London, the Government initiated an extensive review of Denmark’s homeland security and anti-terrorism preparedness. The aim is to clarify what additional initiatives may need to be implemented in order to prevent a terrorist attack in Denmark. The nature of the threats is continuously changing. It may be necessary to consider tougher measures that we have previously been reluctant to introduce.
The working group is due to submit its report to the Government before the end of October, after which we should, as soon as possible, have wide-ranging discussions here in the Folketing regarding our overall counter-terrorism strategy and the new initiatives that need to be implemented.
The terrorists have abused Islam to justify their heinous crimes. Prominent Moslems, therefore, have a particular responsibility for promoting understanding of the values of democracy and an open society. As role models and as leaders setting an example. Each person has the right to believe and think what he or she wants. But there must not be the slightest doubt that terrorism or any other form of political and religious violence is completely and altogether unacceptable.
Voters in France and the Netherlands turned down the EU Constitutional Treaty. The 25 EU Member States have subsequently taken a pause for reflection. A period of time to be used for a broad debate about the future of the EU.
The debate on whether to say Yes or No to the EU belongs to the past.
The EU is here. The EU is here to stay. The EU is the framework for cooperation among the countries of Europe.
It is the future that is important now.
The EU is and has been a huge success. The challenge now is to make the EU even better. Better at performing the tasks which Europeans are interested in on an everyday basis.
And that does not include treaties and articles and processes.
Europeans are interested in employment, in security and safety and in economic progress.
We must enhance Europe’s ability to prevail in the face of fierce international competition. We must become better at creating new jobs in Europe. That is why we must continue to develop the Single Market. That is why we must modernise the EU budget. We need more investment in research, development and education, and fewer subsidies for agriculture and regions.
We must intensify the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration. Therefore, we need closer police cooperation and closer cooperation regarding control of the EU’s external borders.
And we must enhance the influence of Europeans on what takes place in the World at large. Therefore, we in the EU must become better at formulating and pursuing a common approach to foreign and security policy.
In Denmark, the Parliamentary European Affairs Committee is responsible for the planning of a broad and popular debate on the EU in the months ahead. This will be undertaken in cooperation with the EU movements at grassroots level. I look forward to the debate, and I hope that as many people as possible will be actively committed to it, so that the EU may continue as the framework for successful cooperation to the benefit of both Danes and all other Europeans.
At the weekend, we learnt that a Danish soldier had lost his life in Iraq. He died as a result of a despicable and cowardly terrorist attack. It is tragic. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy go to the dead soldier’s relatives, and also to the three other soldiers who were wounded in the attack.
Our soldiers in Iraq are doing a highly commendable job in helping the Iraqis to live in freedom, peace and progress. It is a difficult task. It is a difficult process. For groups of fanatics are trying to block the path to democracy with acts and threats of terrorism. People who resort to these atrocities must not be allowed to succeed.
However, in spite of the anger and grief we feel at the loss we have suffered, we must look at the positive aspect that the Iraqis for the first time ever are able to take decisions on the future of their own country in a democratic manner. It is now up to the Iraqi population to approve or reject the new draft Constitution. We have to face the fact that terrorists will do their utmost to wreck the referendum and the subsequent elections in December.
Even though our partners and we are doing everything in our power to train the Iraqi forces to become stronger and more effective, they cannot yet cope with the challenge on their own. A few weeks ago, I met the Iraqi President, Mr Talabani. He thanked me for the Danish presence in Iraq, and he warned against setting any deadlines for the withdrawal of the international force. That would play into the hands of the terrorists. The Danish Government fully shares that view. If we waver when the terrorists detonate bombs, we do in fact strengthen the terrorists.
We should welcome a string of democratic reforms and popular demands for more influence. Elections in Afghanistan. Elections in Palestine. Elections in Egypt. Elections in Lebanon. And elections in Iraq.
These are nascent democracies. They do not yet meet our standards of democracy. But they are going down the right path. And we must rejoice at that. For democracies are more peaceful than dictatorships. And people in all countries are entitled to freedom and democracy.
We must facilitate this development. That is why we help Afghanistan with soldiers and money. That is why we help Iraq with soldiers and money. And that is why we help a number of Arab countries with democratic reforms. The so-called Arab Initiative.
Denmark must contribute actively to fostering and securing freedom, peace and democracy in the Middle East. I hope there will continue to be broad support for this in the Folketing.
Globalisation has brought enormous progress to the Third World. Many developing countries are making great strides forward. Liberal reforms and increasing free trade on a global basis have led to impressive growth in China, India and other places in Asia. Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty.
Unfortunately, however, Africa has not experienced the same progress as the rest of the World. Far too many Africans suffer from extreme poverty and hopelessness. Especially in the sub-Saharan part of Africa, where millions of people are continuously exposed to famine, disease and war. In the UN, it is our goal to halve poverty and famine by 2015. If Africa is to reach that goal, there is a need for major efforts on the part of the rest of the World.
Therefore, the Government has put Africa at the top of the development policy agenda for the next five years.
The bulk of Danish bilateral assistance to developing countries goes to Africa. We will identify a new programme country – and it will be in Africa. Next week I will visit two of our major programme countries in Africa - Tanzania and Mozambique. The point of my visits is to see good examples of ways in which Danish development assistance improves the living conditions of Africans.
Also at the UN Summit last month, the Danish Government worked actively for placing special focus on Africa. We did not achieve as much as we would have liked in all areas. However, important decisions were taken. Decisions to raise rich countries’ assistance to Africa, and to intensify efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.
Denmark is in the forefront in the fight to reduce poverty and to promote development. Indeed, this summer a highly esteemed international think-tank ranked Denmark at the very top of the league table of the world’s richest countries with respect to total international development assistance.
We must combat poverty because human decency requires it. Because global sustainable development requires it. And because every single person should have hope, chances and opportunities in life.
Cooperation within the Unity of the Realm between Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands is making highly successful progress. It is a process in which the people in the Faroe Islands and Greenland will assume increasing responsibility for the development of their societies.
The Faroese and Greenland Home Rule Governments may now, on behalf of the Realm, negotiate and enter into agreements under international law with sovereign states and international organisations. Both Greenland and the Faroe Islands have already made use of this new possibility and have signed agreements with Norway and Iceland, respectively.
The Faroe Islands have been given a far-reaching opportunity to assume responsibility for a vast number of new areas. The decision of speed and scope regarding this will rest with the Faroese authorities. With respect to Greenland, the Government looks forward to the findings of the work carried out by the Greenland-Danish Self-Government Commission on ways in which to expand Greenland self-government within the Unity of the Realm.
In other words, work on the innovation and modernisation of the Unity of the Realm will continue.
We are now embarking on a new Parliamentary Session. The Government wishes to invite all the parties of the Folketing to participate in broad cooperation on the legislative programme that we are introducing today.
The background to the very first Bill is altogether special and joyful.
Earlier this year, the Royal Court announced that the Crown Prince and Crown Princess are expecting a child this October. Bearing in mind this joyful event, I said in my speech on Constitution Day that we should amend the Act of Succession in order to ensure complete equality between men and women, also when it is a matter of ascending the Throne. To the Government, this is an important matter of principle.
I have discussed the issue with the parties of the Folketing. As expected, there is broad support in the Folketing in favour of ensuring gender equality. I am very pleased about that. And together with the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, we all look forward to the happy event.
Allow me to propose that we commence the work of the Folketing with three cheers for Denmark.
Long live Denmark!