Speech

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s opening address to the Folketing (the Danish Parliament) Tuesday 5 October 2004

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Denmark is prospering.

We have a solid economy. One of the strongest economies in Europe. We have a record surplus on our balance of payments. The public finances surplus is among the largest in Europe. Public debts have been reduced by more than DKK 17 billion since 2001. And the interest rate is very low.

Solid surplus figures. Reduction of debts. While, at the same time, taxes have been cut.

We introduced a tax freeze on the day this Government took office. And we have maintained it. The tax freeze has now lasted for 1043 days. Indeed, we have gone even further. This year, we have granted tax reductions amounting to nearly DKK 10 billion.

A tax freeze and tax reductions. And we have achieved this while, at the same time, we have implemented welfare improvements. Since 2001, public expenditures have expanded by DKK 13 billion. This money has especially been spent on increasing welfare. Furthermore, the number of staff engaged in providing welfare has increased. Today, there are 14,000 more public sector employees than three years ago.

The unemployment rate has begun falling. Employment is on the rise, and next year employment will be higher than ever before.

The Government's policy of tax reductions and the Spring Package is making a positive impact. We are on the right track.

We are prospering. And we shall prosper even more if we stick to the course that the Government has set out.

General expectations of the future are bright. A growing number of companies have a positive outlook on economic prospects and employment. And the Danes' confidence in the economic development is excellent.

There is plenty of optimism in Denmark.

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Danish society is in the strongest position ever to meet the challenges of the future.

And challenges abound. But it is exactly when things are going well that we must address the issue of securing Danish society so that coming generations will be able to experience continued progress, security and welfare.

Probably the greatest challenge is the one known by the slightly alienating term 'globalisation'.

We currently see parts of our manufacturing and our jobs move eastward to countries where wages are significantly lower than in Denmark.

However, we cannot and must not compete on wages with countries like China and Poland, nor should we erect artificial barriers. This will only make us poorer.

Instead, we must create new jobs by competing on skills, so that the jobs we lose to low-wage countries are replaced by good, well-paid jobs.

When others are cheaper, we must be better.

We must improve our ability to create new jobs. We must make Denmark an entrepreneurial society on the cutting edge. We must research, generate new knowledge and conceive new ideas. And we must transform new knowledge and new ideas into growth and jobs.

However, we must also maintain security for the individual. In times past, a secure position on the labour market was connected with a permanent job and a long term of notice. These days, job security is also a matter of knowledge, qualifications and the ability to adapt to new situations.

Today, it is no longer enough to complete an education and then assume that this will be sufficient for the rest of one's life. We must constantly upgrade our skills. We must be able to meet new demands and adapt to new jobs when old ones disappear.

Embracing change is the way to security.

There must, therefore, be improved opportunities for undergoing relevant retraining and supplementary education. For skilled as well as unskilled labour. For those with a long education as well as for early school leavers. For those who work with cutting-edge technologies as well as those who work within traditional trades. This applies to everybody.

This is a common responsibility. It is the responsibility of public authorities, commercial enterprises and employees alike.

The Government has therefore, together with the labour market parties, initiated a joint project on ways in which to foster a significant improvement of adult and supplementary education.

It is my hope that all the parties of the Folketing will support this long-term plan and the legislation to follow up on this effort.

Tomorrow's challenges require us to improve our entire education system. The Government has already implemented a number of key reforms of primary and lower-secondary education, upper-secondary education, vocational education and training and university education in order to raise the academic standard.

However, we are of the opinion that much remains to be done. Within, among other areas, primary and lower-secondary education. It is no use that some schools still use outdated textbooks and educational material. It is entirely hopeless if it is true that some primary and lower-secondary schools still use atlases with maps that show the borders of the former Soviet Union. This is simply not acceptable for a generation which, in some years, must wrestle with the challenges of globalisation.

Primary and lower-secondary education must receive a boost. Over the coming four years, we shall add a total of approximately DKK 2.3 billion. For more classroom teaching, for textbooks, for upgrade of classroom facilities, for computers, and for supplementary education of teachers.

However, additional funding in itself will not do the job. Because we already have the world's most expensive elementary and lower-secondary education system. The crucial factor is teaching. The crucial issue is ensuring that all pupils leave school with solid academic skills.

We must ensure that our children and young people learn something useful. This is why we have introduced obligatory benchmark targets for pupils' knowledge and skills at certain levels in primary and lower-secondary education. And we wish to provide schools with better possibilities for testing performance against the benchmark targets. In order to strengthen knowledge of key parts of Danish literature, a canon list of authors to which pupils must be introduced in school will now be published.

New curricula for upper-secondary education will be issued.
We shall propose strengthened academic focus within teacher's training and that of educators.
And we shall present a bill proposing that the individual educational institutions must publish their targets and performance results, including the number of students actually completing their education and the number of students that find employment after they have graduated.

In other words, we must believe that it makes a difference whether our children learn something, and that it is by no means without significance what they learn.

And, no! this is not a step back into the past. This is an investment in the future.

Danes are good at innovation. However, our performance is less striking when we consider our ability to turn ideas into growth and employment.

The road from research to commercial reality must be shorter, simpler and speedier.

Therefore, new legislation is to provide universities and research centres with the possibility for establishing commercial enterprises. Commercial enterprises which, with the findings of researchers, are able to initiate production together with private sector partners at a professional level.

The Government intends to present proposals for the establishment of innovation laboratories, where students and researchers are able to test and develop new products and business concepts. Incubators that are to support the development from invention to employment.

We intend to set up an entrepreneur fund that is to be able raise venture capital for new enterprises. We shall establish a special, favourable loan financing scheme for entrepreneurs. We co-operate with pension funds on making more funding available for investment in new enterprises.

In addition, we have set up a think tank on future growth, which is to produce proposals on ways for Denmark to generate a living in the future.

Denmark must be on the technological cutting edge. Therefore, the Government will establish a special foundation of high-technology. We intend to focus the financing activities of the foundation on providing funds for ambitious research and development in areas where there are opportunities for generating lasting future employment.

The initial target is to accumulate DKK 16 billion in the foundation. In addition to this, we shall allocate almost DKK 10 billion for research on next year's Appropriations Act. And we shall accept an additional 500 students per year into the education as researchers, in order to be able to train a new generation of young competent researchers.

However, the Government wants to venture even beyond this. We have a vision of Denmark as a leading knowledge-based society. We shall make significant increases to the efforts within research and development. And we shall make further improvement to education programmes. Next spring, the Government will present a multi-year plan for Denmark to achieve a position as a leading growth society, knowledge society and entrepreneurial society.

We set the goal that the public sector and private companies together step up the research and development efforts, so that by 2010 we spend an amount corresponding to more than three per cent of the country's total production, our gross domestic product. This will place Denmark among the leading countries in Europe with respect to research and development.

This is a great challenge, but a challenge we can meet. Our economy is sound, and we have demonstrated before that we are able to adapt.

I understand very well if many people are concerned about the ongoing debate about jobs moving to Eastern Europe and Asia. However, we are able to transform globalisation from being a threat to being an opportunity if we act wisely. If we improve our skills. If we act now. And act we must.

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Since the change of government in November 2001, the Government has gradually innovated and developed the Danish welfare state. A change which has gone hand in hand with safety, security and peace of mind. The Government will now continue its efforts to innovate, develop and foster growth and prosperity in the Danish society.

We put the individual first – not the system. We are not constrained by the need to give special consideration to organisations or movements. Instead, we tackle things in an unprejudiced way and seek to create the optimal framework conditions for the Danish population.

· We have agreed a municipal reform that gives the individual citizen better value for money. We are strengthening local democracy through strong, sustainable municipalities. We are strengthening the municipalities by giving them more tasks and responsibilities.

This is the largest and most important reform of the public sector for many years. A reform that must ensure continued improvements in public service. For the sick. For the disabled and the vulnerable. For the unemployed. And for everyone else.

The reform affects thousands of employees. To all of you, I emphasise and repeat: every employee will follow their tasks into the new structure. We need your expertise and motivation to perform the many important tasks. The Government places a high priority on job security and peace of mind for the employees.

Throughout the country, a sweeping trend is currently taking place. Denmark’s geography is changing appearance daily. Many municipalities have decided to merge. And others are on the way to doing so. Throughout the country, we see an optimism and willingness to embrace change and to think along new lines. It is a wave of change that shows that the municipal reform is the right solution at the right time. It bodes well for the future.

I am pleased with the agreement we have reached. It is broad in its content. And it enjoys broad support among the country’s local politicians. Unfortunately, however, there are parties in the Folketing that have chosen to remain outside the agreement. Parties that normally like to be perceived as responsible and reformist.

The local politicians have the willingness and the courage to embrace change. They deserve the broad backing of the Folketing. I therefore hope that there will be broad support for the bills we intend to put forward. The Government wishes to offer everyone another opportunity to show that they are willing to share responsibility and play an active part.

· We will continue to innovate and improve our hospitals. The treatment of diseases and illnesses at Danish hospitals must be second to none. And waiting lists must disappear or be made as short as possible.

We have injected over DKK 3 billion into hospitals from 2002 to 2005. And it is having an effect. As of now, 70,000 more patients each year are being operated on in our hospitals than when the Government took office. More doctors and nurses have been recruited. And waiting lists have been cut significantly.

We have given all citizens – regardless of the size of their wallet – the right to choose to be treated at a private hospital in Denmark or at a hospital abroad if the waiting time at the public hospitals is too long. This choice has helped over 37,000 patients to start receiving treatment for their illness more quickly. 37,000 Danes who have had their quality of life improved. 37,000 Danes who have benefited from this Government’s confrontation with the ideological barriers of the past.

The next step is to improve the quality of the treatment given even more. In conjunction with the municipal reform, we are creating five strong health care regions, which will be geared to deliver top-quality service. By gathering treatment of specific diseases and illnesses in one place. By better utilising the opportunities to treat special diseases. And by better utilising the staff resources available.

We need to improve the treatment of cancer. And a number of initiatives have already been implemented. However, it is our desire to raise the quality of cancer treatment even further. We will therefore act swiftly to implement the recommendations of the National Board of Health’s Steering Group on Cancer Treatment. And the Government will present a new Action Plan for Cancer Treatment. The aim is to raise cancer treatment at Danish hospitals to the highest international level.

· We must continue to improve our care of the elderly. The Government will therefore propose special and extra measures to help elderly medical patients.

We have introduced freedom of choice of home care services and sheltered housing. Each year, an additional DKK 500 million will be allocated to municipalities for the provision of elderly care services. More sheltered homes will be built.

And more than 170,000 elderly people will now be offered an elderly cash allowance. Of these, 150,000 will receive the full amount.

The next step is to provide better conditions for many elderly patients entering our hospitals. We have focused a great deal on waiting times and complicated diseases and illnesses. And this has produced positive results. Our intention now is to place greater focus on the many elderly medical patients suffering from more common diseases such as diabetes and respiratory disorders. In the 2005 Budget, the Government has allocated a total of DKK 210 million towards initiatives benefiting elderly medical patients.

· We will continue our efforts to get immigrants into employment and into education and training, and in general better integrated in Danish society. The Government will therefore forestall the creation of ghettos in cities. In addition, more immigrants must take vocational training courses.

We have tightened our immigration policy. And it is working. The number of residence permits issued each year is no longer over 17,000. Instead, the number has now been more than halved to around 7,000.

Before the last election, we promised to pursue a firm but fair immigration policy. We have done that, and we will continue to do so.

Then there is also the issue of the 24-year rule. The rule that says one must be at least 24 years old before being eligible for family reunification here in Denmark. This rule is necessary. Firstly, in order to protect young girls from entering into an unhappy forced marriage or arranged marriage. And secondly, in order to ensure proper integration.

There are parties that wish to abolish the 24-year rule. On the grounds that it contravenes international conventions and human rights. The Government strongly rejects this criticism. The 24-year rule does not conflict with any convention. It is true that we pursue a tight immigration policy. But this policy is fully in harmony with our international obligations. There is no basis for criticism.

The criticism against the 24-year rule covers in reality the desire of the opposition parties to relax the immigration policy. There are parties that say: “It doesn’t matter whether 4,000 foreigners or 10,000 foreigners arrive in Denmark as a result of family reunification.

I would like to state clearly: the Government completely disagrees with this viewpoint. It does matter how many immigrants come to Denmark. We must be unflinching in pursuing a tight immigration policy. Only in doing so will we be able to ensure training and job opportunities for the immigrants already in the country.

Unfortunately, only 40 per cent of immigrants and their offspring have a job today. This is one of the lowest percentages in the whole of Europe. The remaining 60 percent are either on cash benefit or unemployment benefit.

It is difficult for new arrivals who lack qualifications or are unable to speak Danish to gain a foothold in the labour market. Among other things, we demand high theoretical qualifications from those wishing to embark on a practical training programme – demands that in particular affect immigrants and their offspring. It is like being asked to climb a ladder of which the bottom rung is missing.

We must make a concerted effort to create more practical-based ways for gaining admission to a greater number of training and education programmes. We must give people the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do in practice before they embark on an education or training programme. One way to do this is through a so-called trainee scheme that DS Trade and Industry and Danish Metal Workers’ Union are in the process of introducing. The Government welcomes such initiatives and calls on others to follow the good example. For our part, we will examine all public employment sectors in order to create similar opportunities.

Particularly young people must be offered the opportunity for something better than cash benefit. We must offer them trainee jobs, preliminary traineeships, apprentice schemes and the like instead of cash benefit. It should not be possible at all to get cash benefit if there are good opportunities to get such training places. Being in training or education is better than getting cash benefit. We do young people a favour by demanding that they take up something which offers them a future. And naturally this applies to all young people.

Unfortunately, we see also another factor behind poor integration. There are certain spiritual leaders, imams and muftis who fight integration with their statements denigrating women, their legalistic religious demands of the rising generation and their reactionary teaching.

I know that only a very small minority of Moslems in this country share the mediaeval outlook of these imams and muftis. However, it does concern me that these fanatical religious leaders contribute to creating division and to provoking confrontation in Denmark.

I would like to engage in a positive dialogue with the groups of immigrants who respect the values on which Danish society is built. Who want to integrate, who want to improve their educational and training qualifications, and who want to find a job. I would therefore like to take the initiative to gather representatives of these immigrant groups for a meeting at Marienborg this autumn. At this meeting, we will discuss with immigrant representatives how we can improve the opportunities for promoting employment, education and training as well as integration.

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The Government will present a number of additional initiatives:

· We will give families with children better opportunities to plan their working and family life. We will therefore propose a child-care guarantee for children when they reach the age of six months. It cannot be right that in 2004 there are still municipalities that do not offer proper child-care provision. Therefore, we will have to legislate in order to bring the last few municipalities in line with the rest. This will give families greater security and peace of mind. And this will also give parents a genuinely free choice as to whether they wish to use their entire maternity or paternity leave all at once or return to work on a part-time or full-time basis. In addition, we propose more freedom in the choice of child-care.

· We will strengthen efforts to help the most vulnerable groups. We therefore propose a special effort to help socially marginalised individuals to find work. We will offer health and social services specifically targeted at, for example, the homeless and also former drug abusers.

· And we will expand the health care and social services offered to the far too many people who today have a very serious alcohol problem. Each abuser must be able to receive treatment quickly when the abuser is ready for it. The aim is to offer a guarantee of treatment to alcohol abusers.

· We will improve security and legal protection through the continued pursuance of a firm justice policy. The Government therefore proposes to extend police powers to use the DNA register in connection with the investigation of crimes. DNA profiles are the fingerprints of today’s world. They increase the chances of identifying the guilty and acquitting the innocent.

· We wish to adopt a tougher stance against those who drink and drive. Drunk driving is reckless behaviour. Alcohol is responsible for approximately one in four deaths and around one in six injuries on the road. We therefore wish to introduce harsher sentences for drunk driving – in the form of higher fines and longer prison sentences, as well as deprivation of driving licence and confiscation of vehicle.

· We wish to pursue a more forward-looking environmental policy. The Government therefore proposes more nature projects for the benefit of humans, animals and plants. We wish to improve waterways and river valleys as viable habitats for threatened species. We wish to recreate former lakes. We wish to protect raised bogs. We wish to create new green areas close to cities, where many people can enjoy woodland and countryside areas. And we wish to promote the use of more environmentally friendly fuels. The Government will therefore lower the tax on sulphur-free petrol and diesel.

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Today, after the enlargement with 10 new countries joining, the EU constitutes the framework for cooperation among European countries. It is in the EU that the crucial decisions are taken regarding the future of Europe. Denmark must be part of this, fully and completely.

We must use all our efforts to make Denmark’s influence in the new EU as great as possible. Instead of the constant quarrels for and against the EU, we must present proposals and new ideas. We must not adopt a defensive and backward-looking position just deducting 10 or 20 per cent from proposals tabled by others. We must forge alliances with other partners to promote views and proposals that will move the EU and Europe in the direction we wish to go.

The Government has pursued this course from day one, and with great success. During the Danish EU Presidency, we managed to reach agreement on the enlargement of the EU. Our proposals for a common and active EU policy towards our new neighbours have also been adopted. And we are in the front line with respect to reforming and strengthening the European economy so that Europe in future can create jobs and ensure welfare for its citizens.

We intend to hold this course. Most recently, we launched a proposal to double the EU action within research and development. We wish to create an internal market for research, development and education so that the EU can become a leading knowledge-based economy in the world. We have presented specific ideas for strengthened and effective cooperation to protect our citizens against the effects of terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

The new Treaty will provide the EU with the necessary framework for developing this cooperation. We will get a better Treaty. This is necessary for the enlarged EU to function efficiently, and it is more democratic. The new Treaty presents a clear description of the division of labour in the EU, more influence for national parliaments, greater transparency and a strengthening of citizens’ rights in relation to the EU.

In this country, we shall have a referendum on the new Treaty. The Government considers it of great importance that there should be plenty of time for thorough information and debate prior to the referendum. And there will be ample time, as the new Treaty will not come into force until 1 November 2006.

The first step implies an effort to conclude a national agreement on the Treaty. The Government has invited all interested political parties to enter into negotiations on this agreement. The objective is to establish the broadest possible foundation for a proactive Danish policy in the EU in the years ahead.

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Denmark has prospects of becoming a member of the UN Security Council the next two years. For Denmark to be elected will be a major recognition of our country’s international profile and security policy involvement. It is a great responsibility. And it is a unique opportunity to acquire influence.

The Government considers it of crucial importance to continuously develop international law through the UN. We wish to strengthen the UN and the UN Security Council.

International terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are some of the gravest threats to the security of our citizens. Therefore, it is very important that all countries participate in the fight against terrorism. Denmark will work for that within the Security Council. Therefore, we are making an effort to secure the chairmanship of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee.

The work of the Security Council will be affected by the many conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

Africa must not be allowed to become a lost continent. The richest countries in the world must join forces to lift the African Continent out of its present poverty and destitution. We must help Africa to replace wretchedness and despair with progress and hope.

There is a need for comprehensive action to solve military conflicts. To handle refugee problems. To ensure democracy and good governance. To create better conditions for trade. To stimulate economic development and to combat AIDS.

Over the forthcoming months, the Government will present an overall Africa policy as the framework for more coherent and targeted Danish action.

AIDS is the greatest single threat to the African population. The fight against AIDS is the area where an extra effort will make a serious difference. The Government has, therefore, proposed an extraordinary grant for the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2005.

We wish to strengthen the effort to help the poor countries in the world to improve environmental and health standards. Therefore, the Government proposes that, in our development assistance, we attach greater importance to the environment, clean water, better sanitation, and the fight against infectious diseases.

Nowhere is there greater distress than among the millions of refugees who drag out a miserable and hopeless existence on the African Continent. The Government’s position is clear: refugees must be helped as close to their homes as possible. There we can help in the best way, and there we can help the greatest number of people. The Government will, therefore, strengthen the action to assist refugees where they are.

The Middle East remains a key hotbed of terrorism and unrest. We have to face that. The Government has, consequently, launched a Wider Middle East Initiative aiming to further modernisation and democratisation in the Arab World. This is why the Government supports the establishment of a sustainable and independent Palestinian State. And this is why we shall continue our efforts in Iraq.

Many ask themselves:

Why are we participating so actively in the fight against terrorism?
What are Danish soldiers doing in Afghanistan?
And why is Denmark still in Iraq?

I understand these questions to some extent. For it would, on the face of it, seem so much easier if we just stayed away. If we stayed at home. If we minded our own business.

But it would be going down the wrong path. Make no mistake about it. The situation in distant countries also affects our lives in Europe. Democracy in Iraq will show all Arabs that there is another path than that of oppression, terror and tyranny. Democracy in Iraq will, therefore, contribute to greater security in Europe. Peace in Iraq will contribute to safety in Europe.

If the Free World gives up in Iraq now, it will give extremists and terrorists a free rein. And they will not stop at the borders of Iraq. Therefore, we must help the Iraqi people to build a free and peaceful and modern Iraq. Therefore, we must assist the Iraqi Government in establishing more stability and security. Therefore, we must, together with the UN, secure and protect the process towards democratic elections in Iraq.

And, therefore, I am pleased to find broad support in the Folketing for extending the Danish forces’ action in Iraq.

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We shall continue to innovate and modernise the Unity of the Realm. Influence, co-responsibility, cooperation are the key words in a modern community. This is also the view behind the Government’s wish to innovate the Unity of the Realm with the Faroe Islands and Greenland: a collaborating Unity of the Realm in tune with the times.

Influence and cooperation are the objective of the Government’s proposal for granting foreign policy authority to the Faroe Islands and Greenland. It will enable the Home Rule Governments to play an independent foreign policy role on behalf of the Realm with regard to their own affairs.

The Faroese Lagmand (Premier) and I have reached agreement on seeking to implement legislation that will give the Faroese authorities the possibility of assuming responsibility for a vast number of new areas.

They are areas of great importance to the individual citizen, such as the legal system, prison and probation service, family law and immigration affairs. The limit to these areas will depend exclusively on the framework provided by the Constitution and the Unity of the Realm.

The decision of speed and scope regarding the assumption of responsibility for these areas will rest with the Faroe Islands. It will be a fundamental principle that the assumption of new areas of responsibility goes hand in hand with responsibility for the economy.

The Government and the Greenland Home Rule Government have set up a parliamentary commission, which is to submit proposals for ways in which the Greenland authorities can assume responsibility for more areas. Also in this respect, we have taken the first steps towards innovating relations between Greenland and Denmark, within the framework of the Constitution and the Unity of the Realm.

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We are now entering the fourth parliamentary session since the Government came into office with new aims and objectives for Danish society.

We have delivered on the promises we made before the general election in 2001. Indeed, we have more than delivered.

Once again, we shall embark on a new, busy sessional year of the Folketing

We have a fine political tradition in Denmark. We can disagree; some times we can even disagree vehemently. However, we usually endeavour to give consideration to the opposite party. And we endeavour to achieve broad political agreements.

I am pleased that we have succeeded in concluding broad political agreements between the Government and the political parties in the Folketing. Since the general election in November 2001, a broad majority in the Folketing has passed approximately 80 per cent of all legislation.

And it is not a question of minor legislation. There are broad majorities behind a number of great reforms: the primary and lower secondary education reform, the upper secondary education reform, the university reform, the multi-year agreement regarding vocational education and training, the defence agreement, the agreement on “More People in Employment”, agreements on the North Sea and on energy. And these are only some of the major agreements.

Of course, it is not an aim in itself to have broad majorities behind the laws. What is most important is, naturally, that we implement the right and necessary measures. It is, however, an obvious advantage if we, at the same time, succeed in bringing together a broad segment of the political spectrum behind significant reforms.

The Government will make an effort to achieve this in the forthcoming session of the Folketing.

We shall invite all the parties of the Folketing to participate in broad cooperation.

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

Long Live Denmark!