Speech

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's opening address to The Danish Parliament (the Folketing) Tuesday 4 December 2001

The general election on 20 November was an historic event. Not only because the election brought about a marked change to the majority and the relative weight of the parties in the Folketing, but first and foremost because the voters sent a clear message for renewal of Danish society.

The election was a showdown with the traditional division of politics into a left and a right wing. It was a showdown with the traditional classification of people according to their trade, educational background or social group. It was a showdown with the division between “them and us". It was a showdown with the class struggle.

With their vote, the electorate gave expression to their demand for new goals for Danish society. A society in which the community is based on the sharing of certain values and attitudes. A society in which there is a shared responsibility for solving a number of tasks. Also a society, however, in which the individual has greater freedom and a wider range of options.

The outcome of the election was the formation of a new Government. The new Government has presented a comprehensive Government platform. The platform is very precise. It contains the items which the two parties in the new Government presented in the election campaign. It contains a number of initiatives which the Government intends to launch immediately. At the same time, it contains perspectives that reach years into the future.

Through this platform, the Government sets out four clear goals for the development and renewal of Danish society.

First, we want a society that places humans above the system. The individual must have greater freedom to shape his or her life. We must do away with rigid systems which seek to control individuals and impose uniformity.

Second, we want a society that takes more and better care of the most vulnerable groups in our society. The strength and resources of the welfare society must to a higher extent focus on helping the vulnerable, those who are unable to help themselves. There must be freedom to take initiatives and accept a risk. However, there must also be a strong social safety net to help us if we slip and fall.

Third, we want to develop and reinforce investment in Denmark's future. It is absolutely central to create more jobs and generate more production in the private sector. It is in this way that we are to generate the funding for improvement and development of the welfare society. This must further be backed by public investments. However, Denmark's future also implies improved conditions for families and improved quality of life, environmental improvements, better education and more culture.

Fourth, we want Denmark to make an open commitment to and assume a share of the responsibility for securing freedom and peace in the World. We are proud of the values on which Danish society is based. It is the consciousness of our Danish roots that must give us Danes the strength for international commitment. True to our own values, we must be open to new impulses from outside.

With these goals as navigation marks, the Government intends to create reform, development and improvement of the Danish welfare society. Here at the beginning of a new century, the Government wants to shape the vision of the welfare model of the future. A welfare model in which the community assumes the responsibility for solving a number of tasks. However, it must also be a welfare model in which the individual has the freedom to choose for him or herself the solution that suits them best. A welfare model, in which we Danes are at the forefront, and know how to perform well internationally.

The Government wants to give priority to the individual before the system, and offer the individual greater freedom to make his or her own choice.

Therefore the Government proposes that the elderly should be granted a free choice of eldercare, nursing home and other residential sheltered homes for the elderly. Obviously, one must have the right to continue to live together with one's spouse. We must create a better feeling of security. We must do away with the patronising treatment of the elderly that has crept into many areas of the system.

We must never allow care to become a “one size fits all" formula.

We need to listen to the people that are involved in the daily care for the elderly. When home-helpers tell us that it has almost become a criminal offence to show human compassion, the system has gone terribly astray. This is the time to set the system straight and say, “the human needs of the elderly take priority."

The Government intends to strengthen public hospitals. Unlimited, equal and free access for everybody to the best treatment the health care system offers is a crucial issue for the Government. Therefore, the Government wants to allocate an additional DKK 1.5 billion to fund a targeted effort to reduce the waiting lists.

At the same time, the Government proposes that patients should be granted a free choice of hospital if the public hospitals are unable to offer treatment or an operation within two months. The patients are also to be granted the right to choose a private hospital or a hospital in another country at no cost to the individual patient.

The Government wants to offer wage earners greater freedom to choose on the labour market. Therefore the Government intends to grant wage earners the opportunity to take out unemployment insurance from independent unemployment funds. Furthermore, the Government wants to secure by statute the right of a wage earner and an employer to enter freely into mutual agreement on part time work.

Humans above the system. This also applies to the administration of justice. The Government wants the court system to reflect to a much greater extent the respect for the life of the individual. Therefore, the Government will submit proposals for higher maximum penalties for, among other offences, assault and battery as well as rape. It is the Government's opinion that the sentences handed down by the courts in assault and battery and rape cases are generally too lenient. Higher maximum penalties send a clear signal to the judiciary to tighten the courts' practice.

Crimes against humans are much graver than offences against capital. Assault on the bodily integrity of the individual, particularly a heinous crime such as rape, is a crime against the very foundation of our society, which is respect for the individual.

The Government, therefore, proposes a reform of the criminal code. The reform will aim at a general update of maximum penalties. The penalties for various crimes must to a higher degree reflect today's conception of law.

Furthermore, the Government wishes to improve the legal rights of the individual. We shall, therefore, set up a legal protection commission. It will have one year to complete its work. Subsequently, the Government will present a broad range of proposals for improving procedural safeguards for our citizens.

Placing humans above the system, respect for the individual and the right to decide one's own life will be guiding principles for this Government. To us it is not of decisive importance whether the individual citizen receives the necessary help and service from the public sector or private contractors. It is not of decisive importance who carries out a given assignment, but what we as citizens receive of service and benefits for our tax money.

The Government will strengthen the action to help the most vulnerable groups in our society.

In the Government's opinion there is a need for stronger efforts to help the homeless, the mentally ill, drug addicts and other substance abusers. The Government wants to strengthen our shared responsibility for the most vulnerable groups in society. We shall earmark more resources for the homeless, the mentally ill and the group of the weakest handicapped, and for the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse.

The Government wants the welfare society to focus on the conditions of its most vulnerable members.

It is characteristic that largely all groups in Danish society have their own advocates. These are often large and efficient organisations, which are skilful and highly professional at formulating a political agenda for the benefit of the group they represent. This is all very well.

However, it has come at a price. The most vulnerable members of our society have all too often been forgotten and overlooked. The reason is that they have no organisation to champion their cause. No grand head office. No highly paid director. This means that there is a risk that the most vulnerable members of society are pushed into the background when funds are allocated and goals are set.

The Government intends to bring about a fundamental change in this area.

At all times it must be the primary task of the welfare society to help and support the most vulnerable members of the community.

The Government intends to draft an action programme for concerted efforts to meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups. We need to strengthen the public effort, but we also need to harness the resources of the many voluntary organisations. Volunteers who in their daily lives and, quite literally, put in a tremendous effort round the clock. This may not appear very clearly in the modern media, but we can learn valuable lessons from their commitment. It is my clear ambition that we must both listen to and learn from the voluntary organisations.

In order to place greater focus on the most vulnerable groups in our society, the Government will establish a special social council to represent these groups. One might call it “the trade union of the most vulnerable". For they also have the right to have their own advocate. Therefore, the voluntary organisations must play a key role in this council. The council is to monitor the initiatives and efforts of the Folketing and the Government for the benefit of the most vulnerable groups, and contribute suggestions for ways in which to enhance and improve the efforts. Once a year, the council is to present an account which will be debated in the Folketing.

The Government intends to develop and strengthen investments in Denmark's future, both as concerns material improvements and increased quality of life for the individual.

If we are to be able to afford to maintain and improve our welfare, and generate a surplus to improve our care for the weakest members of our community, it demands a society in sustained growth and development.

The first prerequisite is that the economy is in order. The Government will pursue a tight fiscal policy and continue the stability oriented policy that has been applied since 1982, with the fixed DKK exchange rate as its pivotal point.

The next item is to turbo charge the development of the strongest possible framework for a fertile business environment in Denmark. We must create more jobs. We must generate more production. Furthermore, the public sector must follow suit with public investments.

A healthy and well functioning business sector must be the driving force behind generating a surplus for the Danish welfare society. We shall have no welfare without companies that make profits. It is that simple.

Employment is a central concern of the Government. This is the reason why we have set up a very powerful Ministry of Employment. The aim is to bring people into employment instead of languishing passively on transfer income. The Government intends to create the best imaginable conditions for companies to create more jobs in the coming years.

The Government intends to pursue a dynamic and growth orientated policy on business and trade. The key to employment growth is to improve the competitiveness of companies. The first step has been to sweep away the proposals for new taxes and levies which the previous Government had put forward for the 2002 Finance Act. The next step will be to implement a targeted easing of the levies charged to companies, within a DKK 500 million limit, in 2002. This effort will be followed up in the years ahead by further relief of the financial and administrative burdens.

The Government has declared a tax freeze. The tax freeze has been taken very literally. I am pleased with this because that was certainly the intention. It is in fact the intention that the tax freeze should lead to a novel way of thinking. We must abandon the mindset that dictates that every time we politicians come up with an idea, we can just invent yet another tax or turn the screw of charges and excises even tighter. This is now a thing of the past.

There must be more security. It must be possible to make decisions without fear of sudden tax increases. Instead we shall spend public revenue better and more efficient.

By setting up a new and strong Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs, the Government intends to signal a proactive and reinforced effort for trade and business. It is a precondition for economic prosperity and good competitiveness that we offer companies the best possible framework for creating new jobs. We need close co-operation with the business community in order to generate growth in Denmark.

There is close interrelation between knowledge, growth and welfare. Setting up the new Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation is therefore a clear message that the Government intends to make Denmark one of the leading countries in the field of high technology.

The great ambition behind the new Ministry is to reinforce research in Denmark and ensure that the research findings are applied as swiftly as possible in commercial production and generate wealth that benefits Danish society as a whole. The Government aims to forge a strong and short chain from the conception of an innovative idea to its practical application by a company. Therefore, the Government also intends to present an ambitious plan that aims to foster a higher number of entrepreneurs in Denmark.

We must review the tax system because entrepreneurship must offer rewards. We must do away with red tape and bureaucracy, to prevent the entrepreneurial spirit from suffocating under mountains of paperwork. We must offer better conditions for invention, research and development in private companies. Furthermore, the entire educational system must encourage a culture of self-reliance that makes young people want to strike out on their own.

We must reform our society so as to make room for initiative, innovation and invention.

We must reward those who ply their trade every day with diligence and care. Therefore, the Government will strive to find financing to reduce the tax on work as of 1 January 2004. Danes are industrious people. However, for some 200,000 Danes it does not pay to work. This is not acceptable. Today, some hundreds of thousand Danes have been excluded from active employment and forced into a life on passive transfer income. This is not acceptable.

We must reform our society so that it always pays to work. We must reform society so that also the weakest members are included and are given the chance to show that they can make an active contribution to society.

It is an important investment in the future that we sort out the Danish immigration policy. For several years we have seen a lax immigration policy, something that now puts Danish society under strain. It is a problem that half the immigrants in Denmark are without a job. It is a problem that there are groups of young second generation immigrants that are now involved in serious crime. Several of them reject the values on which Danish society is based, and they refuse to be integrated into Danish society.

We have to face the facts. We must tighten our immigration policy. Otherwise a deepening chasm will open between the population groups in Danish society. Denmark is characterised by a peaceful and harmonious population. We want it to be like that also in future. It is not that we must all be alike, of course not. There must be freedom for diversity. However, we must build a strong society which shares certain fundamental values and attitudes.

The Government's manifesto outlined the tightening measures that will be proposed. Within a short time the Government will present a more detailed proposal. This proposal will be discussed with representatives of the municipalities. Subsequent to this, the Government will submit a Bill to the Folketing, no later than 1 March.

The aim is to reduce the number of foreigners that enter Denmark. On the other hand, the Government intends to intensify its efforts to get immigrants into employment.

The Government will tighten the Aliens Act on a number of counts. The rules governing asylum will be tightened, so that we only grant asylum to refugees that meet the terms of international conventions. The legal right to family reunion will be abolished. Permanent residence permit may only be obtained after seven years' legal stay in Denmark, and the policy towards various criminal asylum seekers will be tightened.

We must get immigrants out of passive transfer benefits and into gainful employment. This will benefit themselves as well as Danish society. The Government will introduce an earned-benefit principle, which means that a person must have stayed in Denmark for at least seven years in order to receive cash benefits. This sends out an unequivocal message that Denmark is not a place where one can go and live on passive benefit provisions.

In return, the Government intends to strengthen its efforts to get immigrants into employment. A number of local authorities have shown the way. These municipalities do not pay cash benefits to the unemployed. Instead, they are assigned to work. This has turned out to be a great success. The Government will now discuss with the municipalities how this success may be duplicated throughout the country.

We shall need all the hands and heads we can get in the coming years. Successful integration places demands on all of us. Both private companies and the public sector must improve their willingness to hire qualified immigrants.

The tightening measures of the Aliens Act and reinforced efforts to improve integration constitute the prerequisite for creating security among the population concerning our immigration policy. The Government aims to gain a wide majority in support of the necessary tightening measures. The Government will submit its proposals for open negotiations with all the parties represented in the Folketing. I hope that the parties of the Folketing will enter into these negotiations with open and unprejudiced minds. Our population expects this.

However, investment in Denmark's future also has much to do with a good family life, good education, a good environment, art and culture.

We must ensure that our children get the best possible start in life. Therefore, the Government proposes the introduction of one year's flexible maternity leave. It is important that parents and children should have the opportunity to spend more time together during the first year of the child's life.

We must ensure that our children and young people are as well equipped as possible to face the challenges of the future. The Government, therefore, intends to raise general academic standards throughout the education system.

We must ensure that we pass on a clean and good natural environment to the generations that follow us. The Government will pursue an active environmental policy that places the Danes among the best in the world to secure a good environment. Through focused prioritisation, the Government will ensure that we achieve the maximum value for money in our protection of the environment.

We must ensure that artists create Danish art that can make its mark both today and in the future. The Government will make an effort to offer creative artists better opportunities to express their art. Through amendments to the tax rules and other initiatives, the Government wants to improve the opportunities for creative artists to sell their works and make a living.

The Government wants Denmark to assume active responsibility for creating peace and securing freedom and peace in the world that surrounds us.

Denmark is today a committed member of the World community. In recent years we have accepted an increasing number of international tasks of securing freedom, peace and stability. These are efforts we can now take pride in. Efforts that those who carried out these assignments can take pride in. The present Government will continue this commitment.

Our commitment to the solution of the problems of this World springs, among other things, from the fact that we possess some fundamental values of what is just and fair. Values expressed in democracy and freedom, of which we are justifiably proud. Values that were not merely handed to us freely. We have had to fight to achieve these values, and others have at times faced a struggle to defend and maintain these values, our democracy and our freedom.

This is the reason we have shown solidarity with the USA and other countries in the international fight against terrorism. Solidarity which fortunately enjoys solid support both in the Danish population and in this Parliament. The new Government will pursue this solidarity with the same fervour and consistency as the previous Government.

Europe and the EU play an increasingly significant role on the global political stage. This is an entirely natural development, which has taken place since the great upheavals and revolutions at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.

The enlargements of the EU and NATO are an altogether central issue in this process. Denmark will continue to spearhead this development. The goal is a free, peaceful and undivided Europe.

The Government will put its wholehearted and focused endeavour into making the Copenhagen Summit in December 2002 the event that completes the negotiations with up to ten new Member States. This is a monumental task, but it is also a task of decisive importance, a task which the Government will dedicate all its strength to solve.

We shall invite the parties of the Folketing to open and fruitful co-operation both in the period leading up to and during the Presidency. This task must be discharged effectively and through broad co-operation here in the Folketing.

In the coming years we must discuss the future of the EU. At the so-called Inter-Governmental Conference in 2004, the EU Member States will discuss reforms of the work in the EU. This Government intends to engage actively in the debate on and the preparations for the Inter-Governmental Conference. It is the Government's wish that the Inter-Governmental Conference should lead to reforms that offer clearer definitions of the tasks to be addressed by the EU and the Member States, respectively, reforms which secure the citizen's rights vis à vis the EU, which secures stronger involvement of national parliaments in decisions on the development of the EU, reforms which develop more openness and secures the principle of subsidiarity in the decisions of the EU.

The Government will promote further enlargement of NATO. This should take place through the adoption of an ambitious decision on enlargement of NATO at the Summit in Prague next year. The Government will endeavour to have the enlargement include the three Baltic States and other qualified applicant countries. At the same time, the Government wants to contribute to enabling Russia to find its rightful place in European security politics, including active co-operation with NATO.

The Government will continue to pursue an active and responsible policy on development.

At the Summit in Johannesburg next autumn, the Government will promote the conclusion of a global deal which is to ensure a development that benefits all nations of the World. Such an agreement must be based on, among other things, the following elements:

  • Increased free trade
  • International environmental agreements
  • Development aid from the rich countries of 0.7 per cent of GDP
  • And a strengthening of freedom and democracy throughout the World

It is of paramount importance that the Western countries give the developing countries greater and better access to our markets in the coming years. This is the most fundamental and decisive precondition for the least developed countries in this World to escape abject poverty.

The Government intends to subject Danish development aid to critical scrutiny. We wish to ensure that Danish aid achieves the greatest effect and reaches the right people. Until this restructuring has been implemented, the Government will freeze the development aid at the 1999 level.

The Government wants to maintain the Unity of the Realm as a community of three equal peoples, the Faeroe Islands, Greenland and Denmark. The Government wants to modernise the home rule system in a constructive and respectful co-operation with the Faeroe Islands and Greenland.

The Greenland Home Rule Government has set up an Autonomy Commission, which is to explore the possibilities for increased self-determination within the framework of the Unity of the Realm. The Government is prepared to enter into a constructive dialogue on the outcome of these deliberations.

The Government will support the endeavours to increase Greenland's visibility in international circles.

The Government will, on a current basis, involve the Greenland authorities in the issue of any possible deployment of the Thule radar as part of the plans for an American missile defence.

In recent years the dialogue between the Faeroese Home Government and the Danish Government has been slightly tense. It is my firm intention to endeavour to defuse tensions and establish a good and trustful dialogue on the future of the Faeroe Islands.

It is the Government's opinion that the Faeroese people should determine the future of the Faeroe Islands themselves. This applies both to a wish to establish a sovereign state and a wish to develop the co-operation within the Unity of the Realm.

The Government is willing to continue the discussions with the Faeroese Home Government about transfer of new areas of authority pari passu with assuming the economic obligations.

* * *

The Government has presented a thoroughly prepared and ambitious manifesto for its work. It is clear and precise. This is the programme that the Government will now endeavour to implement through amendments to administration, regulations and legislation.

However, the Government's ambitions reach further. The Government will also strive to create reform through changing attitudes in society.

We must change the general attitude in Danish society so that it becomes a natural thing to appreciate and reward those who set ambitious goals and achieve them, despite all odds.

This is true whether we consider the girl who struggles to break out of a life of substance abuse in order to create a new, good and strong life; the boy who breaks away from his social heritage and acquires a good education; or the small company that puts the sceptics to shame and is successful in establishing exports to a new market. Setting a goal and fighting all odds to reach it is cool. It has little to do with social or economic position. It has much more to do with willpower and the belief that making an effort makes a difference.

We must have the sense that we are able, have the will to achieve and a useful role to play. We must recognise outstanding performance. We must encourage and reward the employee in the workplace who puts in a special effort; the handicapped person who defies adversity and builds an active life on the job, in education, sports or art; the volunteers in clubs and associations, souls on fire who create activities and results in leisure and social work. We must stimulate and reward those who break new ground and create great things in the fields of art, architecture, engineering, design, sports and other areas through which Denmark becomes known and visible.

It is our vision that we should build a society in which we Danes have more faith in ourselves and take pride in what we are and what we are able to do. The force that drives a society ahead is humans, a people who believe in itself, people who set up goals and make their contributions in order to create new progress.

It is our vision that we should build a society in which wealth is not merely measured in the ability to generate money and material status symbols, but first and foremost in the ability to create joy in life and self-confidence.

It is our vision that we should build a society in which a strong sense of community is created by people who are given the freedom to generate wealth that other people need.

This is the Denmark which the Government will endeavour to build. These are the goals which the Government is committed to pursuing. Denmark is fundamentally a good society. There are, however, many things we can do better. The Government invites the entire Folketing to take part in the collaboration on the necessary reforms.