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Three months ago, Denmark got a new Government. A Government that has taken office at a time of crisis. And which will address the serious problems facing Denmark.
Our goal is to bring Denmark safely through the crisis and out on the other side with our prosperity, decency and care for each other intact.
It will not be easy. But we can do it if we want to.
The new year – 2012 – will not be the year in which we overcome the problems. Already now, we need to face this.
However, through a joint effort it may become the year in which we turn things around tough steps.
Generation after generation, we have created progress for ordinary people. And we have insisted that everybody must be included. In this way, Denmark has become a fantastic country.
My grandmother was born in the year 1900. When she was 15 years old, women and servants became entitled to vote. Democracy was rolled out to ordinary Danes.
My mother was born in 1937. While she was growing up, Denmark was wrestling free of the war and ration coupons, and gradually many began to enjoy the benefits that in earlier times only had been for the few: telephones, oranges, and roast pork for Sunday Lunch.
I was born in 1966.
While I was growing up, women were entering the labour market in droves. Denmark got kindergartens, nursing homes and education for the many. And the Danes got new opportunities. People of my generation were not born to pursue a certain life path. We had greater freedom to make our own choices than any generation before us.
When I look at our young people today, I see a generation that – if they are given the chance – fully understand how to make use of the opportunities. You seize the world. Indeed, you also come from all parts of the world. Young people with different ethnic backgrounds contribute to creating a society with greater diversity without Denmark becoming smaller.
From generation to generation – my grandmother’s, my mother’s, my own – Denmark has become a better country to live in. A country we can be proud of.
And we must continue to create progress for our children. That is a reasonable demand to make on ourselves.
But the crisis has made it more difficult. And I wish to say that very clearly tonight.
The fat years lie behind us. We must prepare for some lean years.
The time ahead will require much of us.
* * *
Much has happened in a very short time.
Do you remember what the situation was like only four or five years ago? At that time, jobs were there for the asking. And you could hardly enter a bank without being granted a loan.
These days, many – especially the young – have difficulty in finding a job. Companies have difficulty in selling their products. Insecurity and concern about the future have become part of many families’ day-to-day lives.
The change from good to bad times was reinforced by events in the world at large. The economic policy pursued was short-term and weak. Some financiers were making a quick buck. Investments were moved around as if it was ”Monopoly money”.
It was not. It was people’s jobs, everyday lives and savings.
Also in this country, there was a degree of excessive confidence. Many acted as if the good times would never end. Consumption grew out of all proportion. And housing prices skyrocketed.
Tax cuts were granted, which we could not really afford. And measures to prepare Denmark for harder times were not taken. The economy was not kept under control.
Therefore, we will now see a deficit on public finances amounting to about DKK 100 billion. Actually, it may prove even higher.
It is a staggering amount of money.
The deficit means that we are paying for welfare with money we do not have.
It cannot continue like that. That is self-evident.
Nor can Denmark keep losing competitiveness. Because it means that companies and jobs leave this country.
Danish companies are some of the most innovative and responsible in the world. We are a country where small family businesses grow big and become among the best in the world. We are a country where the collaboration between employees and employers is based on a unique relationship of trust. A collaboration that attracts international attention.
However, when investment in education and research has been insufficient, and when new rules are introduced instead of a helping hand, then it will get harder and not easier to do business and create jobs in Denmark.
We face two huge challenges. We must bring public deficits under control. And our companies must again become among the most competitive in the world.
In this way, we create new and sustainable growth and we create the right fertile ground for new jobs.
In this way, we make both ends meet.
Can we do it?
Of course we can. We have a lot to build on in Denmark. A strong community. Our ability to take important decisions when times are difficult.
And we have started.
In the budget for this year, we have tightened up on expenses and set clear-cut priorities. We will support Danish jobs. And we will see to it that more revenue flows to the common pot so that we can afford to invest in our children and our young people.
But that is not enough. We will not have paid the bill in full.
And the global and European crisis is far from over. When Europeans get poorer, they buy less from us. That means job losses in Denmark. It challenges our economy and our welfare.
In the years ahead, we will see even tighter budgets, and we must make even harder demands on ourselves. We will need to scrutinise everything and ask ourselves if we can perform better than we are doing now. We will reform our disability pensions and our cash benefits scheme. And we will reform our tax system –financed “krone” for “krone”. All of it to get more people into work and to make our economy more robust.
Many will experience changes. Many will be asked to put in an extra effort.
And yes, we will experience cutbacks and reductions.
In the coming time, we must make decisions that compare with the hardest in our history.
But we will do it because it is necessary. We will not do it because we have stopped believing in solidarity. On the contrary, we will do it exactly because we still believe in solidarity and because we believe that everybody must be included.
The very reason we need to make difficult decisions is to maintain and not dismantle the Denmark we love.
The Denmark where everybody contributes to achieving progress.
Where we take care of each other.
Where we give all children and young people a free education.
Where we get good and free treatment when we are ill.
Where we get help if we lose our jobs.
Where we get dignified care when we grow old.
This is a country for the many and not for the few.
This is a country based on differences and diversity. On human dignity. On a sense community.
In the world at large, we Danes have a reputation for demonstrating a common public spirit. Visitors come from far away to learn from our small, safe country. A country where we are many who go to work and hand over half of our earnings to the community. Where we take care of each other when problems arise.
But they are also puzzled in the world around us. How can it possibly work?
My answer is that it can only work when we all understand that we must contribute what we can to the community. Nobody can expect to be a recipient only. We must all ask ourselves: what can I do?
Many – myself included – find it offensive if there are some who do not contribute their share. Or actually abuse the system.
The balance between security for the individual and the obligation to contribute is the very basis of our welfare society.
And this balance is at risk when young, healthy people can continue to receive public benefits for years and years. When this is the case, both the individual and society have failed. It is not fair.
The balance is at risk every time somebody has a garage put up or a new roof put on the house by dodging the system and not paying VAT. It is not fair.
And if a company asks its employees to demonstrate wage restraint, it is only fair that this applies to everybody. Also to management representatives.
Everybody must contribute. There are no free rides.
And I believe that the vast majority of us want to contribute. Most people want to take responsibility.
I have deep respect for people who go to work every day and support themselves and their families. Denmark was built by hardworking men and women.
But this respect must never allow us to lose respect for or speak condescendingly about those who, for one reason or another, are not able to cope on their own.
In recent years, thousands of Danes have lost their jobs. And in the new year, there will unfortunately be more of them. It is tragic for the individual and for Denmark.
We must do what we can to ensure that as few people as possible lose their jobs. That is why the Government will kick-start the Danish economy. We will invest billions in kindergartens, roads and jobs throughout the country. This way, jobs will be created already this year which otherwise would not have been there.
But that does not make it any easier for the individual writing job application after job application only to receive one rejection after another.
In December, I was in Aalborg. There I met Søren. He is 60 years old. He told me that he had been fired after having worked for more than 30 years as a salesman. The company’s turnover had fallen due to the crisis. It happened two years ago. Søren told me that he had applied for practically everything in Central and Northern Jutland. From a job as a receptionist at the municipal office to one as a driver for a butcher. But without success.
Indeed, we must make demands on each other. But we must understand at the same time, also with our hearts, that everybody may end up in a situation where help is needed.
The crisis has made Denmark poorer. But we will truly become a poorer country when we no longer understand those who are in need of help.
We must not allow this to happen. And through joint efforts it will not happen.
* * *
There is a group of Danes to whom we owe a special greeting here tonight. It is a group of people who have assumed a huge responsibility.
The Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. I have visited you and I have seen how impressively you perform your task. I am proud of that. All of Denmark is proud of that.
Our engagement in Afghanistan has cost lives. Tonight, my thoughts go to those of you who have lost a loved one.
Let us pay tribute to their memory.
When I meet people abroad, they very often mention Denmark’s engagement in Afghanistan and our effort to protect the population of Libya. This contribution will be remembered for many years to come.
The sharp missions are important. But Denmark does more than that. Much more.
We are among the five countries in the world contributing most to the fight against poverty – and we will do even more in the new year. We are on the side of democracy – most recently during the Arab Spring. We contribute to sustainable development – also in the poor countries.
Denmark is respected for our comprehensive efforts and for assuming responsibility that stretches far beyond our borders and by far exceeds by far the size of our country. And it earns us respect from the surrounding world. Denmark is highly esteemed. And we all have a stake in that esteem.
Therefore, there are also great expectations of Denmark when we today, on 1 January, assume the EU Presidency.
Denmark is to take charge of the EU at a very difficult time. Heavy tasks lie ahead of us. And we will make a great effort to shoulder these tasks. We will make our contribution in order to ensure that European countries together can bring the economy under control and boost growth again. That is what is needed to create jobs in Europe again.
All that happens in Europe affects us in this country. Therefore, we must use every opportunity to influence what is going on in Europe. It is in Denmark’s and the Danes’ best interests.
The next six months, we will have the opportunity to move Europe a small, but important, step forward in the right direction. We must make use of that opportunity.
* * *
2012 will not be the year in which we solve all our problems.
But it can be the year in which we rediscover that core of cooperation, solidarity and common public spirit which has made Denmark a fantastic country.
The year in which we make difficult but necessary decisions.
We must pass on an even better Denmark to the next generation. Our children must inherit a country characterized by progress, security and opportunities for everybody.
Happy New Year!