Speech

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s New Year Address 1 January 2014

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Good evening.

A few weeks ago, I participated in the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

It was very moving to experience the huge significance that Mandela has had for people throughout the world.

But it was also positive and reassuring to commemorate a great man.

Mandela had the wisdom acquired from many and turbulent years of life experience. And he fought for a universal truth: That all human beings are equal.

Denmark supported Mandela’s and the South African people’s fight for justice. We were the first country in the world to introduce a trade embargo against the apartheid regime.

In South Africa, they remember Denmark.

Even though we are a small country, we can make a difference.

That is why we are in the front rank when it comes to destroying chemical weapons from Syria.

And this is also the reason why, for more than 10 years, we have contributed to performing an important task in Afghanistan.

We still have Danes posted in Afghanistan. But our combat troops have completed their tasks in the front rank. We have passed a milestone. Afghan soldiers and police have now taken over.

Many Danes have paid with their lives. Their places can never be filled by others. My thoughts go to you who have lost loved ones.

And to all of you who have been posted abroad: You have put much at risk. The sacrifices have been huge.

But you have changed everyday life for many Afghan families. You have stood guard over our common security.

Thank you for your contribution.

***

Much has also changed here in Denmark.

The last two years, I have delivered my New Year Address in the midst of a crisis.

At a time of worry and concern in many families: Is it possible to get a new job if you are laid off? Can we sell the house if we want to move? There has been much uncertainty.

This year, we stand on much more certain ground. The crisis is not over, but the sentiment is changing.

We have reason to believe in progress in 2014.

Naturally, this is linked to an improved outlook abroad. But the situation is also improving in Denmark. I am pleased that the Government’s policy is proving effective.

I know that some are thinking: Is it necessary to introduce so many changes at one and the same time? And must we turn every krone over twice?

My answer is “yes”.

For what has the crisis taught us?

The hard lesson from the first decade of this century is that we must get a better grip on the economy.

That we must comply with the budgets in the public sector. That real estate speculation and reckless bank loans come at a high price.

In an uncertain world, we need to build a solid foundation for our welfare.

And this foundation is a sound and strong economy. Where companies enjoy good conditions. And where wage earners are well educated and trained.

This is the only way we can maintain a safe and secure Denmark. That is why the Government will propose new growth initiatives also in 2014.

***

We are a country where young people are given money to attend education and training courses – instead of paying for them themselves. Where we pay a substantial amount of what we earn in taxes – and in return get doctors and kindergartens. Where our children can walk home from school alone, and where we can leave the pram outside a café – with a baby asleep under the duvet.

Visitors from other countries may think that this is a strange – but perhaps also fascinating – way to organise society.

I think it is a safe and proper way.

But we have not always had this safety. It is something we have chosen ourselves.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, it was decided that help from the municipality is not charity. But a right for people who need it.

In the 1950s, it was decided that a safe old age is our shared responsibility. The elderly became entitled to old-age pension.

In 1970, it was decided that everybody should be able to afford an education. State education grants were introduced for students.

Brick by brick, we have built a Denmark with great equality and great freedom for each and every one of us.

It is the core of the country we represent.

A Denmark based on solidarity.

And it is for us to decide whether this country should exist in the future.

The Government has decided that we will spend more money on our public sector.

Every year, we will spend a little more on our education and training programmes. On better health. On more safety.

We have made this decision at a time of crisis.

Because I do not believe in zero growth in the public sector.

I am convinced that it is best for Denmark if, year by year, we spend some of the wealth we create on our community.

***

A safe country needs companies that can create jobs.

In recent years, we have talked much about the need for more jobs in the private sector. And we do need more private jobs.

But I ask myself whether somehow it began to sound as if private sector jobs were more important than public sector jobs?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Denmark needs both plate smiths and social workers. Both engineers and nurses.

In the course of the year, I have met many competent public employees: Teachers at Fredensborg School. Social educators at the kindergarten Thyholm Børnehus. Staff at the Job Task Force – counseling and recruitment in the Municipality of Horsens. And many more.

And I have always experienced a heart-warming feeling that these were people who took pleasure in doing a good job. And took pride in treating people in a decent manner.

We need all of you who work in the state sector, in the regions and in the municipalities.

You have undertaken tasks that at times can be cumbersome. You must balance many considerations.

Sometimes we tend to forget that.

I think the tone of public debate has grown coarser in recent years. Both on the part of citizens, in the media and on the Internet. The words have become more harsh. We must change that together. We must show greater respect for each other.

***

I have great expectations of our young people. I have set the goal that the next generation should be the best educated ever.

That is why schoolchildren now will have more lessons in Danish and maths. And English from the first form. And that is why we are making the vocational education and training programmes better than they are today.

Education is a key issue that the Government has at heart. Our young people are Denmark’s future.

But to grow old is the future for all of us. Most of us hope so.

144 years ago, an elderly gentleman wrote in his diary:

“Cold wind blowing, a little more used to my dentures; not very happy anymore; the idea of growing older, my teeth gone, my hair greying.”

Hans Christian Andersen wrote this. He was 65 years old. And that was an advanced age then. Especially for a washerwoman’s son.

Today, most people are fit and well at the age of 65.

To be old today is something quite different from earlier.

A safe old age is one of the greatest achievements of our welfare society. More of us will have the opportunity of growing old and being fit and well when we are old.

But has the way we talk about each other kept pace with this development? Not quite, I think.

I find it offensive when I hear a 60-year-old person referred to as old at a workplace.

Actually, it may even be said of somebody who is 50 years old.

For many years, we have talked about the importance of everybody staying longer in the labour market.

Naturally, we must take that seriously.

It is not fair that people should fear for their jobs just because they have reached the age of 50.

It is not wise either if there are workplaces where they automatically get rid of their experienced staff.

A long life provides a broader perspective on many things. And an extra capacity to help train others.

Many employers are aware of this.

But I wish to urge many more to stop believing in the myth that youth is always best.

That is why, tonight, I want to say to both private and public employers: Give experienced job seekers a fair chance.

***

Many elderly people have great resources. Also after they have stopped working. The elderly are good at helping other elderly people and just being there for each other.

My mother who is 76 helps out a little at Gudrun’s who is 90. Who by the way looked after me when I was a child. It gives both of them great pleasure.

We cannot live without helping each other.

But the greatest help people can get is the ability to manage on their own.

Let me give you an example:

Many elderly people use compression stockings. If the elderly receive guidance in how to put on the stockings themselves, the social and health care assistant can spend their time on something else.

And first and foremost, the elderly can decide themselves when to get up in the morning. They are in charge of their everyday lives.

But there are limits to self-help. And not all can manage by themselves. We must not become a society that forgets those who are in need of our care.

To be elderly or old means a great many things: Some are 67 years old, others are 92. Some have a long education. Others have worked hard as semi-skilled workers or cleaners from the age of 15. They are part of what I call the hard-toiling generation. It is not unreasonable that they need help.

This autumn I visited Varla who lives at a nursing centre in Northern Jutland, and we had a good talk.

Varla has had a long and active life. She has run a knitting yarn shop and she has managed at home until recently. She is pleased about that.

But she is also pleased that our welfare society was there for her when she fell ill and could not live on her own any more.

Varla is well into her 80s. And even if her daughters, like many other middle-aged women, come to see her often and help out, she is one of our many elderly fellow citizens who need the assistance of the community.

I am very pleased that we now give the municipalities DKK 1 billion more targeted at the elderly. An extra billion for the elderly every year.

This is money that the municipalities may spend on, for example, better home cleaning. An extra bath for those who would like that. Or to give the nursing home resident the opportunity to come out for a walk.

***

We still need safe and good care for the elderly. And that will also be the case in the future.

But I think that many are uncertain as to whether there will be a welfare society when we grow old ourselves. Will the old-age pension still exist? Will there be home care services? Will there be decent nursing homes?

I understand this concern.

My answer is very clear: It is up to us to decide.

That is why it is important for me to say tonight: If we consider this carefully and take responsibility for our economy, there will be money for proper care for the elderly in the years ahead. If we change and prepare our country for the future, we will be able to afford pensions, home care services, and hospitals.

It means that more people can enjoy their old age. And all the good things that are part of growing older.

***

Dear Danes.

The economy is picking up again. But it does not mean that we can be complacent. The crisis has taught us that we must do our very best every single day.

This is the only way we can maintain our safety as we know it.

Denmark must be a country where there is room for growing old in many ways. Where generations help each other. Where young people get a good education, free of charge. And where the community is there for those who need it.

This is my Denmark. This is our Denmark.

Happy New Year.