Speech

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s Opening Address to the Folketing (Danish Parliament) on 1 October 2013

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70 years ago – on the night between 1st and 2nd October – thousands of Danes were forced to flee.

Families hastily had to leave everything they owned. They had to hide at the homes of friends, neighbours or strangers.

Around 8,000 people had to flee from abhorrent race laws. Hundreds were arrested and deported. Many died while fleeing. Others succumbed in the concentration camp.

However, the vast majority of Danish Jews succeeded in escaping to Sweden.

They were rescued with the help of their countrymen and women who quite naturally helped another Dane in need. And that is why the flight of the Danish Jews to Sweden – despite its severity – has become a ray of light in the darkness of the Holocaust.

Our common history has many facets and is bound to its own time. And we should be cautious when using a historic event to say something directly about our present time.

But our common history is precisely common. It shows what our origins are.

And that is worth remembering today.

Because it says something about what kind of country Denmark is.

We are a strong community. We take care of each other.

* * *

When the Government took office two years ago, we gave ourselves the task of ensuring that Denmark emerged from the crisis with its solidarity intact.

That is an ambitious task. It will not happen by itself. We must choose whether we wish to drive developments. Or whether we wish to be driven by them.

I believe that we must shape our future ourselves.

The Government has made difficult decisions. But we have also demonstrated a new path in Danish politics based on balance. And look what it has made possible:

As one of few countries in Europe we are restoring the economy and at the same time carrying out clear social improvements for many people.

We are ensuring that budgets are not overrun. And, at the same time, we are protecting employment. This is a reflection of balance.

We are finding the money to develop our welfare. And helping those who need help. The sick. The homeless. The children whose father drinks or whose mother suffers from mental illness.

And, at the same time, we are providing companies with better conditions for creating jobs. This is also a reflection of balance.

Today, Denmark stands stronger and more secure compared to two years ago. The mood in the country is changing. From uncertainty and crisis to cautious optimism.

Denmark is back on track.

And we must keep the country on track.

In the first decade of this century, we saw what happens if action is not taken in time.

In the second decade, we must continue to make decisions, including the difficult ones.

That is how we get everyone through the crisis.

* * *

What is the surest way to solidarity, prosperity and equal opportunities?

It is to give many the chance to improve their knowledge and skills.

Education has ensured more freedom, more equality and more gender equality.

For example, Denmark has the best educated unskilled workers in the whole of Europe – pipe fitters, factory workers and cleaners are busy taking courses in colleges.

We have now set the target that our children and youth are to become the best educated generation in our history.

We are the Government that has invested most of all in our children and young people. What we spend on education and research is equivalent to building three bridges across the Great Belt – anually.

And we are not just spending more money. We are spending the money more wisely.

In August next year, Denmark will have a new primary and lower secondary school. When Emil and all the other children start school after the next summer holiday, they will learn more. Because they will have a longer and more varied day.

We must now take one step further:

Next year, Emil will be in the 9th grade. He has to start thinking about his future.

Emil is good at a lot of practical things. He has helped his father build a shed at home in the garden. He has helped with measuring and choosing the materials. And he has laid roofing felt on the roof.

Emil is also doing well in school. If he wants, he can go to upper secondary school.

Many probably think that that is what he should do.

But what does Emil think?

He is in doubt. He is not quite sure what interests him most. Does he want to be a carpenter, a technical designer or an engineer?

And then there are his classmates. In the upper secondary school, he will be in a class with other people his own age.

Today, vocational education and training programmes have some weaknesses that detract from the good reasons for choosing them.

Denmark has proud traditions when it comes to competent skilled workers. We have a tradition of education and training programmes that are firmly rooted in practical work. But the vocational education and training colleges have been neglected for many years. Fewer and fewer young people are applying to get into the colleges. And half of them drop out.

If one in two students at upper secondary school dropped out, we would talk about nothing else. It is as if having a vocational qualification is not as grand as an academic qualification.

We must turn this trend.

Today, only 19 per cent of young people apply for admission to a vocational education and training college immediately after finishing school.

The Government has set a target to increase this proportion in the coming years. To 25 per cent of young people in 2020. And 30 per cent in 2025.

This requires that vocational education and training programmes become an attractive first choice for Emil and his classmates.

That is why the Government will follow up on the primary and lower secondary school reform with a reform of vocational education and training of an equal scale.

First and foremost, we will take action in four areas:

Firstly, it can be overwhelming for a 16-year-old to make the choice about whether to become a bricklayer or a building painter.

We wish to give young people one year to get to know the different areas before choosing.

And we will reduce the number of basic course clusters leading to the vocational education and training programmes from twelve to four. So as to give a 16/17-year-old a better overview.

Secondly, it is no fun getting into a school where you can’t keep up.

We will make it a requirement to have achieved at least a grade point average of 02 in Danish and Mathematics at the final exams in lower secondary schools. Or that a practical training placement has been arranged.

And the young people who do not achieve the grade requirement are to be offered a new 10th grade programme that prepares them specifically for vocational education and training.

Thirdly, 20 hours a week is not enough to become a well-qualified skilled worker. Students at vocational education and training colleges must have more lessons and a set number of lessons. Just like students in upper secondary school have.

Young people must have at least 26 hours a week in their basic programme.

Fourthly, we will no longer place the youngest together with the many older students. And more of the teaching is to be provided in teams. This ensures a better learning environment for the young people.

We will lift vocational education and training programmes up where they belong.

As an attractive choice for young people.

It is also vital that young people are able to find a practical training placement.

We have given young people an education guarantee which ensures that students who start a vocational education and training programme can complete it. We will now do even more to ensure that more students are able to find a practical training placement.

There are also young people today who begin programmes that they cannot cope with. Who risk never finding a real job. Who become stuck and dependent on cash benefits.

The Government will set up a new two-year flexible study programme targeted specifically at young people. It is to be a full youth education programme in which the goal is to find employment afterwards.

We will also set up a special vocational education and training programme for those over 25.

That could be for the semi-skilled worker who has worked with injection moulding of boats for years. Who now wants to learn more and also get an apprentice diploma to document the skills and knowledge he has already. That is why he is taking a training course to become a plastic processing technician.

The new vocational education and training programme will enable him to acquire the skills he is lacking more quickly and more effectively.

We are reforming vocational education and training so as to provide better quality programmes for both young people and adults.

Because Denmark needs skilled electricians, industrial operators and social and health care workers.

* * *

Better quality education and training programmes provide opportunities for more people.

But not everyone has the resources to make use of these opportunities.

Children who have a tough childhood, who are placed in a foster home or whose parents are addicts, have difficulties taking an education. And this contributes to keeping them in a difficult situation throughout their lives.

This is part of the reality in our affluent Denmark. This is not good enough. We must demand more of ourselves as a society.

For many years, we have had targets for the economy. We have targets for our education programmes. That is important. But we have never had clear targets for the people who have had the hardest lives. We do now.

The Government has set social 2020 targets for the citizens who are unable to voice their own needs. But who need to be heard most of all.

For example, we have set the target that at least one in two vulnerable children is to take a youth education programme in 2020. Today, it is only one in three.

And we have set the target that fewer people are to be homeless. And that fewer battered women need to seek help again and again at crisis centres.

Some believe that this is not good enough. That it is not ambitious enough.

But when we set targets, it commits us to follow up. It provides direction. It makes us take action. And that matters to those we wish to help.

It is not about sending more money.

It is about finding out whether what we do works. All the immense work already being done in municipalities, by volunteers, at institutions and support centres throughout the country.

So that we can focus our efforts precisely where the help actually reaches the children. The homeless. Those whose lives are hard.

* * *

We must help the most vulnerable people in our society.

More than one in ten Danes contract a mental illness. This figure may come as a surprise to some. Because when the mind suffers, it is less visible than when the body is sick.

But it is no less painful. And not for the relatives either.

It surprises me that psychiatry for many years has received less attention than the rest of the health sector.

It is high time that a person suffering from depression or schizophrenia is taken just as seriously as a patient with a broken leg or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The Government has earmarked money for more beds. More people can get access to subsidised psychological therapy. We provide faster help to children and young people with mental illnesses. And we have strengthened cooperation between the family doctor and the psychiatrist.

The next step is to ensure that mentally ill patients have the same rights as the physically ill. Of course they should.

The Government will phase in new patient rights over the next two years. No-one who needs fast treatment is to wait more than a month.

And, fortunately, the vast majority are able to recover fully or partially from even serious mental disorders – provided they get the right treatment at the right time.

We will also address a major problem that is being talked about a great deal. Where there are many good intentions. But where it is moving in the wrong direction.

Last year, psychiatric patients were restrained by belts or straps against their will 5,657 times. That is more than 15 incidents of forced restraint each day. The number of people experiencing forced restraint has never been higher. I think this is sad.

I am aware that force can be necessary for the patient’s own protection or to protect others. However, force is a significant encroachment on a person’s liberty. It should always be the last resort.

That is why we will experiment with belt-free psychiatric units. The units will receive funds to help the patients in other ways. This may take place in smaller wards where there is more calm and care.

Lessons learned from the belt-free units are to show new ways of providing psychiatric care.

* * *

Everyone can find themselves in a situation where they need help.

During the crisis, many thousands of Danes lost their jobs. It is a tough situation for the person affected. It is also a problem for Denmark when people’s skills and abilities go to waste.

Denmark’s 94 job centres perform a very important task.

However, the employment system has become too much system and too little employment.

It is not because the system is short of money. I am absolutely convinced of that.

And the employees are passionate about the task. I met some of them last week in Horsens where they work closely together with unemployment funds, schools and local companies. And their eyes lit up when they talked about the unemployed people who they had helped into employment or education.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the staff at all the job centres around the country are working as best they can to deliver within the framework they have been given.

The problem is that the framework is made up of too many forms to fill out and paperwork hassle. And it obstructs the important societal task that needs to be performed.

A task that consists of two things.

Firstly, to get the unemployed into lasting employment as quickly as possible – based on the needs of the individual.

Secondly, to give companies access to the labour they need.

These will be the benchmarks in the reform of the employment effort that the Government will present in the new year.

* * *

The unemployed must have reasonable conditions.

So must those who are in employment.

I fully understand the Danish carpenter who feels helpless when illegal labour takes over. When safety on construction sites is neglected. Or when the work gang is undercut by a team on very low wages.

In the first decade of this century, things were just allowed to happen. We will act differently now in the second decade.

We have tightened the penalties. Increased the frequency of inspections at workplaces. And strengthened cooperation between the police, the tax authorities and the Danish Working Environment Authority.

And it is working. The three authorities have together carried out 1,500 inspection visits.

We will now take a step further. For example, we will raise the penalty fines for illegal freight transport in Denmark.

I want a Denmark where people can provide for their family by means of an ordinary job.

It is about what kind of country Denmark is.

* * *

We also want this to be a country where we can get around easily and quickly.

A broad majority in the Folketing has had a dream for several years:

The dream of a state-of-the-art railway service where a train journey only takes an hour between Esbjerg-Odense, Aalborg-Aarhus, Aarhus-Odense and Odense-Copenhagen. And where the journey between Aalborg and Copenhagen is an hour and twenty minutes shorter than today.

We will now set up a train fund, Train Fund Denmark, which is to finance the critical investments. The money is to come from our common subsoil in the North Sea.

Today, companies that have old licences to drill for oil and gas pay less in taxes than companies with new licences. We want to place all on an equal footing.

It is hard to understand that political parties in this Folketing can be opposed to a harmonisation of rules.

And it is hard to understand that there are parties here that find the money will do more good in the hands of the oil companies than going to the greatest improvement for train passengers since the Great Belt Bridge.

With Train Fund Denmark’s DKK 28 billion – yes, that is correct: DKK 28 billion – we will invest massively in new rails and faster connections. And we will electrify long stretches of railway line.

We will achieve two things through this:

Danes will save time. Not just passengers travelling between the largest towns. No, it will spread to all who use the new fast connections. Passengers will also be able to travel faster from Sønderborg to Odense. And from Thisted or Hjørring to Copenhagen.

We will bring Denmark closer together.

The faster train connections will also make more people choose the train and leave the car at home. And the electrically powered trains will benefit the environment and climate.

We will see a greener Denmark.

* * *

The Denmark we leave to our children and grandchildren must be in a better state than the Denmark we inherited.

This is the Government’s principle with respect to the economy. With respect to our community based on solidarity. And, naturally, also with respect to our nature and the environment.

That is why we are replacing black coal with green wind turbines. That is why we are limiting the use of pesticides so that we can continue to be able to drink clean water directly from the tap.

And that is why we are using our waste to produce electricity for our companies and heating for our houses. Over the last 20-30 years, Denmark has become one of the best in the world to incinerate waste and generate energy from it.

But perhaps we have become almost too good at incinerating everything?

Every Dane – children as well as adults – throws away about eight kilos of waste every week. And out of the eight kilos, we incinerate almost six and a half kilos. Only one and a half kilos of waste is reused in a different manner.

It is a good idea to incinerate waste material that burns easily, and where there are no obvious possibilities of recycling: Milk cartons and kitchen rolls for example.

But it is less obvious that we should incinerate potato peels and salad leftovers that are not particularly combustible. And which may be used to greater effect if used in biogas plants together with slurry from pigs and cattle.

We must, to an even higher degree than now, think of waste as a resource that is to be utilised. Not as a problem that is to be removed.

Every year, we throw out 670,000 tonnes of food waste and it is incinerated. If, by contrast, we use it in biogas plants, we will generate electricity for thousands of homes. We will achieve a cleaner environment. And we will be prepared for a future with buses and cars running on biogas.

The Government will set an ambitious target for recycling of household waste to a much greater extent than we see today.

Admittedly, it may prove a little difficult at home in the kitchen and at the dustbins. We need to get the hang of it. We need to get used to it. In the same way as we have gotten used to dropping newspapers in a specific bin, glass and bottles in another, and batteries in a third bin.

But it is common sense. We are finding practical and down-to-earth responses to high-flying challenges.

Is this not the kind of Denmark we want?

* * *

Green goals provide our companies with a platform for creating new jobs. We are also improving conditions for the business community in a more direct manner.

With Growth Plan DK, we have earmarked a total of DKK 90 billion for strengthening our competitiveness and Danish jobs.

As part of Growth Plan DK, we have cut corporation tax. And we have cut indirect taxes.

It is important for our companies’ competitiveness. But we cannot solve all the business community’s problems by cutting taxes.

And what we get in tax revenue is also important for the companies: Quality education for all, innovative research, and a safe society.

Enabling the Danish business community to emerge from the shadow of the crisis will take more than lower taxes.

Many of our companies’ business activities depend on exports. They were badly affected by the crisis. More than 100,000 semi-skilled workers, metal workers, craftsmen, engineers and many others have lost their jobs.

It is serious. Manufacturing jobs are important. Not only in themselves. But because they constitute the pivotal point for even more jobs in trade, design, research and development.

We will review the framework conditions for companies. And we will make an effort to improve them. We will work towards better regulation, simpler rules and stronger competition. Also when we follow up on the work of the Danish Productivity Commission.

Danish companies must have good conditions for creating jobs and developing new ideas.

* * *

The Lego brick, the loudspeaker, the ice cube bag ... The list of Danish inventions is long.

One of the most recent ideas on the list is the bee patch, which draws out the poison from bee and wasp stings. The inventor, Martin Wenckens, got the idea from an old family remedy: to place a sugar lump on an insect sting.

Martin Wenckens knew very well that it was hard work to start his own business. But he had not calculated on spending so much money and so much time on taking out patents abroad.

As the situation is right now, a company that wants to protect its invention in Europe must take out a patent in every single EU Member State.

It must pay to have its application translated into the local language. And it must pay a fee in every country.

It is expensive and cumbersome. Especially for small companies. And we have many small companies in Denmark.

But it may become much easier in the future.

With the European unitary patent system, a company will only need to submit one application in one language and pay one fee.

More people will take out patents then. And more ideas will be translated into companies and jobs.

The Government is working towards the establishment of a regional division of the Unified Patent Court together with Nordic and Baltic countries. It will give Danish companies easy access to protecting their ideas.

This is what the Danish business community wants. And we can only do it if Denmark participates in the Unified Patent Court.

And it is even completely voluntary for a company whether it wants to use the unitary patent.

A Danish company that is only active in the Scandinavian and German markets may continue to take out national patents only in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany if it finds that that is the smartest thing to do.

The Ministry of Justice has previously considered that Danish accession to the European unitary patent system will imply that Denmark in a technical sense cedes sovereignty.

The provisions of the Act of the Constitution are both wise and clear.

A majority of five-sixths of the members of the Folketing can make the decision of their own accord. And why on earth not give companies an option which they themselves want? How can parties in this Folketing be against an obviously good idea? An idea that will result in more Danish jobs?

It is very hard to understand.

That is the reason the Folketing on three previous occasions has ceded sovereignty in the patent area in order to enable Danish companies to better defend their ideas in Europe.

We owe it to Danish companies and Danish wage earners to make it possible also this time.

If we cannot muster a majority of five-sixths of the members at the third reading of the legislative bill, the Constitution says, as is well known, that we must have a referendum. And the constitutional requirements of this referendum are clear. If the legislative bill is to be thrown out, two things are required: Firstly, there must be a majority voting against it. Secondly, the majority must constitute at least 30 per cent of all registered voters.

The Government wants to have this matter adopted in the Folketing. However, if the European unitary patent system cannot command the support of five-sixths of the members of the Folketing, a referendum will be held on 25 May 2014 in connection with elections to the European Parliament.

If we are to have a referendum, the Government will work for a “Yes”. We are convinced that a European unitary patent system is good for the Danish economy. For companies. For wage earners.

And I would like to urge all parties in the Folketing to contribute to ensuring that Danish companies can gain full access to the easier and less expensive patent protection.

It is a matter of Danish jobs.

* * *

A unitary patent is a good example of how European cooperation works.

It is exactly by replacing national solutions with common solutions that we can make life easier for our companies.

This ability to find common solutions is something the EU has been badly in need of during the economic crisis.

To restore public budgets. To put things right in the banking sector. To combat tax evasion and tax havens. And to make targeted decisions for the purpose of creating growth and jobs.

Growth in Europe is still too low. Unemployment is still too high – especially among young people. But things are moving slowly in the right direction.

Cooperation benefits Europe.

And cooperation benefits Denmark.

* * *

By being one of the countries that take the lead, we make our imprint on the global map. By taking responsibility in the world, Denmark gains influence. We produce results.

Denmark is a small country. But we are also a privileged country that can make a difference.

The Government pursues a committed and active foreign and security policy. This means that we are prepared to translate words into action in the form of difficult decisions when required. And that we engage through development assistance and humanitarian work.

It means that we take action even if there is a risk. For the risk of not taking action will often be greater.

And it means that we dare take responsibility, also in parts of the world where the altogether fundamental values of freedom, democracy and human rights do not play the same role as for us.

We gain influence when we are one of the five countries in the world that provide most funds for development in the poor countries – together with Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the UK.

We made a difference when Denmark at an early stage provided political support for our allies in relation to Syria. The credible and clearly formulated will and determination to take action – even though the UN track had been exhausted – has given rise to a change. We must bear that in mind.

Other countries listen to us because they know that our words carry weight – irrespective of whether it is a matter of poverty, democracy, human rights or security. And we translate words into action. This is achieved by our competent soldiers, police officers, diplomats, doctors, nurses and relief workers.

This autumn we will post Danish instructors and advisers to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA) in Kabul. And with DKK 530 million a year, Afghanistan will be the largest recipient of Danish development assistance.

Danish pilots and crew members have delivered water, food and other supplies to some of the most impenetrable regions in Mali.

Our anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa has resulted in significantly fewer hijacked ships and crew members. We will now dispatch a new Danish naval vessel and an aircraft to continue the work.

What we do makes a difference in the world at large. And it is also important in Denmark.

Every day, thousands of people are forced to flee from the civil war in Syria. Denmark plays a leading role in helping the Syrian families. We are among the countries that provide most funds for the Syrian refugee crisis.

Denmark renders support in the regions of origin to enable Syria’s neighbouring countries to manage the inflow of refugees. And many people avoid being forced onto a long and dangerous journey further away, such as to Europe and Denmark.

* * *

We take action. We achieve results. This also applies to the Danish Realm.

I believe it is a long time since the Danish Realm has faced such huge challenges that we must take on together. But I am convinced that what we can achieve by joint efforts is better than what we could achieve individually. Also when we do not see completely eye to eye.

Greenland is challenged by an increasing number of elderly citizens and a decreasing number of young people. The country needs to develop trade and industry and generate new revenue.

And if Greenland’s rich resources can be put to use even more in the future, it will be of great importance to the Greenland population. The Danish Government fully supports this. And we collaborate with the Greenland Government on creating better opportunities for trade and industry as well as investments.

Greenland has assumed responsibility for its own raw materials – but not for foreign, defence, and security policy.

It is uncomplicated if it is a matter of extracting iron or oil. But not, if it is a matter of extracting and exporting uranium.

I am very pleased that we have just succeeded in reaching agreement on a joint Danish-Greenlandic report, which among other things will scrutinise all international rules and standards in the area as well as the experiences of other countries.

It is important that we have a joint report when Greenland this autumn proceeds with its deliberations regarding uranium. The report confirms that both Greenland and Denmark are prepared to proceed in close collaboration.

The Danish Government and the Greenland Government do not see eye to eye on the legal framework for Greenland’s activities in this field. That will also appear from the report.

But we are in agreement that we must jointly find a practical and constructive collaboration – and, naturally, a collaboration that respects the Constitution and the Act on Greenland Self-Government.

We also collaborate on the matter of fish quotas for the Faroe Islands and EU sanctions. It is a very unfortunate matter. It is a serious situation for the Faroe Islands. And we are making an effort to bring back the parties to the negotiating table in order to have the sanctions lifted.

The climate in the Arctic has changed. It means that routes that used to be impassable are now navigable. It presents new challenges – among other things in terms of search, rescue and the protection of the marine environment. That is why a broad majority in the Folketing has decided that we must be prepared to perform the tasks of the future in the Arctic regions. This is work the Danish Government prioritises very highly.

We have plenty of work on our hands. And I would like to send out an invitation to continued cooperation. Also on matters where we are not in complete agreement.

Cooperation between Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. And cooperation here in the Folketing.

* * *

As a matter of fact, I would like send out an invitation to broad cooperation in the Folketing.

We owe it to the Danes that there are broad and stable majorities behind our decisions. So that the decisions become long-lasting.

To ensure that wage earners’ rights are respected. That companies can compete. That young people get a good education, the sick get good treatment, and the unemployed get help finding a job. It means something to the individual. It is a matter of importance in everyday life.

The day-to-day life of citizens is also the pivotal point for local councils and regional councils. The elections on 19 November are important.

I understand very well that it can be difficult to find the mental energy to vote in local government elections for people who are drug addicts, homeless or seriously ill. But all votes are important. I am very pleased about the work that is being performed to get everybody out to vote – also people whose lives are hard.

In the elections four years ago, many young people stayed at home. That is more difficult to understand.

Especially because I see young people as being deeply involved in Danish society.

Everywhere: at university colleges, upper secondary schools, vocational education and training colleges, and at universities, they are making a great effort to become the best educated generation ever.

By way of conclusion, I wish to say to all of you who are young:

You are a valuable part of a Denmark where we are all given the chance to show what we can and who we are. That is the Denmark I believe in.

And it is a Denmark that needs you.

You must see to it that you are heard – also on 19 November.

Let us commence the work of the new Parliamentary Session with three cheers for Denmark.

LONG LIVE DENMARK.

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!