Speech

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s Opening Address to the Folketing (Danish Parliament) on 7 October 2014

Check against delivery

Danish fighter aircrafts have landed in Kuwait. They are to participate in the international campaign against the terrorist organisation, ISIL. This was decided by the Folketing last week.

I am pleased about the backing given for the active and dedicated international approach that the Danish Government has adopted.

We live in disturbing times. And essentially we have two options. Either we help to solve the crises in the world around us. Or we duck our heads and hope that we will not be affected. I am in no doubt. We must act.

ISIL is a dreadful and brutal terrorist organisation. It is guilty of killing and attacking tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. It is important to strike now before ISIL grows larger and spreads violence and terror to our part of the world.

We must confront threats abroad to ensure our domestic security. It is also for this reason that Denmark supports EU sanctions against Russia. And we have had aircrafts and troops deployed in the Baltic States and Poland. I can easily understand why these countries are concerned. And that is why we are also ready to continue our support.

We must halt Russian aggression before another line is crossed. We must not return to the era of the Cold War.

* * *

Denmark takes military action. We also deliver humanitarian aid to the many people forced to flee from attacks and civil war.

Our first priority is always to help in the regions of origin. There we can reach more people and deliver better help. Denmark has given more than DKK 800 million in humanitarian aid to the population in Syria. We are one of the countries leading the way.

And we help in Iraq. With camps, food, blankets and trauma treatment – especially for the children scarred by their harsh experiences.

But more refugees are also coming to Europe. And to Denmark. The number of asylum seekers here in this country is the highest for two decades.

This is not due to our asylum rules. The conditions for receiving asylum are precisely the same today as they were under the former government. No, it reflects the situation where, worldwide, more people are displaced than at any other time since the Second World War. In total, more than 50 million people have been driven from their homes – more than 50 million.

Denmark must, of course, continue to offer refuge to people fleeing from war and horror. But the Government will tighten the rules. This will also take some of the pressure off our municipalities and asylum centres. They are having difficulty finding a place for the many refugees that we have right now.

We are introducing a new form of temporary protection for those fleeing from, for example, civil war. They will be given a residence permit that is valid for one year to begin with. We will repatriate refugees when the worst of the unrest and disturbances are over. I think that is both decent and fair.

Therefore, in light of the extraordinary situation, the Government will limit access to family reunification.

Refugees who are in Denmark with temporary protection status are not to be entitled to get their family to Denmark within the first year after being granted a residence permit. If the conflict in the home country continues, the residence permit may be extended. And the refugee may be allowed to get his or her spouse and children to Denmark.

But fortunately there are conflicts which are resolved. Allowing people to return to their homes. Our asylum rules must take this into account.

* * *

Human traffickers, illegal immigrants and criminal foreigners challenge our borders. And create insecurity for Danes. Therefore, the Government will introduce smarter and more effective control mechanisms in the border areas.

We will give the police the opportunity to establish new, more stringent immigration controls in border areas and airports. We will strengthen the controls in the airport by making it more targeted and consistent.

And the police are to use new and effective technology. For example, automatic licence plate scanners at the borders. In this way, the police can take action against human traffickers and be alerted when suspicious vehicles drive into Denmark.


We will rethink the police checks within the Schengen rules – and in a way that is more targeted than the border controls introduced by the former government.

* * *

There are also those who travel the other way across the border to fight in a war far from Denmark. I am thinking of the young men and women going to Syria or Iraq to support the terrorist organisation, ISIL. And I will say this loud and clear: They have chosen to fight against everything Denmark stands for. They have renounced Denmark. That is their choice. And they must accept the consequence.

This Government will not hesitate to intervene. We will take their passports. We will take their residence permits. We will do everything to ensure that these foreign fighters are held accountable for their crimes. And we must also do everything possible to prevent radicalisation.

Today, therefore, I make this strong appeal to the Muslim religious authorities in Denmark:

Some of the young people who are being lured to Syria attend your mosques and associations. You should speak out against their warped ideas. You should show them that there is another path. You have a responsibility.

ISIL’s atrocities stand in stark contrast to the values we live by in Denmark. This also applies to the vast majority of Danish Muslims. We must not allow terrorists to divide our society. It is not a struggle between Islam and the West. It is a joint struggle against terrorism. All Danes must stand together against extremism.

* * *

Terrorists and criminals operate across borders. Fortunately, the same is true for the police.

For 16 years, Denmark has participated in the European police cooperation in Europol. This cooperation has enabled us to apprehend drug dealers and human traffickers. And solve cases involving organised child abuse.

It is now clear that Denmark, owing to our opt-out on Justice and Home Affairs, will have to leave Europol. Perhaps as early as next autumn. This will present a serious problem for the security and safety of Danes.

Therefore, the Government is ready to commit itself to holding a referendum after the next general election. A referendum on changing the opt-out on Justice and Home Affairs to an opt-in arrangement. This will enable us to choose ourselves which parts of the EU cooperation within justice and home affairs Denmark is to participate in. And which parts we are not to participate in.

I find it very important that we can both maintain Denmark’s participation in the police cooperation and our opt-outs regarding migration.

The Government will now initiate an analysis that is to provide the basis for changing the opt-out to an opt-in arrangement. The work is to be completed before the summer.

Before a referendum, a political agreement will need to be negotiated. An agreement that makes it absolutely clear what Denmark opts into and opts out of. So that Danes have a solid basis on which to vote. We must take the time that is needed. We must prepare the referendum thoroughly. This referendum will be vital for Denmark and the Danish people.

Yesterday, I spoke with the leaders of the pro-EU parties. It is my wish that we can reach consensus on initiating a process leading to a referendum to be held after the next general election.

* * *

What happens in the world around us affects us here in Denmark. This applies also to the economy.

When I gave my opening address three years ago, the Government’s task was clear. We needed to lead Denmark out of the crisis. And we would do so in a responsible manner based on solidarity.

Denmark was hit extra hard by the economic crisis. Because action was not taken in the first decade of the new century. The good times were allowed to run unchecked. We were one of the wealthy countries whose level of prosperity dropped most. We lost over 100,000 jobs.

Three years ago, Denmark was in the midst of an economic crisis. Today, our economy is stronger. More people have found employment. A total of 36,000 more since the beginning of last year. Unemployment has fallen. Exports have risen. The housing market is healthier. Consumer confidence is higher. Deep crisis has been turned to progress.

Of course, we are affected by what happens abroad. Especially in Europe. And there the prospects are mixed.

Everyone wishes that things would speed up. And that the road was more even. But in Denmark we are doing what we can to pave the way towards better times.

We are boosting Denmark. Over three years, the Government has prioritised historically high public investments.

We are improving competitiveness. Last year, we adopted a major Growth Plan for Denmark. This year, we have decided to adopt an equally large Growth Plan. We will lower taxes on energy. Improve access to capital. So as to enable our companies to create jobs.

We are driving growth forward. All with one single objective in mind: To create more jobs.

* * *

For most people, having a job provides a basic sense of security. A job, of course, with decent conditions. Which is not automatically the case. The labour market we have today is one that workers have fought hard to achieve.

It is important to stand together to protect workers’ rights. We will raise the tax deduction on union membership dues. The former government cut the deduction. We will give tax cuts to 1.3 million Danes who assume a responsibility to the community.

And over three years, we have spent more than DKK 500 million on the fight against social dumping. Better use of labor clauses. More inspections at workplaces. More stringent requirements regarding the registration of foreign companies. We have acted. Why was nothing done during the first decade of this century?

We will implement an employment reform. The unemployed with the least education will have the chance to get more. We have no use for meaningless courses.

And together with the Socialist People’s Party and the Red-Green Alliance, we have secured a means of subsistence for more than 40,000 people. All those who have been affected by the brutal phasing-in of the shorter unemployment benefit period.

We will remedy this with DKK 3.3 billion. This is what we have decided to do. We do not abandon people.

We have also asked the Unemployment Benefit Commission to work faster. So as to enable the Folketing to negotiate a new unemployment benefit system after the next general election.

And now the Government will make an extra effort to improve the working environment. Going to work must not make us sick. Of course not.

Here in the Folketing, a broad majority have set ambitious targets. We must have fewer serious work-related accidents – 25 per cent fewer. And injuries such as a bad back must be reduced by 20 per cent.
The Government will act to ensure we can reach these targets.

We will spend the money in areas where the problems are greatest. There needs to be greater monitoring of companies where there is a high risk of a poor working environment.

And we will crack down hard in cases of repeated mismanagement of hazardous chemicals. Or in cases of unsafe scaffolding. We will increase the fines in cases where regulations are repeatedly breached.

Denmark must be able to go to work in safety.

* * *

We want to bring Denmark out of the crisis. But it has to be in our way. Everyone must be on board.

In Europe, the crisis has in some places led to major cutbacks in welfare. This could also easily have happened in Denmark. It didn’t. We chose another path.

The crisis tested our welfare society. And our welfare society passed the test. Because we acted. We have implemented reforms. We have restored the economy. This gives us the opportunity to strengthen our community.

This Government has invested DKK 10 billion extra in welfare since 2011.

We make solid changes that are driving Denmark forward. We make solid improvements to the daily lives of Danes. A new primary and lower secondary school. Modern psychiatry. Earlier cancer treatment.

And we have made a difference to the citizens most in need of it.

For the elderly who get more cleaning help. This was made possible by the DKK 1 billion targeted at the elderly. For the pensioners who have received an increase in their supplementary pension benefit. For the sole breadwinner in work who has been given an extra tax cut – DKK 8,500 each year. And for the children who can hold a birthday or join a sports club because we have abolished poverty relief.

Denmark has moved forward. Now we must not jeopardise our welfare. Especially not for the most vulnerable in our society.

* * *

A strong and robust welfare society means ensuring opportunities and a feeling of safety for the individual. We have such a society today. Because we have decided that that is how it should be.

But will we also have secure welfare tomorrow? I want to say it very clearly: This is also our own choice.

In the coming years, additional funds are nessasary as more elderly people need to see the doctor. As more young people get more education. And as new medicines and new methods of treatment are used in the hospitals.

The Government has planned the economic policy so that each year we have extra money to improve our welfare. Put in slightly simplified terms, we have DKK 3 billion extra to spend next year. The following year, we will have a further DKK 3 billion on top of that. In other words, we will have DKK 6 billion. In three years’ time, we will have DKK 9 billion. And so on.

We can step up a rung on the ladder each year. It is not a big step. It is not luxury. But it provides us with good opportunities to do more in areas where it means a great deal to many people.

If, on the other hand, there is zero growth. And if, at the same time, there is a wish to spend more on health. Then it will be necessary to cut elsewhere.

We stand at a crossroads. We decide for ourselves which path we wish to take. The Government’s path is more welfare. We wish to invest in our community.

Now is not the time for wild ideas about dubious tax cuts. Now is not the time for zero growth in the public sector without a long-term plan for our welfare. And let me make it absolutely clear: This is absolutely not the time for experimenting with our economy and welfare society.

* * *

We are spending more money on welfare. And we are also spending it in a different way. Because we have a clear objective that everyone should have equal opportunities in Denmark. Genuinely equal opportunities.

Take our health. One of the first actions of this Government was to abolish tax deductions on private health insurance policies. And we removed user charges that were beginning to creep into hospital corridors. Childless couples, for example, should not have to pay for fertility treatment.

We have chosen to strengthen our public hospitals.

We have introduced a right to prompt clinical investigation. The target is a diagnosis within 30 days.

Waiting times for operations have never been shorter than they are today. And we are investing more than DKK 2 billion in new and modern facilities and treatments within psychiatry.

I am particularly pleased that the waiting times for children and young people with mental illnesses have been shortened by almost a month since 2011. A child must receive help quickly. So that she is not pulled further and further away from her daily life and her friends.

This Government believes in free and equal access to health care. It is our way. It is a fundamental security for all of us.

I have received an e-mail from a man aged 49 who suffers from spinal arthritis. It is a terrible and debilitating disease. Medication can provide some relief. It costs DKK 150,000 a year, and as he writes he does not have to pay himself, thank God, “because I am so fortunate that I am a Danish national.”

He also writes that it took far too long time before he got his diagnosis. Time during which the disease spread so much that even the best medication cannot make up for what has already been destroyed. And that is why this 49-year-old man says to me in his e-mail: “It is extremely important to diagnose a disease at a much earlier stage than in my case.”

He is right. And that is exactly the reason why the Government has earmarked DKK 5 billion for better health under the heading “The sooner, the better.”

We will make an effort to improve everyday life for those suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (KOL) or arthritis. A million Danes suffer from these.

First and foremost, we must take steps to prevent people from having to go in and out of hospital. It is the Government’s target that the number of emergency admissions to hospital should be reduced by 20 per cent.

And for the 260,000 Danes suffering from cancer, the chance of survival must be greater. We have set the new and ambitious target that three out of four cancer patients must be alive five years after they have been diagnosed with cancer. Today, slightly more than 50 per cent of these patients live that long. It is far too few. And fewer than in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The Government will invest in better health. Next year, we will spend an extra DKK 500 million. Over the next three years, about an extra DKK 1.5 billion every year. A total of DKK 5 billion over four years. Planned and financed. And this is on top of the extra money that the regions have already received through the annual financial agreement.

All this we can do because the economic policy we pursue enables us to put money aside for developing public service.

* * *

Public health is improving. We live longer. That is good.

But the fact that we grow older also means that more people are affected by dementia. It is a terrible disease. Just imagine how insecure people must feel when the surrounding world becomes incomprehensible and the words disappear.

Today, approx. 90,000 people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related diseases. In future, there will be even more. The Government will spend an extra DKK 100 million on ensuring that people with dementia experience a better everyday life. We must be able to afford that.

Dementia can manifest itself in many different ways. Some people get angry and upset. Others become passive. It requires knowledge of dementia to nurse people with different needs. Nursing staff must therefore be better trained to provide the specific care that the individual person needs.

Also the nursing homes must be designed so as to provide a sense of safety in a world that is experienced as increasingly confusing. It may be as simple as painting doors and walls in different colours. To ensure that the residents do not get lost.

To many people with dementia, the family is the fixed reference point in their lives. Husbands, wives and children give much of themselves – perhaps even too much. They must have the opportunity to keep a grip on their own lives. More must be done to ease the burden on next of kin.

Human beings do not fit a standard formula. Fortunately. And that is why we must talk more openly about the problems that arise when a husband, wife or parent is diagnosed with dementia. We must see the human being behind the disease. We must not act high-handedly towards the elderly person.

I want a public sector that places focus on the citizen. Hospitals and doctors that place the patient at the centre. A school where different children learn in different ways. And care for the elderly that takes into account that we do not grow old in the same way.

Every day, nurses, doctors, social and health care assistants, teachers, social educators and many others make a great effort to ensure that this is possible. What you have in common in your work is that you are involved with people. People who need a helping hand. They get it from you.

* * *

We must take responsibility for each other.

This is what two out of three Danes do who participate or have participated in voluntary activities. They make a very specific difference to other people.

To the girl or boy who learns to play football. To the elderly man or woman who gets taken for a walk in the countryside. To the homeless person who gets a meal. And voluntary activities reach far beyond this.

It will be difficult to find a country where people trust each other as much as in Denmark.

Why do we feel so safe and confident about other people? I have no doubt that “voluntary Denmark” is one of the explanations.

This is where we meet face to face. We perform a task side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Together with people who may be older or younger, from another part of the country, or from an altogether different social environment. We learn to respect those who are different from ourselves.

The volunteers put in a great effort for many people. What can we do for the volunteers? The Government has asked them that question. And we will take their advice:

If a lawyer on early retirement benefit would like to put in eight hours every Monday at a crisis centre for women, her early retirement benefit will be cut. The reason is that only four hours of volunteering are allowed per week. This ceiling will now be raised to 15 hours.

If a schoolteacher does the cooking at a café for homeless people once a month, he is today required to attend a three-day course in food hygiene. We will remove that requirement. Similarly, we will remove paperwork. In future, the swimming club will not need to carry out a workplace assessment for the volunteer who coaches a team Tuesday evening.

We have listened to the two million Danes who make a voluntary contribution. They deserve our respect. They bring everybody on board.

* * *

How do we give the many the opportunity and freedom to live a better life? Through education.

It is 200 years ago that Denmark introduced compulsory education. In 1814, it was a milestone. In 2014, we set a new milestone. I am very pleased that a broad majority of parties in the Folketing have shown decisiveness in passing the new primary and lower secondary school reform.

Last month, I visited Katrinebjerg School in Århus. There, the first grade is learning English. In the fourth grade’s homework assistance class I talked with a girl who had become much better at multiplication. And the pupils in the eighth grade learn about the periodic table outside in the schoolyard by placing slips of paper with elements written on them in the right boxes.

Throughout Denmark, 570,000 pupils and their teachers are busily involved in creating a new primary and lower secondary school. And also in tackling the obstacles that are always to be found on new paths.

And at our vocational education and training colleges, teachers and heads are preparing for a new start for their 130,000 students. Pipe fitters, painters and sales assistants must have the education and respect they deserve. With more and better teaching.

The next step will be the upper secondary schools. Previously, the upper secondary certificate was for the elite. Today, it is for the general public. In that sense, upper secondary schools are a success story. Many complete upper secondary school. More go on to higher education. And they do so faster than before. But there are also challenges.

Do you remember Emil? Emil has got a new primary and lower secondary school. And he has decided to opt for a vocational education and training programme after leaving primary and lower secondary school.

Many of you have probably guessed that Emil is not an only child. Emil has a sister. Her name is Sofie.

What will Sofie do after primary and lower secondary school? Sofie is happy about school and is planning to study, perhaps at university. Upper secondary school would be the right choice then. But it is not easy for Sofie to choose the right way into upper secondary school.

She is not quite sure what she wants to do afterwards. She is interested in social sciences and history. She would also like to take English and drama classes. But she does not know that mathematics is required in order to enter many higher education programmes – for example social sciences.

It can prove a problem for Sofie and her friends to see through the many different specialiazed study programs. And it can be difficult for the parents – I know from experience.

The consequence is that too many get an upper secondary certificate which they cannot use to start directly on the education programme of their choice. It means they must take supplementary subjects.

The Government will improve and streamline the upper secondary school. We will take action in three areas:

Firstly, we will make it easier for the students to choose the right specialized study program. The structure must be made clearer and contain fewer lines. And the students must have the right subjects and levels of attainment to be able to use their upper secondary certificate for getting into higher education.

Secondly, we will strengthen the academic level. We will make mathematics at intermediate level obligatory for more students. And the students must be offered more and better individual assistance with their written assignments. Each student must have the guidance from the teacher that is needed.

Thirdly, the school year must be put to better use. Especially in the first and second year of upper secondary school when the students do not have that many exams. Fewer revision breaks and more teaching. To make the students even more competent.

We will change upper secondary school to ensure that it fulfils what has always been its task: To prepare the young for higher education – from dental technician to schoolteacher or engineer.

And the young are extremely keen on moving on to higher education. So much so that also this year they have beaten the previous year’s record high intake. Never have so many obtained a study place – 64,397 to be exact. Denmark’s young take responsibility for their future.

The Government also takes responsibility. We have set the target that our children and youth are to become the best educated generation in the history of Denmark. And we are the Government investing most ever in education – an extra DKK 9 billion for education and state education support (SU) since we took office.

We are developing our education programmes and our society. We can do this because we do not believe in zero growth in the public sector.

* * *

The Denmark we pass on to our children must be better than the Denmark we took over from our parents. This applies to our economy, to our welfare, and it applies to our nature.

Therefore, the Government has drawn up a 2020 economic plan ensuring that the books balance. We have set national 2020 social inclusion targets so that our welfare also benefits the citizens who are worst off – the homeless, vulnerable children, women subjected to violence. And now we are launching a 2020 plan for our nature.

How often do you think Danes use our nature? A total of 110 million times a year. We go for walks in the forest, we go to the beach or we go bird watching. It is in nature we prefer to spend our free time. And that is why nature is part of our rich tradition of association activities. Part of public health. And part of school education.

Nature impacts on us as human beings. Denmark’s landscapes are reflected in our visual arts, songs and music. Our forests and beaches are part of Danish history. They must also be part of Denmark’s future.

I want a Denmark where we can both live a modern life and enjoy a rich natural environment.

The green balance does not come by itself. In the first decade of this century, nature was worn down. We will remedy that with a new Nature Plan Denmark.

We must take care of our moors, lakes and marshes. Therefore, we will prohibit the use of fertilizers and pesticides in these areas.

Natural landscapes must not be destroyed. Therefore, if people break the regulations, they will have to pay. We will increase the fines. And we want more nature.

Today, we see meadows and forests as isolated islands on the map of Denmark. In future, they are to be linked up by new natural landscapes. Which will give Danes new experiences.

The Government will invest in nature – to the tune of an extra DKK 195 million over three years. For the sake of nature, for our own sake and for our children’s sake.

* * *

In the Faroe Islands and in Greenland, whaling is part of lifestyle and culture. And catches are made on a sustainable basis with respect for nature.

Three weeks ago, Greenland’s whale quotas were secured. It is a result of great joint efforts made by Denmark and Greenland to achieve this. We succeeded because we pulled together. The Danish Realm makes us bigger. And I am pleased that the fisheries dispute between the Faroe Islands and the EU has now been resolved. I hope this autumn’s negotiations on herring quotas in the North Atlantic will also prove constructive.

The Faroe Islands and Greenland face great economic challenges. More elderly people. Fewer in the work force. Public expenditure will increase. There is a need for new revenue. And for reforms to ensure a sustainable economy.

We cooperate on strengthening the business community in the Faroe Islands and in Greenland. The Government proposes, for example, that the Danish Growth Fund can grant loans to companies in the entire Danish Realm – not just to Danish companies.

The Danish Realm is based on our culture, our history – as well as on families and friendships that keep the spirit of community strong and alive.

But, naturally, we are also three different countries. A case in point is that an election has been called for the Greenland Parliament on 28 November. We await the result of the elections and the formation of a new government in Greenland.

* * *

Today we embark on a new Parliamentary Session.

In the course of three years we have brought Denmark forward. All of Denmark. We have put the worst of the crisis behind us. But we have not reached the goal yet. Now is the time to stand firm. And not jeopardise what we have achieved.

In the new session we must look ahead. We must make decisions that will shape our common future.

I want a Denmark that takes international responsibility. Where we cooperate actively, render assistance in the world at large, and protect ourselves.

I want a Denmark where we get the best educated generation in our history. We will build on our large-scale reforms of primary and lower secondary school and the vocational education and training programmes. Now we will make a good upper secondary school even better.

I want a Denmark with free and equal access to health care. We will invest DKK 5 billion including better cancer treatment.

I want a Denmark based on solidarity. With care. And safety.

The Government has set a clear course. We want a Denmark where we take care of each other. So that the country we pass on to the next generations is stronger and safer than the country we ourselves took over.

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

LONG LIVE DENMARK.

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!