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Thank you all for coming today. I am pleased to have this opportunity to once again meet with you. I will give you an overview of current affairs seen from my perspective and I look forward to exchange views with you afterwards.
Some of the key foreign policy developments that we are currently focused on include of course European affairs, the Arctic as well as the crisis in Syria. I will also address other issues including the Danish development assistance and the Danish work within the area of preventive security.
First, however, a few words on national developments in Denmark.
The Danish society is built on the core principle of equal opportunity for all.
Since my Government took office about two years ago, we have worked to ensure that this fundamental principle of solidarity remains intact even as we take measures to exit the financial crisis.
For that reason, we have pursued a balanced policy.
Our budget proposal for 2014, which is currently being negotiated, reflects our determination to ensure that the economy gets back on track while making social improvements.
We are ensuring that public finances are kept on a sound footing. And at the same time, we are supporting growth and employment.
My government firmly believes that education is a fundamental prerequisite for growth, welfare and our competitiveness. That is why we have put reforms of our education system at the top of our agenda.
In fact, we are spending more on education and training than any previous Danish government.
Recently we have secured a broad political majority behind a very ambitious reform of our primary and lower secondary schools.
The aim is to challenge all children to reach their full potential. This means more lessons for our children – especially in Danish and Math – and more varied and inspiring school days. Also English will be introduced around the age of seven.
Vocational Education and Training has been a cornerstone in the Danish education system for decades.
Alternating between school-based education and work place experience plays a crucial role in supporting young people’s readiness for the labour market. We know that from experience.
Recently, my government has launched a major reform to enhance the quality of our vocational education and training system to reduce drop-out rates, which are currently too high.
A key priority for us is to avoid a situation where people become dependent on public welfare for years. For that reason, we have changed cash benefit rules to provide the necessary incentives for people to take up education or employment.
And we have implemented a tax reform that reduces income tax.
As part of the significant Growth Plan DK, where we are strengthening our companies’ competitiveness and Danish jobs, we have also implemented reductions in the corporate tax rate and other corporate duties.
This comes on top of our efforts to reduce administrative burdens and ensure an optimal business climate in Denmark. As late as last week, the World Bank ranked Denmark number one in Europe in its ease of doing business index.
And let me add that a historically ambitious energy agreement will support the Danish companies who are already leading in this field.
The agreement will ensure that - by 2020 - more than 35 per cent of our energy comes from renewable energy sources and close to 50 per cent of our electricity consumption is generated by wind power. At the same time, the agreement will ensure a stable framework for the business community as a whole, and the energy sector in particular.
Education, business environment, public welfare and green energy – in all of these areas, the Government has taken important decisions.
And today, Denmark stands stronger compared to two years ago. The economic mood is changing from uncertainty to cautious optimism.
We expect a modest growth this year – and a more substantial growth next year. We have seen increasing confidence among consumers and businesses and positive developments in the labour market.
Our economic policy still supports growth and employment within the framework of sound fiscal policy. The level of public investments is high. At the same time it is a basic premise that our fiscal planning complies with the EU-recommendation to reduce public deficits.
Denmark is back on track.
Let me now turn to foreign policy issues. If I had to use two words to characterise Danish foreign policy it would be “committed” and “active”. To me, this means that we are ready to make difficult decisions when that is required of us. And that we commit ourselves through development aid and humanitarian assistance.
First, a few words on the EU.
Although things look a bit brighter in 2013, the European debt crisis is not over. We still have hard work ahead of us to restore stability and growth and we are still faced with considerable challenges such as alarmingly high youth unemployment in Europe as a whole.
But we are progressing and are beginning to see the effect of our efforts to mitigate the crisis. Over the past year and a half, we have progressed from acute crisis handling to a focus on improving our economies short term and long term.
An important part of our work right now is the strengthening of European banks to avoid future crises. Recently, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a Single Supervisory Mechanism that will improve financial stability in Europe.
And we have set ourselves a tight deadline to reach agreement between the Member States on a Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) in December.
Denmark fully supports the work on establishing a banking union as part of the on-going work to strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union. It is important to underpin financial stability in the euro area and the EU as a whole.
We have not yet decided on possible Danish participation. We will take this decision later on when all elements of the banking union are clear.
The steps Europe has taken to strengthen banks, improve budgetary balances and keep macro-economic imbalances in check are all necessary to ensure a stable foundation for sound economies and growth.
At the same time, we are working towards increasing growth. Our top priorities are to improve the Single Market, move towards a more digital economy, enhance energy efficiency, and improve free trade just to mention a few. This work should be accelerated to ensure that we make full use of the growth levers at our disposal.
Also, the fight against youth unemployment remains a key objective of the EU as well as my government.
I look very much forward to the youth employment summit in Paris next week where I will share experiences from Denmark.
I believe in a strong European Union capable of addressing the challenges ahead of us – not least in the economic area. And I firmly believe that being an active, skillful and trustworthy partner in the European Union is what serves Denmark’s interests best. Consequently, it is my ambition that Denmark should remain as close to the core of the EU as possible.
That is also why this government would like to do away with our opt-out in the area of defence and to change our opt-out regarding Justice and Home Affairs to an opt-in.
As you know, abolishing the defence opt-out and changing the opt-out on Justice and Home Affairs will require a referendum. We will only take steps to have a referendum when the time is ripe. For the time being, I find that the European project is surrounded by too much uncertainty to take that step.
Moving to another key foreign policy priority, the Arctic.
The developments in the Arctic and the increased global interest for the region bring challenges as well as opportunities.
Our goal is to maintain the Arctic as a region characterised by peace and cooperation. Our means to do so is to continue our cooperative approach and follow existing international regulation.
Having said that, we know that the increasing global interest in the Arctic demands more of us than status quo.
We need to ensure that the development and growth take place in a sustainable and social manner. Growth and development need to respect the vulnerable Arctic climate.
On that basis, the Danish Government will initiate a thorough analysis of how we can best address the future challenges in the Arctic. This is a very important priority for this Government. And within the Realm of Denmark we are cooperating very closely on the dossier.
In terms of the broader international agenda, I want to briefly touch upon two areas of interest: Syria and – a bit closer to home – the European Partnership.
The conflict in Syria poses grave political, humanitarian and security challenges.
The chemical attack on 21 August was absolutely unacceptable and we gave our political support for efforts to pressure the regime to comply.
The subsequent adoption of the UN-OPCW mission was a positive development that we must now build on. Denmark has decided to contribute financially to the work of the OPCW in Syria, and we stand ready to consider additional contributions.
Denmark continues to support the moderate Syrian opposition. We have recently appointed a special envoy to the Syrian opposition, and we have increased our support for stabilisation efforts, notably in the police and justice sectors in opposition-controlled areas.
We will continue to urge the Coalition to engage in the Geneva II process and to ensure a broad-based opposition delegation in the talks.
We also give substantial humanitarian support. So far, we have contributed more than 80 million dollars to the humanitarian efforts and we keep pressing for humanitarian access.
It is through our support for the opposition and our humanitarian support that we believe we can make a difference.
Looking ahead let me now briefly turn to the Eastern Partnership. I will attend the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius later this month. The single most important issue will be whether the EU will be able to sign an association and free trade agreement with the Ukraine at the summit.
On the EU side we have since December last year, made it clear that the signature will depend on Ukraine’s reform efforts. Despite some progress, there are still outstanding issues. We will make an assessment of the progress later this month.
I sincerely hope it will be possible to sign the agreement in Vilnius. The association agreement will benefit both the Ukraine and the EU. So will the agreements with Georgia and Moldova, which we expect to initiate in Vilnius.
I believe that closer cooperation between the EU and its Eastern neighbours is to the benefit of the entire region. This is not a game, where one party’s gain is another party’s loss. Closer cooperation will benefit the entire region – including Russia – not only the Eastern partners and the EU.
My government remains committed to maintaining the high level and quality of Danish development cooperation.
With the 2014 Finance Bill, we will ensure that the Danish development aid will correspond 0.83 pct. of our expected GNI in 2014.
That puts Denmark in the club of just five countries that allocate more than 0.70 of their GNI to official development assistance; the others being Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the UK.
We do that because we believe it is necessary and makes a difference for those who need it. And because it gives us influence.
One of our top development priorities is education. As a champion of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative, I take pride in promoting quality education for all. Education lifts people out of poverty, it creates more equality between men and women and it creates growth and prosperity. Denmark is a very good example of that. Next year, we celebrate the 200th anniversary for Danish children’s right and duty to receive free education.
Free education has formed Danish society and has played an important role in creating equality and individual freedom.
Allow me to also briefly address the Danish growth market strategies. As we all know, the global economic framework is changing these years.
Most economists agree that more than 90 per cent of global growth will take place outside Europe in the coming 5 years, particularly in big growth economies such as China and India.
Denmark is taking this development very seriously. We are strengthening our efforts in the growth markets and we are exploiting new commercial opportunities.
In 2012, we launched our overall growth market strategy as well as specific action plans for the BRIC-countries. In 2013, we presented individual action plans for a number of other growth markets. For instance Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam.
Our growth market strategy identifies ambitious targets such as increased Danish exports to these countries by 50 per cent from 2011 to 2016.
To fulfil this target, Danish companies need a stronger presence in the emerging markets. And we need to raise awareness about Danish knowhow and commercial strongholds in these countries.
This is a strong priority for me and my Government.
Personally, I have visited countries such as China and South Africa – and you will see an increased number of visits by my ministers – most of them accompanied by Danish companies.
And it works. Since last year, Danish companies are improving their performance in the growth markets – even beyond the level of the targets in the strategies. The work continues, but we are on the right track.
However, one thing needs to be made clear: A number of traditional markets and partners will continue to play a dominating role in Danish foreign trade. And our efforts on the growth market efforts will not be at the expense of these traditional markets and partners.
In 2014, we will present new export and investment strategies focusing on three mature and big markets, the US, Germany and Japan. Apart from outlining the opportunities for Danish companies, we will roll out concrete initiatives that will help increase our commercial presence in these three countries.
It is important to also stress the potential that I see in some of the up-coming markets, notably in Africa.
In that regard I want to mention a new Danish initiative “Opportunity Africa”, which comprises foreign policy, development co-operation and trade and investments, in support of inclusive and green growth in Africa. The initiative was launched in connection with this year’s 3GF in Copenhagen.
Finally, let me add a few words on Denmark’s firm commitment to international stabilisation and crisis management.
Dealing with fragile states and creating stability in conflict areas is a key priority in Danish foreign policy.
We need to be better at combining our political, development and security assistance in an integrated approach – and engaging at an early stage, before full scale conflict erupts. We could call this preventive security policy.
Denmark supports the development of comprehensive and integrated approaches internationally – whether in the EU, NATO or the UN.
And we have launched an integrated stabilisation policy this September. Our ambition is to strengthen the integration of Denmark’s diplomatic efforts, development initiatives, civilian efforts and military instruments as we work to stabilise fragile and states affected by conflict.
I know that you will also be meeting the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Secretary later today and I am sure he will take you through some of the Danish foreign policy priorities in greater detail.
I am ready to answer any question you may have, but before I conclude, I want to stress the value that my Government attaches to international cooperation.
This meeting today is an example of such cooperation and I am very pleased with the relationship that my Government enjoys with all of you. I want to thank you all for your valuable commitment to Denmark. Your work here is greatly appreciated.
I thank you for your attention and I look forward to your questions and comments.