Check against delivery
Yesterday we said goodbye to the decade we learnt to know as the ’00s. It proved to be a decade with many encouraging achievements. The most encouraging probably being the record low unemployment rate in Denmark in the summer of 2008. But it also turned out to be a decade which eventually did cast long shadows. The entire world was seriously affected by a deep economic crisis, which we have not yet seen the end of. Danish enterprises have lost sales abroad. Jobs have been lost. Families are faced with unemployment and an insecure future.
The tendency to take progress for granted has suffered a blow. But we must not allow this setback to demoralise us. Admittedly, 2009 did not turn out to be the year we might have hoped for. On the other hand, it did not prove to be a year without hope.
It looks as if we have seen the worst of the economic crisis. Thanks to a world-wide and resolute effort to underpin the financial system and sustain the economy. Domestically, we are seeing tax cuts which, together with low interest rates, will boost the purchasing power of private households in 2010. A total of 600,000 Danes will no longer pay any middle-bracket tax. At the same time, we will increase public investments to a historically high level by moving forward investments in infrastructure, in schools, in day-care facilities and energy refurbishments of public buildings.
The crisis is a drain on the government’s coffers and – it is true – that with our current posture there will be a bill to pay once we have come safely through and recovered from the crisis. But it is economically justifiable because we repaid our debt during the prosperous years, whilst it contributes to keeping the wheels spinning and restoring optimism and trust in the future. For some time to come, unemployment will continue to rise – that is inevitable – but in the third quarter of 2009 the economic indicators pointed in the right direction. There is reason to believe that we will weather the crisis.
In Afghanistan, there are also encouraging achievements. I visited the Danish soldiers in the past year. I was very proud to meet so professional and deeply dedicated persons who put their lives on the line in the service of hope. They make a difference every day, every hour, every minute. They are a credit to Denmark.
An increased international force - to which Denmark continues to make a significant contribution - gives us reason to believe that we, within a foreseeable future, can begin to transfer overall responsibility to the Afghans. This is what the Afghans want, and it is what we want.
Denmark makes a great effort in Afghanistan, also for the sake of our own security. In order to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorist training and the planning of terrorism.
The terror threat against Denmark remains significant. In 2009, we experienced that Denmark was the object of a planned terrorist attack. But we also saw what an effective, preventive effort can do– both nationally and internationally.
It is little comfort to know that we share the fate of other free peoples, but it confirms us in our determination to stand firm in order to counter the threat through joint efforts. As we do, for example, in Afghanistan.
International cooperation was also put to the test at COP15 in Copenhagen. Despite everything, during some very hectic and less-than-stylish final hours of the climate summit, we succeeded in reaching a climate change accord. Not the grand, binding and thoroughly drawn up climate change agreement we had hoped for – and which intensive preparatory work and a historic presence of heads of state and government had given us reason to maintain as our common goal. Nevertheless, it constitutes a global framework agreeing on the 2 degrees Celsius target; a framework where there is agreement about allocating billions of dollars to help the developing countries; and where individual countries are to report in the course of January what they intend to contribute to reach the common goal.
It was this accord that won the support of the vast majority of the world’s countries, rich and poor, big and small, the last night in Copenhagen. When the smoke has cleared, I am sure that the Copenhagen Accord will prove to be the very foundation on which global climate undertakings are to be based on in the future.
The year 2009 will go down in history as a very important year – a kind of turning point, mentally. As a year that showed us – and taught us – that we must fight to hold on to progress – and that we must fight to hold on to what we have achieved.
With this lesson learned, we now embark on the new decade and take leave of the ’00s in which we saw the ever tempting face of greed: people wanting to make a quick profit from highly geared investments; the too-clever-by-half bonus scheme; banks recklessly lending out money in the conviction that we would see nothing but progress, progress, progress.
There are no quick or easy alternatives to hard and focused work that can realise what I in the past year tried to describe by the expression the “Danish Dream”.
I have come across Americans who think we are Socialists because taxes are so high in Denmark and Frenchmen who regard us as Ultra-Liberal because we have such a flexible labour market. But we do not want to carry a label. We have our own Danish Dream.
About a free, equal and just Denmark.
About a respectful and tolerant Denmark where there is room for every individual. On the individual’s own terms.
About a safe and secure Denmark where we do not allow gangs to take over entire neighbourhoods and towns and evade the control of the police and the authorities.
About a Denmark where we combine the modern human being’s wish for independence – to dare and to pursue one’s dreams – with a safe and secure community that extends a hand when we need it.
And we may all need that help. We may fall ill. We may lose our job. We may have been born into a family that is not capable of giving us a good start in life.
That is when we all need a warm hand and a strong community to give us a well-intentioned push towards a better future.
The Danish Dream unites us. And it is a challenge to us all to continue to realise it. For – unfortunately – it is not a law of nature that we, a mere five million people who live in this small part of the globe, should be among the happiest and most affluent in the entire world.
My children’s toys were “Made in China”. We found that to be quite natural in the 1990s. But today as we embark on a new decade and our kids have grown out of toys long ago, we can buy mobile phones that are not only “Made in China”, but also invented, developed and designed by highly skilled Chinese technicians.
The world around us has not come to a stand still. Denmark and together with us Europe – indeed, the entire Western world that used to determine the global order and define the sustaining values in the previous century – now faces serious competition from new emerging economies in India, Brazil, Korea, Singapore and China. We shouldn’t let ourselves be intimidated by that. On the other hand, we must not take it too lightly. Our unique prosperity is not a God-given phenomenon.
We must make a focused effort to develop and maintain Denmark’s leading position within all areas that generate growth and prosperity. That is our task in the new decade.
That is why the Government has established a Growth Forum, which commences its work in January, and which in the course of 2010 is to systematically analyse the areas where we need to sharpen our objectives, sharpen our focus and efforts so that Denmark and the Danish business community can benefit fully from the milder economic winds which hopefully await us. And we must start exactly where COP15 ended. By capitalising on the competitive edge in green technology which we definitely have – and which the world demands.
I have presented my bid for one common goal for Denmark: that we in 2020 must be one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world. Not because it is going to be easy. Not because I think that tangible wealth is the most important thing in the world. But because money is the means to achieving all the other things we want as a society: social welfare; a decent care of senior citizens; a well-functioning police force; a world class health service; a new cancer plan to follow up on recent years’ progress in cancer treatment; a clean environment. All in all we want the freedom to shape our society as we please.
We can become more affluent by working more, or by working harder. But first and foremost we need to become more skilful – far more skilful at making far more efficient use of our resources. And in Denmark, the resources are human. We live by the performance of human resources.
That is why we need to make a special effort where the seeds of learning are sown: in primary and lower secondary school.
I would like to say to you children who are watching this tonight that you master some skills where you are among the best in the world. You are creative. You like – and you are good at – cooperating. And you are happy about school. That is the best starting point imaginable for becoming even more skilful. And that is what you need to become. Each and every one of you to the extent of your talent. It is not possible to do without academically oriented knowledge and skills, which have often – erroneously – been called hard values. Knowledge is pure gold in our age.
Children are different, children learn in different ways, and they have different starting points. The girl in the third form who already knows a bit of English quickly runs the risk of getting bored if she is to repeat words like “chair” and “table” instead of starting on a children’s book in English. And the boy who sees figures dancing on the pages of his book instead of logical tables runs the risk of having to give up very soon unless he receives special help. Unless he is given peace and quiet to learn at his own speed.
It is my ambition that parents can send their children to school with the prospects that they are as interested and excited to learn on their last day of school as they were on the very first.
And the precondition for this is first and foremost reading. In order to unlock the world of adventure and the vault of knowledge in front of them, children need the key. The key is reading skills.
We have made progress. Today, the reading skills of children in the third form are equal to those that used to be fourth form reading skills. Our primary and lower secondary school is good. The fact, however, that this school is one of the most expensive in the world means that we must dare to make greater demands on it. I have therefore invited all school stakeholders – teachers, pupils, parents, educational institutions, trade organisations and employee organisations – to a special Marienborg-week in four weeks from now to start a full 360 degrees’ examination of the Danish primary and lower secondary school.
Together we should give the children a “reading pledge”. We should promise them that we will not burden them with other subjects until they have learnt to read – and read well. This can be achieved without any bureaucracy at all through a reading test in, for example, the second form and a promise that we will not move anybody up in the system without being sure that a focused, individual effort has provided them with the fundamental qualifications needed.
I think all children are able to dream without being able to read – but to fulfil their dreams and live out their dreams, Danish children need first to learn to read. Reading is the key!
We need everybody. This applies also to the many persons who have chosen to live in Denmark and who have not for generations been destined by family or fate to become Danes.
In just one generation, about half a million Danes will have a non-Western background. We will need every single one of you. The problem is if too few are employed and if nearly 50 per cent of the young men do not get an education. The tendency of young people to do nothing must come to an end. Everybody must embark on an education or get a job.
The same applies to culture: your contribution is most welcome. It was influences from abroad that gave rise to the Danish Golden Age. Much of what we consider altogether Danish comes from abroad. Our Christmas tree, the ballet, the labour movement! Culture does not thrive in a greenhouse. But it takes determination to make foreign flowers bloom in Denmark. The tendency of parallel societies must come to an end. If not, we lose cohesion.
All things considered, and in spite of the crisis, Denmark is a fantastic country. Together we have achieved much. Few have too much – and fewer too little. Even though it is a painful dilemma that we in one of the most affluent societies in the world have a group of people who live on the edge of society. We owe it to them to do our utmost to ensure that everybody becomes part of the community. We owe it to them to get Denmark safely through the crisis and fully restore economic progress.
We have turned a calendar leaf. Let us through a shared belief in the future – and a firm response to the challenges – put pessimism to shame. We can do it – if we want to.
Happy New Year!