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In December, I participated in an event organised by a newspaper that every year asks its readers a question at one and the same time simple and complicated: Who is to be named Dane of the Year?
The readers’ answer was: Dan Uzan.
Dan Uzan was brutally shot down in the early morning of 15 February when the Synagogue in Copenhagen was attacked.
The inscription on his memorial plaque reads: “Evil can be vanquished through human kindness alone. Kindness takes courage.”
Dan had courage. The courage of kindness. He protected the guests at a bat mitzvah celebration. He protected and took care of others. Without thinking of himself.
The terrorist attack in Copenhagen. A Russian passenger plane which exploded over the Sinai Peninsula. The killing of tourists in Tunisia. Attacks in Beirut. Attacks in California. The bloody attacks in Paris.
Everywhere, the victims were innocent and defenceless people. Could they have been our nearest relatives? Could they have been our children? The thought comes to mind. It is the nature of terrorism to cause that particular fear.
But we must never give up our everyday lives and our free lives. Never be afraid of getting on the train or sitting down at a table in a café. Because then the terrorists will have won. And if fear makes some frown on people with another background than their own. Then the terrorists will also have won.
They try to create fear between people. To draw false lines of divisions. Between the West and Islam. But the true line of division runs differently. Between light and darkness. Between freedom and tyranny. Between the courage of kindness and cowardly evil.
We must fight the terrorists as the murderers and criminals they are. Both when they kill innocent people in Iraq and in Syria. And when they attack us here in Denmark.
That is why we are strengthening our Intelligence Services. That is why we are allocating more resources to the Police. And that is why Danish soldiers are participating in international efforts against terrorism.
I wish to thank all Danish women and men in the Police and the Danish Defence. At home and abroad. You protect and take care of Denmark!
* * *
We must all protect and take care of Denmark, especially at a time when historically many people are trying to get to Europe.
Some are fleeing from war and persecution. It is heartrending. Others seek to escape poverty. It is understandable.
But it puts strong pressure on Europe and on Denmark. Right now, we are facing perhaps the greatest and most complicated crisis we have seen so far this century.
The way in which we handle the crisis will be of decisive importance for Denmark’s future.
We cannot open Denmark to one and all. Nor can we turn our backs and enjoy life ourselves, oblivious to the world around us.
I will strive to lead Denmark through the migration and refugee crisis in such a way that we can recognise our country while the crisis is ongoing – and also recognise it once we are past the crisis. With our economy, our cohesion and our values intact.
Let us be honest with each other – we are challenged: our economy is challenged when we need to spend many extra billions on asylum seekers and refugees. Money that might otherwise be spent on health, education and more private-sector jobs.
Our cohesion is challenged when many arrive in Denmark from altogether different cultures. People who are not familiar with the unwritten rules and norms that are so obvious to us. Because we have grown up in a tradition with freedom, broad-mindedness, gender equality and equality of status.
And our fundamental values are challenged as well as our image of who we really are. We Danes are generous. We wish to help. It is an integral part of us as human beings and citizens of a welfare society. It is an integral part of our history as a country. We are open to the world at large and we have a reputation for acting with decency.
We must hold on to all this. The economy, the sense of harmony, the values, the decent conduct. And how convenient it would be if there was one simple solution to the problem – which, by a wave of the hand, would solve it all. Unfortunately, that simple solution does not exist.
We must keep a warm heart and a cool head. We must navigate between idealism and realism. We must render assistance in the world around us, but we must also protect and take care of Denmark.
Therefore, we must take various measures. Some here in Denmark. Others in the world at large. We will be able to help the largest number of people best if we focus our effort close to their native country. Relative to our size, Denmark is one of the countries that are providing most humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees. That’s the way it should be.
And we are pushing to find a solution within the EU. We need to reinforce the control of Europe’s external borders. Especially in Greece and in Italy. The point is: When Europe cannot control its external borders, we see that the open borders within Europe close again. To the detriment of growth and prosperity.
Sweden will tighten controls on its border with Denmark. This will happen very soon. For the first time since the 1950s, we will now need to carry ID cards in order to cross the Sound between Denmark and Sweden. This shows what is at stake. And it may give rise to a situation where we will have to introduce border controls with Germany if we find that this is best for Denmark. We do not want to see migrants and asylum seekers on our motorways again. We will ensure calm. We will ensure order.
The decisive responses to the migration and refugee crisis must be found internationally. We are contributing to that. But we most also take action ourselves.
We need to keep the number of asylum seekers at a reasonable level. That is why the government is pursuing a consistent immigration policy: Increasing demands on people to provide for themselves. Increasing demands on those wanting to obtain Danish nationality. Increasing demands on those wanting family reunification.
I am proud that we in Denmark have been spared repeated arson attacks on asylum centres. Unfortunately, we have seen these attacks in our neighbouring countries. It must never become like that in Denmark.
I am pleased that Danish trade unions and employers’ associations have said very clearly that they share the government’s ambition - that we must become significantly better at integrating refugees into our work community.
Now is the time to put these words into action. That will be the first thing we will address in the tripartite negotiations in the new year.
Similarly, the government will invite the municipalities to a dialogue on how we jointly can ease the enormous task they are charged with. The municipalities will have to receive more refugees and more persons granted family reunification than has been the case for many years.
We must become better at integrating those who come to Denmark.
In the years ahead, there is actually extra money allocated in the government budget towards improving our society. Towards investment in welfare. Towards tax relief. There is a risk that these funds will vanish in the form of increasing expenditure on refugees. That must not happen.
Also for this reason, it is very important that we at one and the same time limit the number of asylum seekers and become more successful at integrating them into society. Otherwise, the bill will prove too big. In human terms. And in economic terms.
We must protect and take care of Denmark.
* * *
Denmark is past the economic crisis. We are on the path towards making new progress. Employment is on the increase. Unemployment is low. Families spend more money. There is cause for optimism. And we must ensure that the whole country will echo this optimism.
I do not want a country divided up into development and decline. I want a Denmark where it is possible to live in a small town and close to nature. I think that is what many families would like.
And that is why there must be proper internet connection. Good access to education. The possibility of local development. And not least: the possibility of a job.
Therefore, we are moving thousands of government jobs from the Capital to the rest of the country.
And we need more private-sector jobs. Not just within some sectors – but in the manufacturing industry, in agriculture, on construction sites, in offices and in shops.
Therefore, we are lowering business taxes and freeing businesses from too many rules and regulations. To enable them to direct their energy into what they are here for: to produce goods and generate growth; to create jobs.
And later this year, we will propose tax cuts for those in work. We must show appreciation of those who go to work every day. And we must recognise how gratifying it is to make one’s own money. Fewer Danes must be provided for by the State, and more must provide for themselves.
* * *
We must bring all of Denmark on board. And we must bring all Danes on board.
There has been much focus on the need for everybody to be more competent and to run faster. But we must not become so highly focused on reaching the goalpost first that we forget those who are left behind at the start. I am thinking of young people who have not really come to grips with school. And who, therefore, run the risk of not coming to grips with life.
When I travel throughout the country, I sometimes come across young people who have participated in a project for marginalized boys, which I launched some years ago. Youngsters who come up to me and say “Hi Lars” and tell me that they have now started an education. Others write to me that they have got a good grade in school – for the first time in their lives.
It warms my heart when this happens, and it makes me proud on behalf of the boys. Because I know that behind every success story there is hard work.
It requires that the youngster is working hard. That the teachers have a passionate commitment to their work and see opportunities where others have given up. And that the parents downgrade Facebook and upgrade expectations.
We can succeed. But only by working together. And more young people must experience success. We will address this in the new year together with people who know the young and their problems. Teachers and people with a passionate commitment. Businessmen and researchers.
* * *
We will protect and take care of Denmark together. This is our strength. This has made us one of the world’s most affluent, free and harmonious countries. We must hold on to this strength – also when we disagree.
And we do from time to time – about a great many things. Also about the EU. We saw that on 3 December in the referendum on a change of the Justice and Home Affairs opt-out. I myself recommended a “Yes”. And so did many people with me. But the majority voted “No”.
Putting an issue to a referendum requires that the result is listened to. And acted upon. The Government is doing that.
The referendum revealed considerable scepticism towards the EU.
I am not blind to this scepticism. I, too, believe that there are many things we do best ourselves: How we organise our welfare society and how we distribute the public goods we create ourselves. This is something we must decide ourselves.
However, we must not forget that close cooperation in Europe is necessary for a small country. That a large common market makes Denmark more prosperous and creates more jobs. And that cooperation is decisive for the countries to respond to common challenges. Pollution. Cross-border crime. Competition from other parts of the world.
Irrespective of the fact that we, at times, find that the EU interferes too much, it is also by being part of the EU that we protect and take care of Denmark.
The referendum on 3 December revealed not only scepticism towards the EU. It also revealed a crisis of confidence between large parts of the population and those of us who are politicians at Christiansborg (the Danish Parliament).
I believe that this lack of confidence is due to several factors: Promises that were not kept. Personal matters that came to dominate the agenda. Complicated problems that were made to look too simple.
We need a better dialogue with each other. Where we listen, also – and perhaps in particular – to those we disagree with. Where we recognise that every issue has more than one side. I wish to contribute to that.
The point is: If we lose the ability to speak with each other, wherever we are in society, we will lose something that is very Danish. I think - and this may sound a little formal – that we will lose the special characteristic of our democracy. Equality among people. Respect for other people’s points of view. Decency. The broad cooperation on which Denmark is based.
That must not happen.
We need to speak openly and honestly about the problems, listen to each other and find solutions together. It is only through the ability to speak together and cooperate that we can protect and take care of Denmark together.
With this request to all of us, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year!