Check against delivery
The last few days many of us have spent time on what we Danes are world famous for – practicing “hygge”.
When we want to “hygge” in my family, we watch Matador (Danish TV series).
And we are not the only ones. Even after 39 years and a number of reruns, the story of Korsbæk (fictional Danish town) continues to bring together both young and old people. I believe I have seen it twenty times myself.
Matador continues to speak to us, because it – like any true classic – says something not only about the past, but also about the present.
Matador shows that development offers opportunities. If we are prepared to seize them.
Those who only see the old world are doomed to fail. Like Damernes Magasin (lit.: the Ladies’ Store).
Those who think innovatively are able to lift themselves out of poverty. Like Agnes Jensen, the maid, who creates her own business.
It was a great honour and pleasure when I last year received a visit from the author of Matador, Lise Nørgaard. And there is a special reason why I mention her in my New Year Address tonight.
In the new year Lise Nørgaard will reach the age of 100!
* * *
When some people say that in 100 years everything will be forgotten, it is not true. Lise Nørgaard remembers for us.
That is why we know that since the time portrayed by Matador, there has only been one way: Forward!
We are wealthier. We live longer. We have more freedom to do what we want.
The present is better than the past. And the future? It can become even better!
Robots will do the hard work. Super computers will make better diagnoses than doctors. And self-driving cars will lead to safer roads.
The mind boggles at the idea. One tries to keep up with developments, but it is very hard to get one’s head around them.
The only constant is change.
We will have greater opportunities. This is good. But we run the risk that some are left behind. This is bad.
Last summer I had two experiences that are very clear to me. I have talked about them before. I will do it again tonight because I believe they show what we must pay attention to.
My elder son, Bergur, had got his bachelor’s degree in what is known as International Business. He celebrated that by inviting a group of fellow students for dinner at our home.
I did the cooking and waited on the young people. The conversation during dinner was animated – in impeccable English. About dreams. The future. Life.
Not until late in the evening did it dawn on me that all the guests were 100 per cent Danish. Apart from a young Canadian who actually also spoke very good Danish.
None of the young people that evening were afraid of change. They were already moving full speed ahead. Self-assured. Hopeful. Ready to take on the world!
Shortly after I went on a biking trip with another group of young people. As part of a project for marginalised boys, which I launched a few years ago. Boys who never really learnt anything at school. Who have experienced one defeat after another.
The conversation was animated here too. One of the boys had got a good grade. For the first time ever. Another boy hoped to get an apprenticeship.
These boys have dreams too, but the dreams are often interrupted by almost nightmarish anxiety: Have we got what it takes – can we do what it takes – to make our dreams come true?
It struck me how big the difference is between two groups of quite ordinary young Danes.
It reminded me of how important it is that all children and young people learn to get the basics right. To be able to read. To do arithmetic. So that they can move on. Get a better life. Therefore, the Government will launch a special initiative in the new year to target schools where many pupils perform poorly.
Everyone must have hope for the future.
The reason is that if many feel there are few opportunities - and only for the few. Then there is a risk that some might be tempted by easy solutions. Too easy solutions.
Like stopping development. Stopping new technology at the border. It just is not possible.
Nor can we keep jobs in Denmark by curbing trade with other countries.
And we cannot make the flows of refugees or the terrorist threat go away by opting out of the European and international cooperation that must solve the problems.
We cannot build walls against the world. If we do, we will end up locking ourselves in.
We must march head-on into the future. We must embrace the future. We must mould the future. Set goals for what we want.
And I want to set the goal high.
We must ensure that all become winners of the future. This is my message tonight.
We must both give support to those who are enthusiastic and new hope to those who are anxious.
And in Denmark we have a fantastic starting point for doing exactly this.
We have free education. A social security safety net. Secure welfare. Freedom. Gender equality.
We have become more wealthy and more free, generation by generation.
And we must now – as earlier – find the Danish way into the future. Every day we must set higher goals than yesterday. Cooperate to reach them.
* * *
I am pleased that we now see progress in all parts of Denmark.
All parts of the country must experience growth and development.
Therefore, we will give new hope to an agricultural sector under pressure. We will ease the burdens on companies. And at the same time we will continue to promote the green transition that is so important for global climate.
Therefore, we will give the municipalities greater freedom to create life both in the country and in the cities.
And therefore, we are relocating thousands of central government jobs from the Capital to other regions. A moving out or a moving in, depending on the perspective. And once they are in place, we will propose to relocate more jobs.
We must ensure that all become winners of the future. We have a historic chance for achieving this right now in that we have completely overcome the economic crisis.
The Government will give an extra bonus to those who after years of unemployment reach out for the opportunities of work that, generally speaking, have not been better for 40 years.
We must make the best of good times.
And here there are lessons to be learnt from last time when so few people were unemployed. It is almost ten years ago.
What happened then? Well, we were hit by the economic crisis. It happened suddenly and hard.
Denmark became poorer. Unemployment increased. The housing market ground to a halt.
Eventually, I had to face you in my 2011 New Year Address and announce a substantial tightening of the early retirement benefit scheme. And later on a major unemployment benefit reform was announced at very short notice.
It was necessary, but also tough – and it should not happen again.
We must make prudent adjustments in time. In order to avoid massive upheavals at short notice.
We must take on this responsibility.
In solidarity with those who run the risk of being left behind unless we take action.
Therefore, we must take action.
First, we must invest in new competencies. Good jobs. Secure welfare. Most people will probably agree on this.
Second, we must find the money needed for investment. On this it may be harder to reach agreement.
But we must have the money before we can spend it. Anything else would be irresponsible.
If we spend a little less money on SU (state educational grants and loans scheme). Then we will instead be able to invest more in knowledge, education and competencies.
If we who have the strength to do so stay a little longer in the job. Then we will be able to pass on a more prosperous Denmark to our children.
If we spend less money on asylum centres in Denmark. Then we will have more money for welfare and for helping refugees in the regions of origin.
If we help more people move from cash benefit to a job. Then those who are in work can have tax relief. So that people are rewarded for working compared to being on benefits. So that many more unemployed people reach out for the jobs that are otherwise filled by foreigners.
We must take action in time.
It is possible to close our eyes to challenges for a while. But when we open them again, the problems have not gone away. Indeed, they have only grown bigger.
In the new year, the Government will present proposals for how we can lead Denmark – all of Denmark – safely into the future.
And we will continue the good collaboration between the Government, the unions and the employers. A collaboration based on a solid, Danish tradition of taking responsibility collectively.
In the new year, we will work for a joint agreement on lifelong learning. So that all will get the qualifications they need in order to have a job, also in five years. In ten years. In fifteen years.
* * *
This is important. Not least in consideration of our welfare.
Denmark has a welfare society that puts people first. And that is driven by people.
I will never forget Mona. She was my Danish teacher in the third grade.
She taught me a trick to break the code and to spell – more or less – correctly.
I had difficulties in particular with the present tense -r. When to add “r” to the word “lære” (learn) and when not to? Mona explained it to me: “Try to replace “lære” with a word where you can clearly hear the difference – for example “synge” (sing).
It doesn’t sound like much. But to me it was great.
And even if Mona was very special to me – she was, fortunately, not one of a kind.
We have huge numbers of public employees with great professional standards and enormous commitment. They must be able to use both even better.
One of the ways is competent leaders. Who can motivate. Set a clear course.
Another way is fewer rules and regulations. Less control.
Public employees must have greater freedom to do what they are passionate about: Using their professional qualifications. Helping other people.
We will also address this matter in the new year.
We must take good care of those who take care of us.
In March, a social and health care assistant was stabbed to death while doing her job. In December a police officer was killed while doing his job. It is painful. Tragic. And completely unacceptable.
Public employees deserve safety and respect – not violence, not harassment, not risks to their lives. This applies to the police, to mental health centres, to social service centres – indeed, to all public workplaces.
* * *
Denmark is a special country. And we live in close interaction with the rest of the world.
We have a long history of doing that. Unfortunately, it is not one of unadulterated nobility.
This year it is 100 years ago that Denmark sold the Danish West Indies to the United States. And put a full stop to a cruel chapter in our history.
Many of the beautiful old houses and palaces in Copenhagen were built for money earned from the hard work and exploitation of slaves on the other side of the globe.
It is not a proud part of Danish history. It is shameful. And fortunately, it happened in the past.
Today, Danes fight against oppression. For freedom. And we can take pride in that.
Three weeks ago I visited Danish pilots, flight engineers and support personnel. They were responsible for our fighter aircraft missions over Iraq and Syria.
And I visited the Danish soldiers in Iraq whose main task is to train local security forces.
Our men and women posted abroad are fantastic people.
They do their part in ensuring that ISIL is now on the defensive. A terrorist movement that has killed thousands of innocent people – including children. Forced millions to flee their homes. And last year masterminded cynical terrorist attacks in several European countries.
That the terrorist threat is real was proven yet again by the terrible New Year’s Eve attack in Turkey.
On the base in Iraq, I had a chat with two young men – Frederik and Jens.
We sat on the bunk beds. Their accommodation was spartan. Not much space in an overcrowded 10-person tent. Frederik and Jens talked about their strenuous work.
But throughout the entire story, their eyes showed determination to put the community before themselves.
I am convinced that exactly this feature is part of what makes Danish soldiers perhaps the best soldiers in the world.
They are top professional. But they are also people who can cooperate with other people.
Trust. Respect. Cooperation. This is very Danish.
It may sound trivial. But it is unique. And it is our strength in a new time.
* * *
In the 70s and the 80s, we watched Matador on TV. Then came the video. Then came the DVD. And today we stream it from the Internet.
But even if the technology has changed, we still love being told the good story.
Neither robots nor computers will change who we are as human beings.
And that is also my message to Victoria who, as one out of many, accepted my invitation to offer some useful advice for this year’s New Year Address. She wrote:
“I would really like to hear a little about how young people should not be afraid of the future.”
My answer to Victoria and all other young people is: Close your ears when people say that “everything was better in the old days” – it wasn’t.
Remember the past, but seize the future. It belongs to you!
We must ensure that all become winners of the future.
Happy New Year!