Check against delivery
Between Christmas and New Year I spent time thinking about the people I have met during the last year.
Two persons in particular came to my mind.
Maisha who is 19 years old. And Farjana who is 17.
Two strong young women from Bangladesh.
In the autumn they visited me here at my office. They told me about their everyday lives in one of the world’s poorest countries. And about their fight to stop child marriages, violence and discrimination against girls and women.
Denmark supports this fight.
Much of what we take for granted here in Denmark can not be taken for granted elsewhere.
That people can decide themselves who to marry. That women and men have the same rights and opportunities. Indeed, the fact that a prime minister and two young Bangladeshis are putting the world to rights over a cup of coffee.
Maisha said about her visit to Denmark:
“This has been the best day in my life!”
It makes one feel humble. And proud of our small country.
Denmark is not a perfect place. But we live in a wonderful spot on the globe. One of the best in the world.
* * *
And this, I believe, has to do with the fact that we have much freedom to live our lives as we want to. With respect for our community.
That we can talk together. Even if we are different.
That we can pursue our own dreams. And at the same time take responsibility for those whose dreams do not come true.
That we have this balance between freedom and safety.
Here on the threshold of the new year, Denmark is doing well.
Our goods are in demand abroad. What we are particularly good at is much in demand. For example regarding green solutions.
Many jobs have been created.
Danes who were unemployed a few years ago now have jobs.
Thousands who previously received cash benefits now earn their own living.
I am convinced that having something to get up for. Being part of a workplace community. That means something. That means very much.
Surplus energy in day-to-day life. Hope for the future.
We are now reaping the fruits of the hard decisions that we made after the financial crisis. Reforms of unemployment benefits. Early retirement benefits. Cash benefits.
Now we must get everybody on board and ensure that the good times will continue.
Therefore, in the new year the Government will resume negotiations on yet another reform. On tax reform. To ensure that in particular those with the lowest salaries, but also Danes with ordinary salaries, will experience an increase in their disposable income.
To make it more worthwhile to work.
To make it more worthwhile to save up for a pension.
And to ensure that the recovery does not lose steam because we run out of manpower.
We can do this at the same time as we can afford to invest more in hospitals. In elder care. In the welfare that is also important for our daily lives. Thanks to the responsible reforms of the past.
Both lower taxes. And better welfare. I want this balance.
I also want a geographical balance. Denmark must not break up into areas of growth and decline.
Therefore, we are fully engaged in relocating central government workplaces. To ensure that there are central government jobs nationwide.
The first round was launched two years ago. We will launch the second round in a short while.
I am well aware that not everybody thinks this is a good idea. I have experienced that support for the relocation depends to some extent on where people live.
But my position is that it benefits us all that Denmark is characterised by cohesion.
* * *
Denmark is doing well in many ways. Actually, rather well.
And this should give us surplus energy. To make an effort where things are bad.
Tonight, I wish to talk about one of the balances that I seriously fear is about to tip. Indeed, in some places it has already tipped.
I am thinking of the children who grow up in an environment where it is not the norm that parents go to work. Where money is not a wage that is earned. But something provided by the municipality. Or obtained through criminal activity.
I am talking about the residential areas where young people are forced to marry a person they do not love. Where women are considered less important than men. And where the values which the two young girls from Bangladesh are fighting for with Danish support are suppressed – right here in Denmark.
Throughout the country there are parallel societies. Many people with the same problems are bunched together. That creates a downward spiral. A counter-culture.
Where people do not take responsibility, do not participate, do not make use of the opportunities we have in Denmark – but stand outside the community.
Cracks have appeared in the map of Denmark.
I am deeply concerned.
Because the ghettos also reach out their tentacles into the streets where criminal gangs create insecurity.
Into the schools where neglected children are teetering on the edge.
Into local government coffers where revenue is smaller and expenditure larger than need be.
And into society at large where Danish values such as equality, broad-mindedness and tolerance are losing ground.
* * *
How has it come to this?
I am convinced that decades of a lax immigration policy has played a contributory role. More people were let into Denmark than we were able to integrate.
We cannot change the past but we can learn from it when shaping the future.
Therefore, I want a firm immigration policy.
I sometimes meet people who think that the Government’s policy is too hard. And I do understand them – to some extent.
The reason is that the fate of every refugee is heartrending. Close to Europe, there are millions of people living in such poverty and misery that we are not really able to comprehend it.
It touches the heart, and we wish to help.
But we must use our heads as well. We have to protect and take care of Denmark at the same time.
Therefore, we have applied the brakes with a number of tightenings here in Denmark. And through a joint effort in the EU. The number of asylum seekers in Denmark is now the lowest in years.
And this is why the many Syrian war refugees we provide shelter for these years will have to return to Syria as soon as conditions permit.
I am proud that Denmark, considering our size, is one of the countries providing most assistance in the world at large – also in Syria and in the neighbouring countries.
I am proud that we send our best men and women abroad to fight terrorism and unrest.
Tonight, I send my greetings to all Danish men and women posted abroad. You are fighting for a better world.
And you contribute to paving the way for refugees to be able to return and rebuild their home countries.
If we can prepare the Syrian refugees for this task. By letting them work and helping them to acquire skills while here in Denmark. For the specific purpose that they must return. This is in my view the best help they can get.
* * *
We must curb the inflow of refugees and migrants. And we have done so.
We must see to it that war refugees return to their home countries. As soon as conditions permit.
And the people with a foreign background who are to stay permanently here in Denmark. Naturally, they must take responsibility and contribute to society.
The vast majority of them do.
Tonight, I wish to say to all of you with a foreign background who have committed to Denmark with determination, courage and hard work:
You are welcome. You are doing a fine job. Keep it up!
But I know that many share my concern about those who do not want to or are unable to do the same. Who abuse our hospitality. Challenge our way of living. Put tolerance at risk.
Eventually, we risk losing the support of the general public that Denmark must be an open country for the able and willing: Competent foreign manpower. Foreign talents. Those who have fallen in love with a Dane.
There are many bright and encouraging stories. But the shadows stand out all the more clearly against the brightness. And we must see it all. We must see the reality as it is.
Therefore, we must give up the illusion that parallel societies and ghettos will disappear - that it is just a question of time. They will not disappear. When I visit for example Vollsmose (a suburb of Odense on the island of Funen), it is the same powerlessness and isolation as during my last visit. Well, it is perhaps even worse.
* * *
I take note that Danish rules, laws and norms cannot prevail in areas that are not Danish in terms of values.
Free schools (private independent schools) that were set up to enlighten. They are abused for the opposite purpose – to obscure.
Fundamental freedoms are suppressed by social control.
The countermove we politicians make has often taken the form of new rules that apply to everybody.
I have come to the conclusion that there is a need for a far more targeted effort.
Where we do not trouble all Danes throughout all Denmark. But make an effort where the problems are largest. And only there.
Firstly, we must no longer try to fix a decades-old failed policy. We must set a new target of phasing out ghettos altogether.
In some places by breaking up the concrete. By demolishing buildings. By spreading the inhabitants and rehousing them in different areas.
In other places by taking full control over who moves in.
We must close the cracks in the map of Denmark and restore the mixed neighbourhoods where we meet people from every walk of life.
Secondly, we need to start with the children before it is too late.
There are children who start school without being able to speak Danish well. These children are behind on points. Many of them will never catch up with boys and girls of the same age-group. This ought to make us grown-ups ashamed of ourselves.
For some children, the solution may be to start child care at an earlier age. To get out of their home in the ghetto and into a Danish environment.
And our follow-up approach must be strict and targeted regarding the, in fact, few schools where things do not work.
We must break the vicious circle of one generation after another living in parallel societies.
A child has only one childhood. It must not go to waste.
Thirdly, we must hold the parents accountable for their children's future in Denmark.
There are children and young people who are sent abroad for “re-education” if they become too Danish. The parents punish their children.
It ought to be the other way round. As a society, we must intervene. We must support the children. And punish such parents.
The Government will present a proposal against parallel societies in the beginning of the new year.
* * *
But politics cannot solve everything.
I started my speech here tonight with the story about the two young women from Bangladesh. And how our values may be a source of inspiration to the world around us.
Inspiration cuts both ways. We have also something to learn.
Indonesia is the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world. I visited the country in November. I participated in a dialogue meeting in a mosque and afterwards we paid a visit to a cathedral on the other side of the street. The Muslim Grand Imam side-by-side with the Christian Archbishop.
Showing mutual respect.
I also want us in Denmark to meet each other in a spirit of trust and respect.
Denmark is our shared responsibility.
Therefore, I wish to underline: My message tonight is not a matter of skin colour. It is not a matter of religion. It is a matter of committing to Denmark.
* * *
On the first of January we embark on a new year with brand new opportunities. And you may think that I have been very serious on this first evening of the year.
But I see it like this: Deciding to confront serious problems head-on is in itself a hopeful sign. It is a promise that things can improve.
And when I am engaged in solving problems of parallel societies, it is because it is a matter of something greater.
It is a confrontation with barriers between people. It is a defence for tolerance, freedom and broad-mindedness.
If we eliminate the hotbeds for gangs, the police can make an effort in other places. And create safety and security in the streets and in everyday life.
If more people provide for themselves. Then we will ease the pressure on our welfare system. And we need the money. For safe and secure elder care. Better cancer treatment. More research. Better infrastructure.
If we succeed in reaching socially marginalised children before it is too late, they can get education and training, take responsibility and become an integral part of society.
Then, we do not only bring hope to the children. But to all of us.
Hope of a Denmark where we protect and take care of the balance and of each other. A harmonious country. A safe and secure welfare society.
Happy New Year!