Speech

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s Opening Address to the Folketing (Danish Parliament) on 4 October 2016

Check against delivery

I think it is deeply ingrained in most of us that we want our children to have a better life than we have had.

Greater hope. Fulfilled dreams.

That’s how I feel. And that is how I myself have been met in my life.
My mother was born in 1936.

She grew up in Ferskesøstræde in Nexø on the island of Bornholm.

It was a time when phones or radios were far from standard household items. And running water a luxury.

It is not so long ago.

Many left school at the end of the seventh grade. My mother did too.


It is not that long ago.

My mother was a housewife most of her adult life. She only got an unskilled job when I was getting ready to leave primary and lower secondary school. Until then she made sure that the homework was done. That the lunch box was packed. She worked at home. While my father went out to work. This was a totally normal division of labour.

It really is not so long ago

My mother never had an education. But she was the wisest person I have known. And she had big dreams.

One dream overshadowed the others. That her children should have more opportunities than she herself had had.

This was a dream shared by many of her generation. And by many of previous generations.

The dreams of Danes are the driving force that has brought us forward. As people and as a country.

Generation after generation added their share.

Not through revolutions. But by slowly creating a Denmark of opportunities.
Where we contribute what we can. Where we help if there is need. And where, in particular, we all do things to the best of our ability.

Progress reflects part of the way we see ourselves. We expect Denmark to be among the richest countries. It almost feels like a law of nature.

It is not the case, unfortunately.

International financial crisis. Economic downturn. We have had difficulty in shaking off the impact of the crisis.

For a decade we did not become richer.

If Denmark is in the slow lane while the countries around us are stepping on the gas pedal, then future generations will miss out on new opportunities.

This must not happen.

Therefore, I have set an ambitious goal: Denmark is to be DKK 65 billion richer by 2025.

And therefore the Government has drawn up a plan for a stronger Denmark that can bring us a large step forward towards achieving this goal.

DKK 65 billion.

Is it just a figure?

No, it represents an opportunity for enabling us to keep up with our neighbouring countries.

For enabling young Danish people to get not just a free education, but also an education which is at least as good as that of their fellow students from the rest of Europe.

For enabling a Danish family to afford a holiday trip of the same standard as an equivalent German family.

For ensuring that cancer treatment at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen is just as effective as at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm.

The things that mean most in our everyday life and in life in general. That is why we need progress.

I call on everybody in the Folketing to deliver on this joint responsibility.

We may disagree on what is specifically needed to achieve this. Of course, we do.That is why we are members of different parties.

And the event that anyone has better proposals than the Government. Then I will listen.

But not setting new goals. Saying no to progress and development. That is something I cannot accept.

It breaks with a long tradition in our democracy. A tradition agreeing on the major, long-term challenges.

It entails a risk of our ambitions becoming historically small.

Setting high goals, in contrast, entails a risk that we do not quite reach them, but fall just short. But this must never lead us to set the bar so low beforehand that it becomes impossible for us to fail in the attempt to reach our goals.

Since the time when our parents were growing up, Denmark has undergone colossal development. Greater prosperity. Better education and training programmes. Greater freedom for the individual.

We cannot stop here. I have dreams for my children. You have dreams for your children.

We cannot realise these dreams with a snap of our fingers – or with one simplistic solution.

A stronger Denmark is the picture that is painted through a combination of many proposals.

We must pass on a Denmark to the next generation that is stronger than the one we took over. We owe this to both our parents and our children.

* * *

Our duty to the next generation. This is one reason why we must act now. Why Denmark needs a plan.

The second reason is international.

Our little spot on the planet is one of the happiest and most peaceful.

But the world around us is unstable. Towards the east an aggressive Russia. Towards the west a British population that has voted to leave the EU. Towards the south war and conflicts that have an impact on us.

Terror. Refugees. Instability.

Many people are concerned. I can understand that.

If many feel that opportunities are few. Then our sense of coherence will be put to the test. Fear will proliferate. Distrust will grow.

But in a complex world, we must not allow ourselves to be tempted by simplistic solutions. Precisely because they are too simple.

Denmark is part of the world for better or for worse . And our responses must address both aspects.

We must not act out of fear. But we must not fear to act either.

We must take our precautions. We must strengthen the economy. We must think of the future.

We must take care of Denmark.

I am proud that Denmark is one of the countries that take the greatest responsibility in the fight against the terrorist movement ISIL. I am proud that brave men and women make this possible.

Similarly, I am proud of our long traditions as a seafaring and trading nation. Denmark has benefited hugely from international trade. We have a strong interest in cooperating with the outside world. We must insist that a greater outlook provides more insight. It enables us to learn more about the world on which we are completely dependent. It is a part of the Danish legacy and our self-image.

If we build walls to shut others out. Then we lock ourselves in. We cannot live off this approach.

Our task is to create progress while holding on to who we are. We must protect our free, prosperous and harmonious country. As we know it. As we know ourselves.

* * *

Our security and prosperity are closely tied to that of Europe. Difficult times for our neighbours mean difficult times for us. Therefore, we must safeguard Europe.

The European cooperation has problems. We cannot just continue as before. There is a scepticism in the populations. A scepticism which we must take seriously.

I have said this for a long time. And today, most of my European colleagues share this view.

But we must not blame the EU either for every single problem. We have a responsibility ourselves to get the cooperation functioning. We have a strong interest in this.

Europe today is more affluent than ever. More Europeans live in freedom. We trade, study and work across borders like never before.

This is what Danish companies generate their earnings from. This is what provides jobs. Creates our prosperity.

And this is due in particular to the rule-based cooperation in the EU. Therefore, we must stand guard over European cooperation.

And we must change what does not work.

We need a more practical and sensible cooperation which focuses on the tasks that can only be undertaken collectively. And which does not interfere in all kinds of matters that the Member States can handle better themselves.

I will work for an EU that stimulates growth again. An EU that has control of its external borders and immigration. An EU that strengthens cooperation between Member States on security matters.

It is absolutely vital that Danish police remain able to work closely with their European colleagues and have continued access to the data necessary in the fight against serious crime.

The Government is striving hard to secure a special Danish agreement on Europol. An agreement that ensures Danish police the same operational opportunities as today.

In an uncertain world, we must safeguard Denmark. We do this best in cooperation with others – in the EU and in NATO. But we must also do more ourselves.

Therefore, more money needs to be invested in the fight against terror, in the police, in the armed forces and in emergency management. There must be more resources for those who look after us. We will set aside billions of kroner to strengthen national security.

This is part of the Government’s plan for a stronger Denmark.

* * *

Denmark cooperates in Europe and elsewhere in the world. But there are two countries to which we have a special attachment. The Unity of the Realm is a unique community.

A community based on respect for the fact that we are different.

I respect the wish that a constitution of their own can manifest the identity of the Faroese people. But it is clear that as long as the Faroe Islands is part of our community, a constitution must fit within the framework of the Unity of the Realm. We are willing to work for this through dialogue on the constitution.

We are also willing to participate in dialogue on the economic situation. It is different in the Faroe Islands and in Greenland. Both countries are currently experiencing positive economic developments. But there are major challenges looking further ahead.

And we propose to support the work of the Greenland Self-Government authorities to help children and young people in Greenland. Similarly, we will step up our efforts to help vulnerable Greenlanders in Denmark.

We should be proud of our Unity of the Realm. We allow room for diversity, but we share a common core. This was re-affirmed at the Unity of the Realm meeting in Greenland in spring. We have a tradition of finding solutions together that benefit us all.

* * *

Here in Denmark, we also need to find common solutions that benefit us – as a people and as a nation.

We have a strong base on which to build. That leaves us with a great responsibility. The time has come for us to exercise due diligence and make minor changes to achieve major improvements.

We must pass on a Denmark to the next generation that is stronger than the one we took over ourselves. This lies at the heart of the Government’s plan.

When the Government took office, I set out four benchmarks in the areas where it is my ambition to see Denmark move forward. We have already achieved much. The Government’s plan brings us a large step further.

* * *

The first benchmark is a realistic and consistent immigration policy.

When we opened the Folketing this time last year, Denmark and Europe were in the midst of a refugee and migrant crisis.

A crisis rooted in highly complex conflicts. With potentially major consequences for our economy. Our values. Our social cohesion as a country. Propriety.

The Government’s policy is a reflection of balance. We are realistic. We tighten the rules. And we do it in a fair way.

We have helped shift the discussion in Europe. Today, everyone in the EU – everyone – agrees that we do not wish to see a repetition of the unchecked influx of refugees that we witnessed last year.

The refugee influx to Greece has been reduced. From over 100,000 refugees in August last year. To 3,500 in August this year.

Here in Denmark, we have introduced necessary stricter measures and a new integration allowance. Because we think it is fair. And because we wish to discourage more people from coming to Denmark.

It has worked. We have curbed the influx.

Last year, tents were set up in order to provide accommodation for asylum seekers. Now the tent camps have been closed again.

Last year, over 21,000 asylum seekers came to Denmark. This year, as of 1 October, around 5,000 have come.

At the present time, the figure is lower than any month over the past five years. It has not been lower since I was Prime Minister last time.

Now we must stand firm.

Therefore, we will continue to tighten the conditions for those who we allow to enter.

And we will introduce an emergency brake, so as to enable Denmark to reject asylum seekers at the border if a crisis situation arises that puts the Danish borders under pressure. We must not experience again a situation like the one in September last year.

But this does not prevent us from helping. On the contrary.

Denmark is one of only six countries that live up to the UN target on development assistance. We contribute to a new Sustainable Development Goals Investment Fund that is to invest billions in improving living conditions in developing countries. We are among the largest humanitarian donors in the world compared to our size.

And now we will do even more. The Government will strengthen the Danish efforts in regions of origin, so that more money is allocated to humanitarian assistance than ever before.

This has been made possible specifically because we have tightened our immigration policy and introduced the integration allowance. When the costs related to managing asylum seekers in Denmark go down, we will be able to help more people close to their home country.

For me it makes much more sense to help refugees in Jordan or Lebanon than in Denmark.

Denmark provides development assistance of world-class standard. We contribute to preventing situations where people are forced to flee in order to escape violence and oppression.

Denmark has fought for human rights for decades. We have a clear interest in a strong international legal order.

However, there is a need for a modern understanding of the conventions that we helped shape years back. Therefore, we will look critically at the parts of the European Convention on Human Rights of which the interpretation has gone too far. We must get back to the core.

The Government pursues a realistic and consistent immigration policy. This is my first benchmark towards achieving a stronger Denmark.

* * *

My second benchmark is that people should be rewarded for working rather than relying on public benefits. More people must provide for themselves.

I am convinced that we as people prosper better when we have a job. It provides a foothold. Something which bolsters resilience. And which gives us something solid on which to stand.

And I have great respect for all of those who each day carry out a jobthat is essential in our society. Also those whose salary is at the lower end of the scale.

There must be a fair balance between the salary earned from hard work and what you get from not working. Anything else is untenable.

Therefore, we have introduced the cash benefit ceiling and the 225-hour rule.

I am well aware that a single mother on cash benefit can find it difficult to make ends meet. I am under no illusions that it is easy for persons on cash benefit to take care of a family.

But a higher allowance is not the answer. The answer is for the parents to work.

Each time a person takes a step away from cash benefit towards a job, it is a success for our social policy.

Therefore, there needs to be a reward for working compared to being on benefits.

And that is why we are taking the next step forward with the second phase of the job reform. This phase is clearly targeted at employed people on low incomes.

We will introduce a targeted earned-income tax credit and a temporary job bonus to long-term unemployed persons who find work.

The job bonus can be paid out for 18 months. Up to a maximum of DKK 45,000.

So that taking a job pays off.

In the Government’s job reform, we are reducing income taxa little at the top. A lot at the bottom. And giving most to the long-term unemployed persons who find a job.

* * *

We must boost growth in this country because growth is the very basis for more and better jobs. Greater opportunities. Our future. This is my third benchmark.

Today, there is too little investment in Denmark. It is hampers innovation. It slows down economicactivity. We miss out on jobs.

It must become more attractive to invest. Therefore, we will introduce a tax allowance for new equity. Therefore, we will give an extra tax allowance for additional investment in research and development. And therefore, we will make it easier for entrepreneurs and growth companies to finance their ideas.

Danish companies must have attractive conditions in order to show that they are the best.

This is the case, for example, in the fields of green technology and energy solutions.
We must keep up this position.

We will do so through an ambitious climate and energy policy. And that is why one of the very first proposals that the Folketing is to discuss in this session will be the ratification of the Paris Agreement from the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference.

However, if the green transition is to be robust, it must also be realistic. Therefore, we will reduce the green energy bill and charge it in a more efficient manner.

We face a technological development that is moving at breakneck speed. A technological development that is changing our jobs and companies, and that is making huge demands on employees at all levels.

We will make it more attractive to work in Denmark for highly educated experts, engineers and technicians. Therefore, the top-bracket tax needs to be reduced.

We will allocate billions of kroner to a new competence pool. This is part of the Government’s plan.

And we will address the problem that Danish companies will face a shortage of skilled labour in the future.

First, together with the unions and the employers we have set a common goal of creating many more vocational training placements. Especially in the areas where the need for labour is the greatest. This has already been agreed in the tripartite negotiations. It is on track.

Second, together with the unions and the employers we have agreed that unskilled unemployed persons – while keeping their full unemployment benefits – will be offered a competence boost to become skilled labour. Within the fields where they can get jobs. This has also been agreed already.

The third step will be better adult education and continuing training for those already employed.. We will address this in the tripartite negotiations in spring.

I attach great importance to agreeing these matters with the labour market partners.

We have concluded two strong tripartite agreements. Because both the unions and the employers are able to look beyond narrow self-interest and, instead, place focus on what is in the best interest of us all. Jobs. Progress. Opportunities.

I wish to thank you for that!

* * *

Every generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one. I was born into the Danish welfare society. I grew up in the Denmark of opportunities. Like many of my peers, I was the first in my family to pass the upper secondary examination and to get a university degree.

I am proud of living in a country that provides free education. A safe health service. Care for the elderly. A modern public sector that is there to look out for the citizen and not for itself.

Better core welfare. This is my fourth benchmark.

We have all been close to somebody suffering from cancer. My own father died from cancer a few years ago. I hope that those who face the same situation in the future will be able to live longer.

And my hopes are raised by the fact that diagnosis and treatment are improving all the time.

Since we brought the medical specialties together. Invested billions of kroner in larger, more modern hospitals. Introduced patient rights. Programmes of treatment for cancer. Put people before the system.

More people live longer. That is good. However, it is still the case that a Dane suffering from cancer lives a shorter life than a Swede who suffers from cancer. That is not good enough.

In Cancer Plan IV, we have set the target that survival in 2025 must be on a par with the best among our Nordic neighbours. This is ambitious. But this is also what Danes should reasonably expect.

We put people before the system.

This also applies to people living at nursing homes. They must have greater freedom to decide their own day-to-day lives. It contributes to happiness. It is part of a dignified and safe old age.

Childhood must also be safe. The Government will improve day-care facilities to ensure that our children have a good start in life. Young children need to thrive, develop and get ready for school.

And behind every good experience at the hospital, the nursing home or the kindergarten, there are real people.

Social educators, assistant social educators, doctors, laboratory technicians, nurses, physiotherapists, hospital orderlies, social and health care helpers, and social and health care assistants.

You all do a tremendous job for others who are deeply dependent on you. I wish to thank you for that.

We must be able to afford better health service, care for the elderly and other core welfare services. Under the Government’s plan, we will allocate DKK 1 billion for a new welfare pool.

It is a pool of money which we establish with funds generated from the responsible proposals contained in the plan. The political parties in the Folketing that are prepared to assume responsibility must also be involved in the distribution of the funds. I think that is only fair.

* * *

We administer public money. We must do so with care.

We face a number of compulsory tasks.

A green transition that rests on a fragile foundation with the PSO (public service obligation). The need for restoring confidence in SKAT (Danish Customs and Tax Administration). New property assessments. A pension system that needs to be more robust.

And we must invest in both the transport sector and a strong digital infrastructure. The Government will increase the frame for public investment by a total of approx. DKK 27 billion. We can only do that because we increase the economic room for manoeuvre.

There is work that needs to be done. Bills that need to be paid. Regardless of who is Prime Minister.

If we want to be able to afford more after this, we will need more money.

15 months ago we took over a public economy with many unpaid bills. And with a future challenge when the baby boomers retire. Considerable public deficits loom in the horizon unless we take action.

Therefore, we will take action.

When a broad majority of the parties in the Folketing have agreed that the retirement age must be raised in line with life expectancy. And life expectancy then rises more than expected – which is wonderful! – we then ask the Danes born between 1958 and 1978 to postpone retirement by six months.

All others will not be affected. For those who are younger and those who are older, the rules will remain the same as before.

We will raise money for the welfare of the future.

That is acting responsibly.

As Denmark has an SU (state educational grant and loan scheme) system that is probably the most generous in the world, we will then provide slightly less in the form of grants, more and better possibilities of getting loans, and an extra earned income tax credit when students have completed their education in order to help them get a good start in working life.

And some of the money saved will go into a competence pool for better education programmes.

That is acting responsibly.

The Government’s proposals imply that in 2020 we will have twice as much money as if we did nothing.

That is acting responsibly.

This will enable a growth rate of 0.5 percent in public spending.

My election manifesto called for zero growth in public spending. However, the compulsory tasks cannot wait. And we want more than the status quo. So we will find the money. Instead of sitting on our hands.

Others campaigned for an annual growth rate of 0.6 percent in public spending.

0.5 percent or 0.6 percent?

Is that like night and day? I don’t think so.

Is this where we see the huge difference in Danish politics? No it isn’t, is it?

The real difference is whether we have got money or not. Whether we can afford the 0.5 or 0.6 percent.

We must have real money at our disposal when we are to solve real problems for real people. New cancer medication. Nursing homes for those suffering from dementia. More education and training.

This is what is at stake.

If we are not prepared to do anything to raise money. Then we won’t have any money to spend.

There is no free ride.

In my very first election campaign 31 years ago, when I got upset about some very critical letters to the editor, my wise mother gave me this piece of advice: “You can’t be popular everywhere!"

Perhaps I have taken her advice a bit too literally. However, as politicians we need to do what we think is right and responsible.

We must not underestimate the Danes. Danes are good at recognizing politicians eager to give away gifts.. Danes know that we must earn the money before we can spend it. This applies to the public budget. And it applies to the family’s budget.

What matters to the Danes is whether we can meet their justified expectations for the future.

Both that core welfare is in working order and is up-to-date. And that a Danish family has the same opportunities in their everyday lives as a family south of the border or on the other side of the Øresund.

Therefore, I do not buy the false incompatibility between welfare and tax relief. The Government’s policy is one of both-and.

We need a plan so that we can afford to develop Denmark. To create jobs. Education. Better police and emergency management. Lower taxes. Higher welfare. Greater progress.

In brief: Ambitions on behalf of Denmark.

And where we have so much room in the budget that we can put aside money for the future, money that runs into billions of kroner.

We will not leave any unpaid bills in the children’s room. We will set up a children’s savings account for the next generation.

Actually, it is a matter of two accounts: a safety reserve for contingencies. And a reserve to provide security for home owners.

* * *

The Government’s plan for a stronger Denmark consists of many pieces.

We must complete the mosaic. Tomorrow, we will put the last piece on the negotiating table.

It is well known that one of the compulsory tasks is a new property assessment system.

The property assessments we see today are in many cases wrong. It means that taxes may also be wrong. There are examples of identical houses that are assessed differently even though they are located in the same street.

The individual feels a lack of security. It is unacceptable. We must do better than that.

People must not be taxed out of their homes. Home owners must feel secure..

Therefore, tomorrow we will present a new and better property assessment system and a new proposal for property taxation.

Today, I would like to mention three important elements in the Government’s proposal.

First: a new, improved tax freeze.

We introduced the tax freeze ourselves in 2001 for the purpose of providing security for home owners. It was good. But it has proved to be far from good enough.

Total property taxes have increased by DKK 18 billion since 2001. Despite the tax freeze.

Today, many people pay far more in taxes than they budgeted for when they bought their house. There are even some who cannot afford to stay in their own home. Despite the tax freeze.

And if we do not take action, property taxes will increase by another DKK 10 billion in real terms up to 2040. Despite the tax freeze. This is not security. It is the opposite.

Therefore, we need a new and better tax freeze so that home owners may experience a feeling of real security.

Second: we will cut tax rates.

Altogether, the new property assessment system will mean higher assessments because housing prices in many places have increased significantly. If we only introduced new assessments and left it at that. Then it would lead to much higher taxes.

The Government does not want that.

New assessments are not meant to be a money-making machine.

We will lower both the land tax rate and the property value rate.

Total housing taxes will be reduced for many years ahead. We have the money for this with the reserve of DKK 24 billion, which we have put aside in our plan for a stronger Denmark.

Third: we will increase the feeling of security for present home owners. ‎

As it is now, many home owners face substantial increases in the land tax for many years to come. Once we have introduced the new system, we will cancel the increases that were meant to come into effect after 2020.

The new rules governing property taxes are to come into force when the political agreement on property taxation expires in 2020.

No property owner today will pay more than under the current tax rules. And many will pay less.

Tomorrow, the Government will present our specific proposal. And we have invited the political parties to a thorough briefing.

We wish to enter into an agreement on a new and improved property tax freeze as part of the 2025 negotiations.

I wish to urge the political parties to help find a common solution for the many Danes who live in owner-occupied dwellings. They make up more than half the population.

We must provide a feeling of security for home owners – both for those who own their own home today and for new generations.

* * *

We must solve the problems. We must enhance safety and security. We must drive progress.

Since last year, thousands of new private-sector jobs have been created.

We see progress in all parts of the country.

People are finding work. They have more to get up for in the morning. New hope and greater opportunities.

The influx of refugees has been curbed.

Municipalities and regions have more money for health care and the elderly.

All things considered, we are not doing too badly.

So why do we need comprehensive Government plan??

Can’t we tell ourselves that the status quo is fine?

Or should we rather use a good point of departure to – as a visionary Social Democrat once put it – make good times better?

I know very well what my grandfather would have said. And he was a Social Democrat.

Challenges do not disappear because we close our eyes to them. When we open our eyes again, the problems will merely have grown bigger.

The Danes I have met when I have been on a tour of the country to discuss the Government’s plan. They look into the future with open eyes. They are not afraid to say what they worry about. And not afraid to take responsibility.

Our task here in the Folketing is to give Danes the opportunity to dream bigger dreams. To aspire for more. To reach higher.

The future we wish for will not come by itself. We must create it together.

A more free Denmark. A more affluent Denmark. A stronger Denmark.

I wish to appeal to the Folketing to share this ambition. So that future generations will say:

They added on – they did not deduct. They dared join forces to make the decisions that made Denmark stronger.

Let us commence the work of the new parliamentary session with three cheers for our country and for the future of Denmark.

LONG LIVE DENMARK.

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!