Speech

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s Opening Address to the Folketing (The Danish Parliament) on 5 October 2010

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For two years, the global financial crisis threatened to topple Denmark. Now we are regaining our foothold. We have put the worst behind us.

We have weathered the crisis better than feared.

In Denmark, fewer people have been affected by unemployment than in other countries. Far fewer than we dared hope.

In Denmark, we have created a situation in which we can pay the bill from the crisis in a responsible and proper manner. In other countries, they had to raise the retirement age and drastically cut the salaries of public sector employees at short notice.

In Denmark, growth is now higher than in most of Europe. Danish companies are making headway again. Exports are on the increase. Things are progressing.

But this does not mean that things will be easy in the future.

Because after the crisis, Denmark and Danish politics will face a new reality.

* * *

For decades, we were used to the economy moving forward and upward. Naturally, there were also setbacks. But the main impression was one of progress. It was as if progress was a law of nature.

But it wasn’t. It was something we achieved ourselves.

Similarly, we must foster progress ourselves in the years to come.

In the wake of the global crisis, a new realization is fortunately emerging. A realization that fosters new hope and optimism. A new realization that rests on old virtues. Well-managed and orderly finances. Living within one’s means. Personal responsibility.

Is this a confrontation with the so-called “demand mentality”?

No, what I want to address is our – the politicians’ – “gift mentality”.

The financial crisis should, if anything, have taught us that we must earn the money before we share it out. We must be razor-sharp in how we prioritise. We must ensure sound public finances.

Those who are unable to see that times have changed. Those who still believe in easy solutions. These people risk squandering the prosperity that generations before us have fostered.


The Danish Government looks soberly and realistically at Denmark’s situation. We will consolidate, not indebt the economy. We will not pay debt with debt.

In the spring, the Government will present a 2020 plan. In the plan, we will take stock of the challenges of financing the welfare state in the long term.
And we will chart the course for the coming years in a way that enables us to maintain sound public finances.

The reason is that sound public finances are more important than ever. This is the path that the Government has followed throughout the crisis. It is the precondition for progress and prosperity in a new era – not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren.


* * *

Sound public finances are the rock on which we must build growth. And who are the people that are to generate this growth? They are the many hard-working and skilled Danes who work in private companies bringing money and currency into the country. It is quite simple. The prosperity of society is derived from private enterprises only.

Growth is to create new jobs.

Growth is to secure our care of the elderly, hospitals and education programmes.

Growth in society has a major impact on the individual family’s personal finances. The difference between high and low growth corresponds to an average family having DKK 40,000 more for themselves each year in just ten years’ time.

The Government has set the goal that Denmark must be among the world’s ten wealthiest countries within ten years.

It is an ambitious goal.

The Government is currently paving the way:

We have reduced income tax to encourage more people to make an extra effort.

We have reformed the unemployment benefit system to ensure that thousands more get into work.

We have made it easier for skilled and well-qualified foreigners to come to Denmark, so as to enable more companies to employ the key staff they need.

We have boosted the public sector research effort, which means that research has been enhanced by around DKK 5 billion over the last five years.

We have presented a broad and strong plan for “Denmark in balance” to enable all of Denmark to take part in the growth.

And let me repeat and emphasise once again: Growth can only come from one place. Private enterprises. Therefore, together with the Government’s Growth Forum, we have identified ten challenges for promoting growth in private enterprises. In close collaboration with the Growth Forum, the Government will present specific proposals to meet these challenges one by one.

Denmark’s many small and medium size enterprises must be given optimal opportunities to realise good ideas. Therefore, we are working together with the pension sector to provide an injection of capital amounting to several billion kroner.

* * *

We must foster growth by becoming more skilled and more qualified.

And we must begin in the place where the seeds of learning are sown: in primary and lower secondary school.

Denmark has a good primary and lower secondary school. It has become better. Today, children read just as well in third grade as they did earlier in fourth grade. And children in fourth grade are just as good at mathematics and natural science subjects as they used to be in fifth grade.

But we must seek to raise standards even more . One of the world’s most expensive primary and lower secondary schools must become one of the world’s best. Our ambitions must be sky-high.

Therefore, the Government has set seven distinctive goals for the future of the Danish primary and lower secondary school. Seven goals that are designed to ensure that the pupils who began school this summer are among the top five in the world when they leave school.

All children must be able to read by the end of second grade.

What pupils are able to do in ninth grade now, they must be able to do in eighth grade in the future.

Fewer pupils must be put in special classes and special schools.

In the future, teachers must be recruited from among the best students.

Teaching must be based on knowledge and not on routine.

Pupils, parents and school boards must play a greater role in developing primary and lower secondary school.

And clear goals and openness regarding results must reduce the need for micromanagement.

So how do we achieve these goals?

The Government will present a comprehensive white paper on primary and lower secondary school education in November.

A key element will be to bolster school start. We will give the youngest pupils a school day from 8.00am to 2.00pm. A six-hour school day. Six hours of teaching, physical activity, creativity and time to do homework. A secure and coherent day that enables the children to get the best possible start to their schooling.

The six-hour school day is to be the foundation for a new and improved primary and lower secondary school. Where pupils acquire a strong academic ballast.

But a new and improved primary and lower secondary school does not come free. It requires prioritisation. Let me therefore be quite specific. The Government will abolish the state education grant for young people living at home who are enrolled on an upper secondary education programme – the so-called “café money”. This money is to be used instead on the primary and lower secondary school.

A good school rather than café money.

It is vital that each child receives a good schooling.

A good schooling provides young people with the foundation not just for taking a vocational or general upper secondary qualification after finishing primary and lower secondary school. But it also provides young people with the capability to complete an education. Today, virtually all young people embark on an upper secondary education programme. But it is also a fact that that far too many drop out along the way. This is a trend we need to reverse.

In the same way that parents have a responsibility for ensuring that their children pass successfully through primary and lower secondary education, they also have a responsibility to ensure that their children graduate with an upper secondary school qualification. This is part of what it means to be a parent.

It entails that the vast majority of young people and parents who are able to shoulder the financial responsibility themselves also do so.

However, we must not forget that there are young people and parents who are financially less fortunate. Families in a special situation. For them, the state education fund has never been pocket money or café money. On the contrary, it has been a necessity. The Government will set up a fund of DKK 150 million to support such families. In this way, we will give the money to those who truly need it.

Let me emphasise that we are not going to abolish café money from one day to the next. The changes will not enter into force until summer 2012 and they will not affect young people who currently receive the state education grant for an upper secondary education programme.

For many young people, trainee service are an important part of their education programme. We have devised a bonus scheme, in which we provide DKK 50,000 to newly established trainee services. – short and long. We will improve and focus the scheme in such a way that in the future we will provide DKK 70,000 to any new, long-lasting trainee services .


* * *

Many young people take a higher education programme. And this summer, the number of new students registered in higher education broke all records. This is extremely positive and crucial for generating future growth.

But: Danish students take a long time completing their studies. For some students, it can be convenient to study at a leisurely pace. But for society it is expensive. It will become particularly expensive in the coming years, considering the need for well-qualified labour.

If young people pass through education more quickly, we will benefit more years from their presence on the labour market. This will make a substantial contribution to Denmark’s growth.

Therefore, we must use the state education fund in a smarter way, whereby we reward the students who complete their education quickly. And where we are less generous to those who are slow.

At the same time, we will make it more attractive to study abroad for six months or one year.

These elements will be included in the Government’s white paper for a reform of the state education grant scheme, which we will present in November.


* * *

Naturally, the situation for the public sector has also changed. In today’s stern reality – after the global economic crisis – we cannot improve our welfare in the same way as we have done previously.

We must become better at sharing knowledge. We must take advantage of new technology to ease the burden on the employees so that they have time to take care of the citizens. We must cooperate with private companies – because it is common sense. We must spread the successes and dismantle the failures.

We cannot legislate our way out of this from Christiansborg. We cannot control everything down to the last detail. We will change the ground rules and provide more freedom and responsibility. Not freedom from responsibility. But freedom with responsibility.

We have given patients freedom – through unique patient rights and the right to choose another option if the waiting list is too long. More than 350,000 Danes have taken advantage of this offer.

We have given pensioners the freedom to choose their domestic help themselves. More than 50,000 pensioners have taken advantage of this offer. .

In short – the Government has given Danes freedom. Because the Danes are the best at finding the right solutions for themselves.

Now we must give freedom with responsibility to Denmark’s nursery and kindergarten staff, nurses and social and health care workers. Freedom to all public employees. For it is freedom that makes ideas bloom. And responsibility makes people grow.

The Government will therefore present a focused plan in the new year for how we can make the working day less difficult for public employees.

We have a strong tradition in Denmark for taking responsibility for our local community. Denmark’s many volunteers can do things the public sector cannot. Precisely because they are not sent out by the public authorities, they can often make better contact to the most vulnerable people in society.

We need to make even better use of that strength.

This week, the Government will release a national strategy in which we allocate DKK 100 million to support volunteer social work.

* * *

In the economic reality we live in today, we must candidly present what we will prioritise and where we will find the money.

The Government will prioritise the health sector. We have done this all along. Compared to the situation when the Government took office, we are now spending DKK 26 billion more every year. Improved quality, more doctors, more nurses and more new equipment.

The effort has produced results. Almost 200,000 more operations are performed every year. Danes have to wait less time for an operation. Nine out of ten patients are satisfied with their stay in hospital.

Through the joint efforts of Denmark’s doctors, nurses and social and health care workers, we have come a long way. You’re doing a great job!

With the new super hospitals, we can also do the job smarter. We must use new technology. But additional money is also needed.

Therefore, the Government will allocate DKK 5 billion extra for health care in 2011–2013, even though public service expenditures as a whole must remain stable.

A portion of the DKK 5 billion is allocated further strengthening of cancer care.

People struck by cancer are thrown into a new, uncertain and frightening situation. A secure everyday life is completely overturned.

With Cancer Plan I and II, quality and cohesion have been ensured in diagnosing and treating patients. Today, we treat 60,000 more cancer patients a year than in 2001. And the prospects of surviving cancer have increased.

With Cancer Plan III we will broaden the effort to include the patient’s entire course of treatment: from prevention and early diagnosis to treatment and the time after treatment.

The Government has ensured that patients with evident cancer symptoms are quickly placed on a well-planned comprehensive course of treatment. But we must be quicker at determining whether or not a patient has cancer, even if the symptoms are not so obvious.

We must be better at providing support after the illness. Over 200,000 Danes have had cancer or are living with cancer today. They must re-establish their daily lives. Some of them are doing fine. For others, it is a daily struggle against pain and fatigue. In such cases, we must do as much as possible in terms of care, retraining and rehabilitation.

Cancer Plan III will be included in the forthcoming Budget negotiations.

* * *

In a safe and secure society, we must be responsible citizens and help each other. We must not be clients, who have our options deposited with the public sector.

There are young people today who are granted disability pensions even though they are still receiving treatment for their illness. This is also the case for young people who recover so well after treatment that they are able to manage their day-to-day life and to hold a job.

It is outrageous to automatically park a young person with social anxiety disorder on a life-long disability pension. It is outrageous to park a young girl with stress on a life-long disability pension. It is outrageous to park a young man with a substance abuse problem on a life-long disability pension.

Is it right to tell a girl of 23 that she will never be able to take care of herself? No! Nevertheless, that is the message society gives to 4,500 Danes under 40 every year. More than 3,000 of them due to mental illnesses.

We must not park people under 40 on disability pensions for the rest of their lives. On the contrary, we must ensure that they receive the help and support they need to move on with their lives.

We should not give up on anyone. Therefore, we will also take another look at the flexi-job scheme.

Today, there are socioeconomically advantaged people who have flexi-jobs. This crowds out less advantaged people and forces them into passive public support.

It is not right for a checkout assistant who works full time and earns DKK 275,000 a year to help finance wage subsidies for people in a flexi-job who work part time and earn DKK 680,000 a year.

This must be stopped. Flexi-jobs must be targeted at the people who need them.

High salary earners who can manage without it must not receive a wage subsidy. On the other hand, the weakest groups in society must have better opportunities. People who can only work a few hours a week must be able to receive a wage subsidy. And the people with flexi-jobs who can work more hours should receive a cash settlement for their extra effort.

The Government will call for negotiations on this in the autumn.

Our position is clear. Those capable must take responsibility for themselves, so that those in need of a helping hand are taken care of and can move on with their lives.

* * *

All Danes must have an opportunity to create a good life for themselves. To transform their endeavours into reality. More and more New Danes are seizing that opportunity.

For the first time ever, the percentage of 20-24-year-old women with non-Western backgrounds who are taking a programme of higher education is higher than among other Danish women.

Both people and policies are responsible for this extremely satisfactory development.

The people responsible are, for example, the bright journalist student with roots in Pakistan. The ambitious medical student with a Turkish surname. The skilled social or health care trainee whose parents come from Sri Lanka. To all of you, I would like to say: we need each and every one of you!

The policies responsible for this development are the firm and fair refugee and immigration policies that the Government pursues together with the Danish People’s Party. And which have paved the way for true integration.

We have come a long way. But we want to go further.

For generations, we have built up a safe and secure, affluent and free society in Denmark. Increased prosperity and material progress have played a great role in this. But the crucial factor has been and still is our values. Freedom of diversity. Responsibility for the things we share. Respect for the laws of society. Freedom of expression. Equal opportunities for men and women. A fundamental confidence in the fact that we want the best for each other. Our firmly rooted democracy.

These are powerful values that we must never surrender.

But black spots have appeared on the map of Denmark. Places where these fundamental Danish values obviously no longer are valid.

When firemen can only do their job with police protection. When schools and day care facilities are vandalised. When respect is substituted with harassment and crime. When parallel systems of justice appear. Then values such as trust, freedom and responsibility no longer exist.

We must put an end to this. We must never accept it.

The problems are linked to particularly deprived housing areas. Areas called ghettos in our everyday language.

The Government has identified 29 such ghetto areas with particular major challenges. These are areas where a large percentage of the residents are unemployed. Where many people with a criminal background live. And where many Danes with immigrant backgrounds live.

We must take determined action. The time has come to put an end to a misguided tolerance for the intolerance which dominates in parts of the ghettos. Let us speak openly about it: In areas where Danish values do not have a firm foothold, ordinary solutions will be rendered completely inadequate.

It does not help to pump more money into painting facades. We are facing special problems that require special solutions.

We will tear the walls down. We will open the ghettos up to society. When I visited Tåstrupgård in August, it struck me that in a housing area the same size as the one I live in myself, there is not one single store. It is almost impossible to walk around in other ghetto areas. They are stone deserts, without any lines of communication to the surrounding society. It is these fortresses we must break through.

We must dare to say that some housing blocks need to be torn down. The Government will set aside half a billion kroner to do it.

We must reintegrate the ghettos into society.

We must create security. We will not accept troublemakers creating unrest and insecurity.

The police must therefore maintain an active presence in the ghettos. Both on a daily basis and when trouble arises. The effort must be based on knowledge of the local area and the residents.

The police will now go to work on developing a new, ambitious national plan for their efforts in the ghetto areas. The plan is to ensure a determined, effective and local effort. That is how to re-establish security and trust.

The Government will release a comprehensive strategy for the ghettos before the autumn holiday. A strategy which addresses both the bricks and the people living behind the bricks.

* * *

Also in the field of energy, the new reality requires a new policy.

For decades, the progress of the Western world has been driven by oil, gas and coal.

In a new era, we must not gamble with the future of the planet by allowing CO2 from fossil fuels to put pressure on our climate. In a new era, we cannot afford that rising oil prices can wreck the economy. In a new era, we must not deposit our security in the hands of unstable regimes.

I will already now set up benchmarks for the Government’s work: The Government’s goal is for Denmark to be independent of oil, gas and coal by 2050.

We must develop renewable energy sources significantly. We must use more wind power, more biomass and more electric cars.

We must become even better at saving energy. We had – until the crisis – several decades of uninterrupted economic growth with the same energy consumption. In the forthcoming decades, we must ensure new growth with lower energy consumption.

The Government will spend the coming months specifying how we are to reach the goal. Our approach will be characterised by high ambitions when we chart the course, and it will be characterised by a good deal of common sense when we plan the effort.

We will not present a plan which, down to the very last detail, sets out the effort up to 2050. In 1970, who could have predicted that the Internet and cell phones would revolutionise our communication pattern? When we establish the energy policy of the years ahead, we need to take into account that we do not know the technology of the future.

We cannot predict which exact energy system will end up being the optimal one in 40 years. In the transport area we are dependent on international technology development. And in other areas, new technologies may prove attractive – for example the possibility of extracting CO2 from coal.

Therefore, we must be flexible. We reserve the right to become wiser. Both with respect to the choice of technologies and with respect to the national economy.

We will now scrutinise the recommendations of the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy and present our proposal. And I wish to say already now: the interesting thing is not how we get rid of the last drop of oil, the last bucket of coal or the last cubic metre of natural gas by 2050. The interesting thing is how we in the years ahead become even more energy efficient. And generate even more renewable energy. This is the challenge that the Government will place focus on.

Our three overall benchmarks are the following:

First, we must choose solutions where we get most value for money.

Second, we must not jeopardise Danish competitiveness and employment.

Third, we cannot write out a cheque for new initiatives without having got the financing in place. In brief: the new era’s principle of healthy public finances also applies to the area of energy.

The Government will work towards making the EU commit to reducing its CO2 emissions by 30 per cent in 2020, irrespective of the outcome of the global climate change negotiations. It will send a strong global message – and it will promote the green restructuring in Europe for the benefit of companies and investments aiming at innovation and energy efficiency. Also on this count, we must act in a way that ensures employment, competitiveness and a fair burden sharing for Denmark.

* * *

It is not only Denmark that is challenged in the wake of the global economic crisis. All of Europe is. The fight for international influence will be tougher. It is more important than ever that the European countries work together effectively.

This applies to economic policy. The EU works towards strengthening the common economic ground rules in order to prevent a repetition of the debt crisis in spring.

It applies to the joint effort for promoting growth and employment. Through further development of the internal market. By fostering global free trade. Through green growth. Through more research. The EU must have a strong position in the intensified global competition. The reason is that without economic growth, our opportunities to promote our interests and defend our values will be weakened.

At the same time, we must recognise that the EU has not yet managed to play the global role we wish to see. There is a need for the EU to become a stronger and more relevant voice in the world at large.

Denmark must play a strong role in tackling the challenges facing the EU. This will be the case in particular when Denmark holds the Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2012.

Denmark must be placed at the heart of European cooperation. It remains the Government’s clear view that the Danish opt-outs are harmful to Denmark. Therefore, we need to abolish them.

* * *

Freedom and prosperity in Denmark are only possible if we are prepared to fight for Denmark’s security. We have done so for almost ten years in Afghanistan.

I visited Afghanistan a little over a week ago. I left for Afghanistan deeply touched by the report that yet another Danish soldier had lost his life a few days earlier. As always, it affects me deeply. It affects us all deeply. And it causes us to consider once again why we send Danish men and women into battle thousands of kilometres from home.

The altogether basic reason why we do this is to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. We also do it to give the individual Afghan the opportunity of a better life.

It is a great experience to talk with Afghan school children and school teachers. They express a joy and enthusiasm that is highly infectious. Today, seven million children attend school in Afghanistan. This is ten times as many as under the Taliban regime. Two and a half million girls go to school now. Under the Taliban regime, no girls attended school.

This is, indeed, encouraging . But many challenges remain and there will be occasional setbacks. However, they must never lead us to give up. Our mission in Afghanistan has not been accomplished. But we are entering a new phase.

It is my wish that we have no Danish combat troops in Afghanistan after 2014. And in the period up to 2014, a gradual change of the Danish effort is to take place, a shift from combat to training and support.

Danish soldiers have been at the forefront in fighting the Taliban. And the situation in parts of Helmand remains so unstable that we, also in the future, will see Danish soldiers in combat with the risks these imply.

But we are already in the process of shifting the focus of our effort. Where we used to take the lead, we will now step aside and train the Afghan soldiers to enable them to move into the forefront. In the same way as we support the training of the Afghan police.

Together with our allies, we must prepare for transferring the responsibility for security to the Afghans themselves. I expect that the NATO Summit in November will establish important benchmarks for this process.

After the Summit, the Government together with the political parties behind our Afghanistan involvement will decide on the Danish engagement in Helmand in 2011.

I attach great importance to the broad political agreement on our Afghanistan involvement. Our soldiers deserve that.

To the men and women posted abroad I would like to say: you have made the most courageous decision of all. Instead of choosing safety and security at home, you have decided to fight for Denmark’s security and for freedom throughout the world. We owe you much gratitude. And we owe you the broad political support for Denmark’s involvement.

Denmark has one of the world’s best welfare societies. Nevertheless, we are only beginning to learn what it means to be a veteran returning home from international operations.

Many who have been posted abroad return with great experiences from international operations. Others return with scars on body and soul.

These are the ones we must render the support they need. We must become better at that. We must recognise the efforts of the veterans.

We want to ensure that the soldiers who incur lasting injury – physical as well as mental – receive the best help. If a fit and healthy young man has lost a leg, we must do our utmost to enable him to lead an active life again. And the services we offer must be rooted in a deep understanding of the traumas and physical injuries that violent incidents on international postings may give rise to.

This will be part of the veteran policy which the Government will present next week. Our veterans must have the necessary support and treatment.

* * *

Also with respect to the Danish Realm, a new era requires a new policy. In a number of areas, Greenland and the Faroe Islands have assumed responsibility for their own decisions and priorities.

During my visit to the Faroe Islands in August, the issue was raised about the participation of the Faroe Islands in the Danish Realm on the present basis. The Government wishes to keep and modernise the Danish Realm. But we wait for the Faroe Islands to decide on the constitutional proposal that is being considered by the Lagting (The Faroese Parliament).

Irrespective of which arrangement the Faroe Islands wish to adopt in relation to Denmark, the people of the Faroe Islands must decide on the matter with the greatest possible clarity regarding the consequences. Similarly, the process towards a new arrangement must respect our common ground rules.

One of the two large banks in the Faroe Islands, Eik Bank, faces a very serious situation. However, with the bank package from 2008, we have been able to ensure that customers can continue to carry out their general banking transactions. And, at the same time, depositors’ money is safe. This contributes to the economic stability in the Faroe Islands.

* * *

New times. New paths. New goals.

In a new era, we need to look at our policy with new eyes. The Government has no sacrosanct rules. Only common sense.

Therefore, we prefer consolidation to running up debt.

Teaching rather than café money.

Bigger state education grants for students who graduate fast, and smaller grants for those who graduate at a slower pace.

New opportunities rather than long-term parking for young people with a mental illness.

Better cancer treatment. We must be able to afford it.

We will address the ghetto problems in Denmark specifically. It is not enough to paint the facade – we must demolish the walls of the ghetto.

We must and will do what is necessary, irrespective of whether it is popular.
I wish to invite all the parties of the Folketing to broad collaboration on the necessary policy. I hope that all will demonstrate the necessary responsibility.

Let us commence the work of the new parliamentary session with three cheers for Denmark.

LONG LIVE the Kingdom of DENMARK.
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!