Speech

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s Special Account to the Folketing (Danish Parliament) on 14 April 2009

Check against delivery

Denmark has got a new Government. And I am deeply honoured that a majority in the Folketing have recommended me as new Prime Minister.

I find it natural to initiate the new Government’s work by giving the Folketing an account of the new Government’s agenda.

The parliamentary basis of the new Government is the Danish People’s Party with support from Liberal Alliance. I wish to thank the two political parties for their backing and for the clear indications they have given in connection with the formation of the Government. I look forward to a continued good cooperation.

I also wish to invite all the other parties of the Folketing to cooperate with the new Government. The Government will present a number of specific policy proposals which I hope may constitute the basis for constructive political negotiations and solutions.

The previous Government’s overall political goals will be carried forward. This applies to:

- the value-based policy
- the tax freeze
- the firm and fair immigration policy
- the administration of justice policy
- the free choice
- the development of welfare
- the green vision
- the active foreign policy

* * *

Freedom and community. These are the two pillars on which the Danish society is based.

We have extensive personal freedom. We can to a high degree live our lives and pursue our personal ambitions as we please. We can choose education, work and family.

We have a strong community. A community that comes to our assistance when we need it. When we fall ill. When we lose our jobs. And when we receive education and training. But a community that neither can nor should solve all our problems.

In Denmark, we have built a bridge between freedom and community. And in return we have achieved both dynamics and social security.

And we have achieved it in a manner that is quite unique. That commands respect throughout the world. And it does not merely imply that we by and large are happy, confident and optimistic people, but also that we as a people and a nation are well-prepared in the current, worldwide economic crisis.

The bridge between freedom and community combines the wish of people today to take responsibility for their own lives with the wish to live in a strong and secure community. The bridge is strong when the pillars are strong.

We must bear that in mind at this particular time when we are faced with great challenges. Freedom and community are fundamental values which we must protect.

1. Denmark must be brought safely through the economic crisis

The global economy is in a deep crisis. Probably the deepest crisis for generations. A crisis which has seriously gathered momentum over the last six months.

Let me be frank: I do not know how profound or how extensive the crisis will be. Nobody knows.

Production is declining in all of the world’s rich countries. Global trade is declining. Millions of people are losing their jobs.

The international crisis also affects the Danish economy very seriously. We are an open country which for better or worse is closely intertwined with the world around us. We have generated our wealth and prosperity through trade with other countries. So when a storm rages in the world around us, we naturally feel it in Denmark as well.

It is a situation that requires strong economic leadership.

But it is also a situation in which Denmark has a better starting point than many other countries. The reason being that changing governments ever since the days of Prime Minister Poul Schlüter have pursued a responsible policy.

We did not succumb to the temptation of squandering the huge surpluses during good times even though it might have been popular to do so. That is why we currently have room for manoeuvre in these harder times.

The Government has taken advantage of this:

- We have sustained the financial system by making up to DKK 100 billion available as subordinated loan capital.
- We have cut taxes in 2009.
- We have increased the liquidity of the business community equal to more than DKK 60 billion by extending the credit periods for VAT and tax deducted from income at source, and we have improved the export credit scheme by DKK 30 billion.
- We have made it possible to withdraw savings from the Special Pension Savings Scheme (SP).
- We have agreed a significant personal tax relief that is fully financed over time, but which stimulates the economy by injecting up to DKK 15 billion in 2010.
- We have lifted the ceiling on municipal construction projects, moved forward public investments and set aside DKK 1.5 billion for a home refurbishment pool.

And perhaps most importantly: we still have options left.

The Government is prepared to do more if it proves necessary. But it is crucial that any measures to stimulate the economy should be introduced to the extent required and at the right time. We are to improve and not to harm the competitiveness of Danish enterprises.

The Government is working according to a growth strategy with precise and targeted interventions; instead of rashly distributing billions of imprecisely defined Danish kroner. We are closely monitoring developments. We will intervene if required. We are pursuing a responsible and well-considered growth strategy with investments in the future: in schools, day-care facilities, infrastructure, education and training, research and climate improvement. We have an ambition on behalf of Denmark. An ambition which we will realise in line with what is economically feasible.

And I do not rule out that the crisis may render it both possible and sensible to implement some of our ambitions more swiftly. Prior to the forthcoming financial negotiations with the local governments, we will therefore scrutinise the local governments’ plans for investments using the quality improvement fund’s DKK 22 billion in schools, day-care facilities and senior citizen service.

The Government is at the same time the guarantor of a responsible tax policy. We did not allow ourselves to be talked into a false dilemma between tax cuts and welfare. On the contrary, we have combined a tax freeze and tax relief with further development of the welfare society.

Together with the Danish People’s Party, it is the Government that has ensured that citizens and enterprises can feel confident about taxes. It is a matter of confidence that is particularly important in economically turbulent times.

When the tax reform enters into force on 1 January 2010, the middle-bracket tax will have been abolished for the benefit of almost two million tax payers. And 350,000 fewer will pay top-bracket tax.

We will fund the tax cuts by, among other things, reducing allowances and by levying taxes on a number of employee benefits as well as by raising indirect taxes on energy and resources. We will cut taxes on what we want more of – work. And we will raise taxes on what we want less of - pollution.

It is part of the tax reform agreement that everybody who has employer-paid IT that may be used for private purposes will be taxed at DKK 5,000 per person. There has been some criticism of the multimedia tax. The Government and the Danish People’s Party will discuss possible options to solve the problem, whilst maintaining the simplification and streamlining which the multimedia tax entails.

The tax reform contains a great number of changes. However, all in all, the tax reform ensures that we provide more money for private consumption. We stabilise the economy of families. And we provide a greater incentive to make an extra effort.

Since 2001, the Government’s reforms of the labour market have worked along the same lines. The fundamental principle being that it must be financially advantageous for the individual to get a job rather than be unemployed.

And it has worked. In 2008, Denmark reached the highest level of employment and the lowest unemployment rate in recent times. This benefits in particular vulnerable groups in society.

With these achievements, the Government has reinforced the bridge between private enterprise and social security.

Now we must stand guard over the good results. Unemployment has started to increase. A total of 70,000 Danes are unemployed today. This is 23,000 more than last summer when the unemployment rate was at its lowest with 47,000.

And unfortunately there is no doubt that it will get worse before it gets better.

The Government will do everything in its power to mitigate the human costs. For the person who is laid off it is not at all interesting that there were 57,000 more unemployed when the Liberal-Conservative Government came into office in 2001. One unemployed person is one too many!

We have already launched a number of initiatives to minimise the increase in unemployment. And we will continue the reforms of the labour market.

Today, the fiscal policy in Denmark is more expansionary than in most other European countries. Our stimulation of the economy equals 30,000 more jobs in 2010 compared to the situation of us having done nothing.

My 19-year-old son has no personal knowledge of youth unemployment. It must continue to be like that. It must remain an echo of the past. Just as long-term unemployment must remain an echo of the past.

Everybody must have the opportunity to get a good education and training. But we must also, all of us, be prepared to use that education and training in different ways throughout life. And to continuously receive further training or to try a different tack.

We must also continue to increase the effort to ensure that all young people complete a youth education programme and thus achieve a basis for further education and training and a job. We cannot afford to lose anybody. And in particular not now when we have better opportunities to get hold of the young than we have had for many years.

2. We must transform the crisis into opportunities – continued reform policy in Denmark

Some people think that they have a solution to the crisis which, with a flourish of a magic wand, will make all global imbalances vanish.

But no magician’s trick can solve the world’s serious economic problems. Politicians, economists and other voices in the public debate may just as well get used to the fact that we need to apply several different tools and to intervene several times. One cheque here and now will not do the trick.

A responsible handling of the crisis is an extremely difficult balancing act.

We owe it to the Danes to shoulder this task through joint efforts. However, if necessary the Government will do it together with those who will assume responsibility for bringing Denmark safely through the crisis.

Therefore, the Government will not be seen trying to exaggerate or minimise the problems. We acknowledge that Denmark is challenged by the crisis. And we acknowledge the challenge.

Serious times also present new opportunities. Opportunities to boost dynamics, creativity and enterprise. Both in the private and the public sector.

The economic crisis must not curb our wishes and ambitions to develop the Danish society. On the contrary, reforms may contribute to bringing Denmark safely through the crisis.

We have a solid Government Platform with a total of 281 initiatives. That is the basis of our future work. I will not bore you with a long list of initiatives, but focus on the tasks that will be most prominent in the remaining months of 2009:

The establishment of the Ministry of the Interior and Social Affairs underlines an enhanced focus on the need to stand guard over social cohesion. It is particularly necessary during a crisis. Because those at the bottom of society are hit first by the crisis.

But it will not help those at the bottom of society if we impede the progress of those who are doing well. Therefore, the Government will not fight prosperity. We will fight poverty and social exclusion.

It is a characteristic of the Danish community that there is room for all who can and will contribute in a positive manner. But it is also a characteristic of this community that those who do not want to will be stopped by a strong hand. And that a warm hand will be extended to those who cannot contribute.

The Government will continue the effort to strengthen integration and offer a place to everybody in the Danish community.

We have already achieved great results. Previously, local authorities were brought to their knees under the huge integration burden caused by massive and unchecked immigration. Today, we have brought immigration under control.

That is why fewer people feel discriminated against and more people feel well integrated in Denmark. And the Danes’ fundamentally positive view of foreigners has been re-established. All of this has translated into a situation where more Danes with an immigrant background are working and receiving an education than ever before.

The most recent encouraging story was published just before Easter. The latest figures show that from 2004 to 2008, a total of 26,000 more new Danes from non-Western countries had found employment. The Government’s target was 25,000 before 2010. So here we have reached our target two years ahead of schedule.

But it must in no way allow us to lean back. We have only just started.

There is room for you in our community, irrespective of whether your name is Rasmussen or Rashid, Helle or Hassan. We have room for all who respect individual freedom and our values, and who take personal responsibility and demonstrate commitment to societal life.

We must hold on to a safe and secure society. As citizens we must be able to move in safety everywhere in Denmark. It is our right. And we will not put up with the attacks that have recently been launched against the public order.

When self-appointed individuals set up stop-and-search zones. When the municipal meals-on-wheels service needs protection by the police. When there are shootings in the street. When it is a calculated stratagem to push young people below the age of criminal responsibility into the forefront. Then our tolerance threshold has not only been reached, it has definitely been breached.

The Government has therefore presented an anti-gang package where we place significant focus on security and safety here and now. Among other things with more visible police. With proposals for tougher sentences. With better investigation tools. Young people who have got involved in criminal activity must be stopped consistently by the strong arm of the law.

Children and young people that are on the path to a life of crime must be stopped by a warm and firm hand. They must be made to feel the consequence before things go seriously wrong. Before they become part of the criminal gangs. They need a firm push towards a better path.

Therefore, we must reconsider and think afresh our effort to tackle juvenile crime. Of course, a 14-year-old must not serve time with hardened criminals. But it is altogether unacceptable that there are some who capitalise on letting children commit criminal offences because they cannot be punished.

We should discuss an alternative to the current age of criminal responsibility in an unprejudiced manner. And we should consider how it may sharpen local authorities’ focus on early preventive measures if municipal co-financing is introduced regarding the Prison and Probation Service.

It costs energy, targeted effort and cooperation in the municipality to get the young off the streets and into school or working life. In principle, it costs nothing if things go seriously wrong and the young are taken off the streets and imprisoned. It is hardly expedient.

In continuation of the anti-gang package, the Government will present a justice proposal after the summer recess with a view to legislation in the new parliamentary session.

The welfare society contributes to bringing us through the crisis. And irrespective of the crisis, we must continue to develop our welfare society. Modern welfare takes its point of departure in human beings, not in systems.

Throughout my entire political career, it has been a guiding principle for me to modernise and develop the welfare society I myself have grown up with. On the one hand we must become better at meeting the individual demands of people today. And on the other hand we must become even better at taking care of the weakest in society.

When I talk about meeting the individual demands of people today, it is often interpreted as a matter of outsourcing and free choice. That is part of it, but it definitely entails many other things and much more than that. It is a matter of offering flexible solutions instead of standard products – in all the places where it is at all possible and where the needs of citizens can be accommodated to a greater degree:

- To develop a primary and lower secondary school system where every single child is stimulated and challenged to the maximum extent.
- To develop an employment policy that takes its point of departure in the qualifications of the individual unemployed person.
- To develop service provision for the elderly with respect for the elderly person’s integrity and own choices.
- To develop a health care system with the highest professional standards, which is also available in the local community.

That makes great demands on Christiansborg – on the Government and the Folketing. And on municipalities and regions. The point is not to throttle drive and inventiveness in unnecessary bureaucracy and detailed regulation. Flowers shoot up from the ground. If there are thistles among the flowers, they must be weeded out.

Trust and responsibility must go hand in hand in the development of the public sector. We must be more ambitious in our management of the public sector. Therefore, it is altogether vital that we complete the quality improvement reform. With all the many initiatives that give the municipalities, regions, day-care facilities, nursing homes and hospitals more scope and better tools so that they themselves can find the best solutions for the benefit of the citizens.

The Government has given high priority to the health sector. We have established five strong regions whose main task is first and foremost to develop a strong public health care sector. We have provided extra money. We have educated and employed more doctors and nurses. We have achieved results with more treatments of common diseases and far better treatments for patients with life-threatening diseases. And we have put to rest the misunderstanding that it is more important to fight private hospitals than waiting lists.

We suffered a setback because of the industrial disputes last spring. We were forced to suspend the extended free choice of hospital, and we have seen a rise in waiting time.

We will now place special focus on this to rectify the situation.

- The extended free choice of hospital, which more than a quarter of a million Danes have benefited from directly, will be re-introduced with effect from 1 July this year.
- In the forthcoming years, we will start building a number of new modern hospitals.
- We will continue to bring together medical specialties so that the patient can get the best treatment.
- And the Government will launch a national prevention plan with clear targets. We must all have the best opportunities to take responsibility for our own health.

The effort to make a good Danish health care sector even better implies great changes, but it also makes many feel insecure. When the medical specialties are brought together at fewer addresses to enhance the quality of the treatment and provide a better basis for investment in the best and most modern equipment, it makes sense. We all wish to be treated by the best doctors, and not all doctors can be the best at everything. Still, we experience a feeling of apprehension and insecurity when the local hospital is transformed or perhaps disappears altogether.

This is a dilemma between proximity and quality which the Government is very conscious of. Therefore, we must strengthen the effort to develop local, 24-hour health services in the parts of the country where there is a long distance to a major acute-care hospital. And we must improve the ambulance emergency services so that actual treatment begins immediately at the scene of the accident and not only when the ambulance arrives at the hospital.

Also with respect to the green sphere we must not allow the economic crisis to curb our ambitions. On the contrary, the Government looks upon the crisis as an incentive to think innovatively.

The Government has already done a great deal, and we will present further specific proposals for green growth initiatives:

- In spring 2008 we concluded an ambitious and broad energy agreement which lays down new tracks for Denmark’s energy policy.
- We have launched a green transport proposal which resulted in the broadest ever transport agreement on sustainable transport and better infrastructure.
- In a short while, we will present an environmental and agricultural proposal for green growth. Where new green demands on the agricultural sector go hand in hand with new growth opportunities.
- We will present a strategy for ways to reduce energy consumption by 75 per cent in new buildings up to 2020.
- We will introduce a business climate strategy that combines continued greenhouse gas reductions with new growth opportunities for the business community.

It is the Government’s ambitious goal that Denmark over time becomes altogether independent of polluting fuels like coal, oil and gas.
Within this election term, the Government will present a specific proposal for when Denmark is to be completely free of fossil fuels. It is a proposal in which we take our point of departure in the work of the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy. What we propose must, naturally, be professionally based, economically sustainable and technically feasible.

3. We must transform the crisis into opportunities – international cooperation

Also internationally, the financial crisis must not be allowed to curb our ambitions. We must coordinate our efforts so that we do not create obstacles for each other by establishing inexpedient barriers that lead to unequal conditions and which we later will have great difficulty in dismantling. But the world’s countries must not take the same steps. Our points of departure are extremely different – therefore, we must tailor our efforts differently, but according to a common line.

And we must see opportunities in the crisis. One of the international opportunities will even show up on our own doorstep.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December will be the largest international conference Denmark has ever hosted. It will be a conference of crucial importance if we succeed in concluding an agreement.

As host country and chairman of the conference, Denmark plays a key role.
The Government will work in a targeted manner to achieve not just a grand declaration of intent, but by contrast a real and ambitious climate change agreement in Copenhagen. A new climate change agreement must not set a new world record in terms of hot-air rhetoric, but by contrast present credible and practical solutions to global warming.

It will not prove an easy task. To get countries throughout the world to agree on anything is difficult – but to reach agreement on an ambitious climate change agreement in times of crisis will prove extremely difficult. The Government will work unremittingly to ensure a successful result.

And strong forces will support the Government’s efforts. President Obama has recently taken the initiative to invite the 16 countries in the world with the largest economies to a summit in July. He has at the same time invited the UN Secretary General and myself to attend the summit.

It is an important initiative in order to commence informal discussions at the highest level in a group of countries comprising those with the largest emissions of CO2. And all of them must contribute to reaching the target of reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

Hosting the UN Climate Change Conference provides us with a unique opportunity to place Denmark on the world map in the areas where we have our greatest strengths: the ability to adapt our economy and production to the changing demands of globalisation; the ability to generate economic growth and increased prosperity without increasing energy consumption; and the ability to export our knowledge and technology within the areas of energy and green growth.

Come December, we in Copenhagen must translate our experience into a sustainable global vision.

The EU is a crucial pivotal point in our foreign and security policy, also with regard to climate change. European cooperation is, as a matter of fact, the altogether vital framework for the pursuit of Danish interests in the world around us. We must protect and strengthen that cooperation.

With the Treaty of Lisbon we will be in a better position to pursue Danish and European interests at global level. At the same time, we will have a more effective, democratic and open EU. It is therefore quite clearly in our own interest that the new treaty is finally approved.

Denmark must be placed at the heart of EU cooperation. The Danish EU opt-outs are and will continue to prove harmful to the pursuit of Danish interests.

The Government will therefore continue to work towards the abolition of the Danish opt-outs. But not until the time is ripe.

A referendum requires a broad and solid majority in the Folketing. And we must have clarity regarding the framework for the cooperation before we can ask the voters to decide on the opt-outs. That is an altogether fundamental precondition for such an important decision.

The Government will continue the tradition of seeking broad agreement regarding the overall Danish EU policy.

Also in the security policy field, global challenges and threats call for international solutions to an increasing extent. Denmark’s security is best safeguarded through European and transatlantic cooperation. And by strengthening the international community, first and foremost the UN.

The Government is very pleased with the announcements from the new US Administration, which has so clearly committed itself to international cooperation and cooperation with Europe to respond to the major global challenges.

Denmark must continue to stand ready to contribute. We will continue to contribute to international operations that foster security and stability. In Afghanistan, the Government has increased the Danish contribution to NATO’s involvement in the important but difficult southern part of Afghanistan.

It is not only important for the security of the Afghans. It is important for our own security.

The development in Afghanistan has clearly shown how significant the civilian/military comprehensive approach is if sustainable peace and development is to be established in Afghanistan.

The Government has therefore furthermore increased the Danish effort in the civilian field. A broad majority in the Folketing supports our efforts in Afghanistan.

And let me be frank: I attach the utmost importance to this.

It is also of vital importance to our soldiers who every day carry out a huge and dangerous task.

Denmark commands much international respect for our active security policy. The appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next Secretary General of NATO bears evidence to the recognition of our involvement. Recognition we can all take pride in.

And to the professional and deeply committed Danes who currently work in the hotspots of the world or have done so previously, I wish to say: Your effort to promote peace and stability under very difficult conditions is exemplary. Your effort deserves profound recognition and our deepest respect. You are a credit to Denmark.

It is the Government’s intention that the forthcoming Defence Agreement should constitute the basis for countering threats to our security and to maintain our strong international profile. It is the Government’s hope that there also in the future will be broad political support for this approach in the Folketing.

Denmark will continue to be one of the countries in the world that provide most development assistance to the poorest, especially in Africa.

Last year, the Government set up an international Africa Commission.

The work of the Commission has become even more urgent than could be predicted at the time. The implications of the global financial crisis are huge for the countries in Africa.

In a few weeks, the Africa Commission will present specific proposals for initiatives with strong focus on private sector economic growth and development in Africa.

The ambition is that the Commission’s recommendations can influence the international development policy cooperation with Africa. And the result of the Africa Commission’s work will, naturally, be reflected in Danish development assistance.

Conclusion

The parliamentary session is drawing to a close, but we still have much to do. We need to read the 13 bills of the tax reform. And we need to read bills submitted by the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs regarding enhanced efforts to fight gang crime and the expulsion of aliens who are deemed a danger to the security of the state. We need to adopt the legislation regarding Greenland self-government. We need to conclude a new Defence Agreement. And we need an agreement on Green Growth.

The months ahead will be very busy.

But one task overshadows all of them: the crisis. It is a challenge to us. It is a challenge to every single Dane. We must defend and develop Danish society during the deepest international economic crisis in decades. We must enhance safety and security. We must modernise our welfare model. We must ensure that dynamism is maintained.

This is a national task that requires joint action and broad cooperation here in the Folketing. I invite to cooperation.

But I wish to be frank: cooperation requires an effort from more than one party in order to be successful. It requires that all can look further ahead than to tomorrow’s newspaper headline.

I wish to call on us all to shoulder the tasks, together and united.

It will also send an important signal to everybody outside the Folketing. After all it is not only us as members of the Folketing who can move Denmark. And fortunately so.

Together we must ensure a Denmark with both freedom and community. With both growth and security. A Denmark that emerges strongly from the economic crisis.

I look forward to a good debate here in the Folketing on Thursday. A debate that can provide the basis for constructive cooperation on the important tasks.

Thank you for your attention.