Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s New Year’s Address on the 1st of January 2023
Check against delivery.
We live in times of great change.
We had barely put the pandemic behind us before Putin sent troops into Ukraine. There is war in Europe once again.
Energy crisis. Steep inflation. Rising interest rates.
It is a difficult time for many.
We are entering a year of economic uncertainty. And, unfortunately, with the risk of rising unemployment.
As these dark clouds gather on the horizon, we must stand united. Find courage and hope in unity.
* * *
You and your fellow Danes have elected a parliamentary constellation that requires broad cooperation. This is good for Denmark.
We have formed a coalition Government across the political spectrum. You will see this in our political solutions.
We are balancing.
And we will do our best to create a stronger, greener and safer Denmark.
After many weeks of negotiations on the formation of the new Government, I took a short break. To reflect and to sing in the Christmas holiday.
The fourth Sunday of Advent. In the Church of Our Saviour in Copenhagen, we sang the Danish hymn “Dejlig er jorden” (“Wonderful is the Earth”). My favourite Christmas hymn.
It was a cold day. We shivered as we sat in the wooden pews of the beautiful old church. But we joined in song with warmth in our hearts, and the words rung clear:
“Peace on Earth!
to us an eternal saviour is born!”
Ingemann’s message of peace has rarely been more pertinent.
Not far from here, Ukrainians are now in the eleventh month of war, fighting to defend their homeland. Against a Russia whose cruelty we can hardly comprehend.
Families in the freezing winter without heat, without electricity, without clean water to drink. Doctors that have to operate on the wounded by the light of a mobile phone.
It is unbearable.
But they are also a people whose courage and determination has surprised everyone.
And Europe, and the West, whose unity – along with other close allies – took Putin by surprise.
There is light in the darkness.
Denmark will maintain our persistent and loyal support for Ukraine.
At the same time, we must prepare for the heightened threats we face at home.
In Europe, we tend to imagine that the rest of the world thinks and acts like we do.
For many years, we believed that trade and growth would almost automatically lead to peaceful coexistence.
We disarmed as others rearmed.
And in many areas, we have made ourselves too dependent on others.
We now see that we were too naive.
That we stand at the dawn of a new era. One that will be difficult.
It was a proud moment for Denmark last year when we wholeheartedly joined the European cooperation on defence and security.
Europe must be stronger in its own right. And Denmark must contribute more to NATO.
We must move the investments in our defence and security forward – so that by 2030 we reach the 2 percent that is needed and that we have promised our allies.
This will demand something of us all.
Therefore, the Government has proposed that we abolish a public holiday.
I sense that the proposal does not have the support of everyone.
But honestly: We cannot overcome war in Europe, the climate crisis, and the challenges here at home unless we – every one of us – are prepared to contribute more.
We can only develop our society if we dare to change it.
* * *
On that Sunday, when I attended a concert at the Church of Our Saviour, Anne Linnet was the featured vocalist. And although it was Advent, there was still room for her classic hit “Barndommens Gade”.
I think that most of you know it. The song puts music to the poem by Tove Ditlevsen about social problems in the Denmark of yesteryear.
“I gave you the vigilant eyes,
By those you will be recognized again,
If you meet someone with the same gaze,
You must know that he is your friend.”
I have seen those eyes. This vigilance.
If you are born in the underside of society, it can be difficult to trust other people.
It must not be like this.
In Denmark, it has to be the opposite. When life goes awry and the going gets tough. You should not have to be on your guard – but be assured that others will bear the burden with you.
One of the things I am most proud of in the new Government is our ambition for a new social policy.
For the most excluded and socially vulnerable people, dignity must now be the most important thing.
We must put an end to sending seriously ill – even terminally ill – citizens into job activation.
And I would rather have that the most socially vulnerable people with drug addictions can find peace and care in an injection room, instead of sitting on the street with the rest of us as spectators.
Dignity and a willingness to help other people. Even if they drink too much, once committed a crime, look scary with their tattoos and big dogs, or just have a hard time fitting into one of society’s many boxes.
The vigilant eyes must be met by a society that believes in each and every one of us. This is the common thread in our social policy.
* * *
Together, we are capable of even more than we think.
Three years ago, a broad majority in the Danish Parliament passed the Climate Act. With a goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 70 percent by 2030.
In the new Government’s term, we are setting our ambitions even higher.
By 2045, Denmark will be climate-neutral. And just think! By 2050, we will actually be absorbing more CO2 than we emit.
The green transition is not just about setting goals. But achieving those goals. And creating new green jobs at the same time.
We are therefore going to have a carbon tax on agriculture. And new legislation to protect nature so that our grandchildren will also be able to hear lark song and see butterflies flutter over meadows.
If we have an ambition to lead the way in the fight against the climate crisis. And we do.
When we also need to invest more in defence and security, in our safety. This is absolutely essential.
And we must be able to afford to the continued development of our social welfare. And we must.
Well, then we need even more people to work and contribute.
There is a need for reforms.
Especially in the way we have structured our social welfare.
I believe that children, teachers, parents and a good school principal are best at creating their own school.
Just as warmth and compassion in elderly care are much more important than thousands of pages of laws and documentation.
Therefore, we must meet those working in the welfare sector with trust instead of control.
In the coming years, the number of elderly people and children will continue to grow. Fortunately.
But the share of us who go to work and earn money will shrink.
This will put pressure on our welfare system.
There was a time when Denmark was not a welfare society. We were an old-fashioned and unjust society, where alms and mercy were crumbs from the table of the rich.
The generations before us changed that. Based on a very clear principle:
Being part of the Danish welfare society is not primarily about what each of us can get out of it. Rather, it is about what each of us can contribute.
Sometimes, you help me. Other times, I support you.
Not everyone can do the same. But everyone must do what they can.
We need each other.
* * *
Almost 45,000 young people are at present neither employed nor in education. Nothing to get up for in the morning.
We know them well. The girl who had a rough upbringing. The boy with the fragile disposition.
Many of you have problems. Some of them are severe. Others of you may just be in doubt about adult life. But you are a diversity of wonderful young people.
It is a failure when there is not room for all of us to be active members of society.
If some of you young people are watching tonight: We need you!
In the new Government, we have made it our paramount task to help those of you who are struggling the most.
Our young people need stronger ties and communities. Everyone needs to make an effort. Be valued. Feel that others will notice if we are not there.
It starts in school.
The first day of school. You’ve seen them. A brand-new school bag. All smiles. Courage and anticipation in their hearts.
But for some children – perhaps especially for some boys – school becomes a setback. The hours in the classroom are long. The books thick. And it can be hard to sit still.
Could it be that – although we have a good school system in many ways – it does not suit all children?
One child is quick when it comes to words and numbers. Another is talented with their hands. Thinks in different ways. Building. Shaping. Being creative.
The former is not any finer than the latter. Nor is it more important for society.
Nonetheless, politically, we have created a primary and lower secondary school system that heavily emphasises academics.
Perhaps that is why the vast majority of young people choose an academic high school rather than vocational education programmes.
Even those who could have flourished better by taking a different path – becoming an excellent mechanic, welder or social and health care assistant.
Denmark needs university graduates. Therefore, the Government wants to reform university study programmes. More focus on content – rather than length.
But it is just as true that we need skilled professionals.
We must remember what education is about: to lift people up and provide knowledge, freedom and opportunities.
We must stop letting so many children and young people fall through the cracks in our society.
Right now, there is a culture in education – and throughout society – that is limiting.
It is as if we have forgotten the value of good craftsmanship.
We need a school with room for both the practitioner and the academic.
Vocational education programmes must be the first choice for many more young people.
Those of you who are a little older can remember the apprenticeship programme: a vocational education without a ton of books, but rather on-the-job training. Less theory. More hands-on practice. We want to give young people a much better opportunity to choose this path.
We must show our children and young people that we believe in them. That we are on their side. That we need them.
We adults will never have a more important task.
* * *
We are facing major decisions and difficult compromises.
We are a small country. But this must not prevent us from thinking big.
Globally, we will uphold our responsibility for peace, security and a green future.
At home, we will create a welfare system with more care and dignity.
Education that provides freedom and opportunities. For all children and young people.
Let us face adversity with a view to the future. Concern with hope.
And remember in our hearts, even in uncertain times – especially in uncertain times: Dejlig er jorden (Wonderful is the Earth).
Happy New Year!