Speech

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s Opening Address at the Opening of the Danish Parliament, October 4 2022

Statsministeren holder åbningstale den 4. oktober 2022. Foto: Statsministeriet
Prime Minister's Mette Frederiksen Opening Adress at the Opening of the Danish Parliament, October 4 2022. Photo: Statsministeriet

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Your Majesty.

Your Royal Highnesses.

Mr Speaker.

Honourable members of the Danish Parliament.

All of you watching today.

I would like to share a story about three people.

The first, a young girl. So shy that she hid from her cousins when they visited. But who, as a 12-year-old, wrote in her diary that she would never again blush when strangers spoke to her.

The second: a young man. He lost his first two children at the ages of just seven weeks and three months old – learning in the cruellest way how unjust life can be.  But he persevered alongside his wife, going on to build a wonderful family – and in spite of the tragedy, he has always been there for others.

The third: a boy. He stuttered profusely, kept to himself and was teased at school. But he gained more and more self-confidence when a girl in the class stood up against the bullying. Ever since, he has been unafraid to chart his own path and think differently than most.

Three stories. Of joy and pain. Victories and defeats. Hopes and worries.

They could be stories about every one of us. Stories of a nation. A people.

With willpower. And pride.

Stories about strong communities.

About the results you can achieve. If you work for it. Together.

This thing that is so characteristically Danish. Not simply persevering in the face of adversity. But equally important: Persevering with the help of others. 

If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.

But, in fact, these stories are about three of you sitting here in the Chamber today.

Mr Speaker. I kindly request your permission to briefly address individual members of parliament directly.

 

Dear Marianne.

You have told the story of how shy you were as a child. That you did not dare tell your class that it was your birthday. Even though you had brought two bags of caramels to school.

Instead of handing them out to your classmates, you waited until the end of the school day. You were the last to leave class and walk down the hallway. You found an open door to an empty changing room.

And there you sat. Eating all of the caramels yourself.

“You chart your own course,” you have said. And you added something very important: “For every step you take, it gets a little better.”

 

Dear Henrik.

You have described how the grief of losing your two daughters shaped your life how you think and approach life.

Later you had Jannick and Christina, of whom you are extremely proud – with good reason – and whom you will support every step of the way.

Those of us who know you – we know that you love your wife, Bente.

Although it’s not the easiest thing for you to say. You have – in your own words – a complicated relationship with the word ‘love’.

And I quote:

“I think you’ve only heard me use the word love if it’s been beaten out of me. Because I think it’s a bunch of overhyped baloney.”

That’s what you said in a book of interviews on the topic of becoming an older man.

A book that is also about the erotic. Where you are quoted as saying something that is very telling of your approach to politics:

“When it comes to sex life, I also don’t bother worrying about things in advance.”

 

Dear Bertel.

At the young age of four, you were hospitalised with a ruptured appendix. You lay in a hospital ward with 20 other children.

You cried inconsolably. A head nurse glared at you and sternly said that “if you don’t stop crying, you’ll never see your mother again.”

You stopped crying. But when you returned home, you had started stuttering.

It sometimes made your father impatient.

But your mother told you: If you can’t say it, then you’ll have to sing it.

Apparently, at the time, you found this to be a terrible idea. Yet since then, you have enriched our lives: both with your songs, and with your speech.

There is always a way. You just have to find the one that is right for you – and that is what you did.

You are not a fan of group work. According to you, it amounts to sharing each other’s ignorance.

Some would perhaps argue that I share that view.

But in your company, Bertel – I rather think that few people are more knowledgeable than you are. 

* * *

Today we open a new parliamentary year.

The last in this election period.

And the last for Mrs Marianne Jelved, Mr Henrik Dam Kristensen, and Mr Bertel Haarder.

Your three stories are a reminder that our backgrounds can be both a source of support and an obstacle. That life is fragile. But that we can overcome even the most difficult of situations.

All three of you have announced that you will not be running for re-election.

A number of other colleagues have made similar announcements.

So why am I starting with your personal stories? In an address where I, as Prime Minister, am tasked with reporting on the state of the Kingdom of Denmark? 

In many ways, you personify the history of Denmark. Our history. In the three of you, we bid farewell to more than 100 years of parliamentary experience. Nearly 45 years of experience in ministerial positions.

None of you have ever fanned the flames of polarisation. You have collaborated across parties and standpoints. Reached thousands of compromises. 

You have dutifully attended to your work. And protected Denmark. Thank you.

We must protect Denmark.

The events of last week have made this all too clear, unfortunately.

Right off the shores of Bornholm and Christiansø. Just outside Danish waters.

Three gas pipelines were bombed to pieces.

The natural gas spillage is so massive that it equals one-third of Denmark’s total carbon emissions in a year.

It is the authorities’ clear assessment that this was not an accident. It was no coincidence. It was a deliberate act.

An egregious action. Which we view with the utmost seriousness.

The investigation into this incident is now underway. We have raised our emergency preparedness in the energy sector. And together with our partners and allies, we are heightening our focus on critical infrastructure.

The world has become more insecure.

Energy crisis. Cyber-attacks. Attacks on critical infrastructure. Our security of supply is at risk. And worst of all: War in Europe.

Before that, a pandemic.

Most of us had already felt some concern in the past few years.

How would things unfold?

What matters to us when everything is on the line?

Through our strength of unity, Denmark successfully tamed the pandemic. We are one of the countries that made it best through the pandemic. Financially. On a human scale.

Yes, we lost our footing a bit. But we found it again.

Only to discover that perhaps it was only temporary.

We have been accustomed to progress.

Now we are facing adversity.

A new gravity has set in.

But also  new hope.

A will.

And a renewed awareness that together we can overcome even the greatest – and most difficult – challenges.

* * *

The insistence that we won’t let the devil take the hindmost. . That we won’t give up. But that we always take the future into our own hands.

We will need this now.

Prices are rising. Gas and electricity bills are rocketing.

We are turning down the heat. Checking the electricity app and doing laundry when electricity is cheapest. We are saving where we can.

For some, it is possible. Even though it is difficult.

For others, it is not. Unless society helps.

And we will!

As recently as last week, we passed a winter package here in the Danish Parliament. The electricity tax is being lowered to a minimum. The rising energy bills can be frozen and paid at a later time. And families with children will receive an extra helping hand.

Thank you to the Liberal Party. The Socialist People’s Party. The Social Liberals. The Red-Green Alliance. The Conservatives. The Danish Democrats. The Alternative. And the Moderates. Thank you for taking responsibility.

Together, we in Denmark are doing what we can to help Danes in the face of rising prices. Just as we helped each other when the pandemic hit.

* * *

On the 24th of February, our world changed.

Russia invaded Ukraine and started a brutal war of aggression on European soil.

Thousands have lost their lives. Millions have been driven to flee.

Mass graves – which we thought we had seen for the last time in Europe when war raged in the Balkans in the ’90s.

All of these horrors are returning again.

Putin’s war in Ukraine is gruesome. Unconscionable. And unforgivable.

In the weeks and months after the start of the war, Europe and the transatlantic alliance rediscovered the strength of our past.

Today, I dare say that we are stronger than ever before.

Sweden and Finland have made a historic decision to join NATO.

Here in Denmark, 66.9 percent of Danes voted yes to abolish the opt-out concerning the Common Security and Defence Policy.

We sent a clear signal to our allies.

And we are unrelenting in our support for Ukraine.

A war in a European country. This means butter is more expensive at the supermarket. That’s how small the world is now.

Denmark cannot solve the great challenges of our time alone.

A Danish government cannot ensure your security without our membership of NATO.

We cannot get migration and climate change under control without a much closer collaboration with Africa.

And we cannot secure jobs and prosperity without our membership of the EU.

Europe must stand stronger on its own feet.

When the pandemic hit, we couldn’t get life-saving medical supplies. Now we have a shortage of microchips for computers – and much else for our own manufacturing industries.

Have we Europeans been thinking, acting and behaving too naively for many years?

We probably have to admit that we have.

We must not cut back our military budgets when others are increasing theirs.

We must not sell critical infrastructure to the highest bidder.

On the other hand, we must play a much more offensive role internationally. If we do not, others will.

We must take a critical look at state aid rules.

And at regulation of the energy market.

Therefore, the Government has worked in the EU to ensure that we can tax the extraordinary profits gained by companies and intermediaries due to the war.

This money that may be obtained by Denmark – will be disbursed every cent by the Government back to the consumers.

On the whole, Europe must re-think globalisation. For the benefit of more people, our sovereignty, and, not least, the climate.

“In this time, an evil and invisible power threatens us.”

These lyrics were written by Danish author Ole Wivel for the opening of Båring Højskole, a Danish folk high school founded in the shadow of the atomic bomb after World War Two.

The song sought to look the threatening reality in the eye. And to show a way forward.

Unfortunately, these lyrics are relevant once more.

Russia’s military mobilization. Threats of nuclear war. Hate speech. Illegal so-called “referendums” in Ukrainian regions.

It all signals difficult times ahead. 

But we will not bow.

There is a determination that characterises Denmark’s international engagement.

From the presence of our soldiers on NATO’s eastern flank. To the world’s hotspots.

From our candidature for a seat on the UN Security Council. To the Green Strategic Partnership with India.

We are negotiating a bilateral defence cooperation agreement with the United States.

We are exploring an expansion of the Port of Esbjerg so that the ships of our allies can dock.

We are fighting for human rights. For the right to free abortion for women. And against climate change.

Denmark has a strong name globally.

Jonas Vingegaard made an entire nation proud when he won the Tour de France. And perhaps even more so when he waited for his competitor after a crash on one of the final descents.

You can count on us.

On Danish companies. They can deliver solutions to virtually all of the questions being raised by the world these years.

We are a conscientious partner for the world’s poorest countries.

A reliable partner for our allies. In Europe and across the Atlantic.

And in our collaboration with Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Denmark is a former colonial power. And we have inflicted some deep wounds – not least on Greenland – that we Danes have found it difficult to be confronted with.

But the past is not going to disappear. We must face all of it. Both the good and the bad.

Today, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Denmark have an increasingly equal partnership. With mutual respect between the three countries.

The governments meet regularly and in a more structured manner. And when they meet, it is also to discuss foreign, security and defence policy.

This has strengthened the ability of the Danish Realm to navigate a new reality. Where the geopolitical challenges are right outside our window.

And where no one is for sale!

* * *

For more than three years, I have been Denmark’s Prime Minister.

In this small country, which has such a far reach around the world.

A term in office that turned out entirely different than anyone could have predicted.

First, a pandemic. Then war in Europe. Now, an energy crisis. And dark clouds loom over the economy.

Soon, the political differences will be front and centre.

We have different solutions to the questions of our time. But the best answers – they are found through broad cooperation.

And no matter which government has the wonderful honour – for a time – to chart the course for Denmark.

No matter which government will have the responsibility after an election.

Only difficult decisions await.

In the following, I will highlight four areas in which a new Parliament and a new government must find answers together.

First: How will we get Denmark – and every single family – through the economic storm that awaits us?

Second: How will we ensure that there will also be a strong welfare society in the future, with time for proper care?

Third: How will we take the next major steps in the fight against climate change?

And fourth: How will we ensure the security and freedom of Danes to live exactly the lives they want?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions.

But if we do as generations before us have done. Think carefully. Stick to our values. Listen to each other.

Think in terms of the entire country. The small-town communities. The proud provincial cities. The rural districts. The capital and the big cities.

We have finally reversed course on the centralisation of the past. Now we are disbursing educational programmes throughout the country. We have established local community police stations.

If we look at the big picture. If we have the courage to take responsibility. To work together.

Then we will find the balance.      

* * *

Let me start there. At the balance in economic policy.

Denmark is one of the countries in Europe. That has the healthiest economy. A budget surplus. Strong competitiveness. High exports. Low unemployment.

What should make us most proud – is that: This year more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history.

Unfortunately, inflation is also setting a record.

Those of you who already have the least. You feel this the most.

And the price increases are now so extreme –

that even a family where both the father and mother are employed have to forego holidays or the children’s recreational activities – and still dip into their savings to pay the bills.

The decisions that central banks and governments make in the time to come, and developments in the war – this is what will determine whether inflation takes hold.

This will be a difficult balancing act.

For a long time, the economy has been strong and growing. More people are now employed. 

If we don’t take some of the speed out of the economy – tighten and hold back – there is a serious risk that we will prolong the crisis.

On the other hand – if we brake too hard – well, then the bill will have to be paid by ordinary people.

Unemployment will become unnecessarily high. And we risk triggering a recession.

This must not happen.

We must keep our hands on the steering wheel. And focus our attention on ensuring that nobody is left behind. Because, yes, more help is needed.

This crisis – too – must be dealt with in solidarity.

If we can keep employment high – then we will have good conditions for weathering the storm the world is heading into.

But we cannot make it through inflation now – or through the more long-term challenges for the Danish economy – if we do not continue prioritising and reforming all areas of society.

“Denmark can do more” is the Government’s reform programme. So far, we have presented three major proposals, which together will increase structural employment by 18,000 people.

And we have already strengthened Denmark’s GDP by 17.5 billion kroner.

We will continue on this course of reform.

Therefore, it must also pay to work.

But hard work always pays.

And if there is something we need now – from every single person in Denmark – it is hard work.

* * *

The satisfaction that lies therein.

Making an effort. Trying your best.

It is found every single day in our society.

The nurse who tends to an elderly man struggling with back pain. But who, drawing on knowledge and competence, realises that he may have a blood clot in his heart and ensures that he receives rapid treatment.

The trade union representative who helps a colleague going through difficult times.

The machinist who has programmed something out of the ordinary and sees the results of his ingenuity.

The primary school teacher who takes the time to welcome every student before class starts.

That joy. That pride.

Have we been good enough at recognising it as a society?

I don’t think so.

Fewer young people are applying for admission to study for welfare professions and vocational education.

It has become more difficult to retain skilled staff, particularly in the health service and in elderly care.

And far too often, when a job vacancy is posted, it is not possible to hire a new colleague.

This means waiting lists. Surgeries that are postponed. Far too many people who have to wait for their treatment.

Or elderly who feel uneasy when they are admitted to a medical ward. Where the staff are so busy and there is too little time for care.

The shortage of labour. Both in the private and public sectors.

But we can take some immediate actions to help businesses. Ease the rules for recruiting labour from abroad. Take a look at taxes and duties. Implement reforms that increase employment.

All of this. We can – and must – do these things. 

The matter is just more complicated when it comes to our welfare society. There is no single solution here. And there are absolutely no easy solutions.

Allow me to be a little blunt. The future calculation doesn’t add up. Large numbers of people are now entering retirement. There are fewer and fewer people of working age.

And the consequence, if we do not do anything – the welfare society will crumble before our eyes.

Those who can afford it will go elsewhere.

Those who cannot will not be able to get the help they need.

But one day when you, after many years in the labour market, become an old man or woman – there simply must be time for care.

You must be able to eat a good meal that tastes and smells delicious.

And to you who has a child with a visible or invisible disability. Those of you in contact with psychiatric services.

It must not feel like the system is working against you and your family. You should receive help. And your children should have good opportunities – just like other children have.

When too many children and young people are not thriving – we must not turn it into an individual problem. It is a task for society.

The challenges faced by the welfare society –

There are no simple political answers.

The finances must of course be in order. But more money alone will not solve things. And big cutbacks certainly do not help.

The solutions can also be found in less control, less bureaucracy and recognising that pay and working conditions play a part.

We must also reform educational programmes.

Many of you here today have attended university. At a time when only around one in ten young people did just that.

Today that figure is one in four. Generation after generation, we as a society have become more and more skilled. And that is an undeniable success.

But the universities are still designed for a time when the primary purpose was to perform research or specialise.

Is it so unreasonable to ask whether everyone today needs to spend five years at university?

If, instead, we can give young people more hours of instruction. More guidance. Higher quality. And better opportunities to further improve their skills later in life.

And, in addition, invest in all the other educational programmes we also need. Especially in the welfare professions and vocational programmes.

Because whether we like it or not – the signals sent by the schools and by society have been that some educational programmes are superior to others. We are paying the price for this now.

It is our responsibility to change that.

As politicians.

I will never propose that we in this chamber legislate on what different professions should be paid.

This can only be negotiated between the social partners.

However, we cannot ignore that pay and working conditions are important.

Therefore, the Government will take the initiative to negotiate a comprehensive plan for the welfare society.

It will extend 15 years into the future. Lay the tracks for shared reform ambitions to structurally strengthen the Danish economy. So that we become more prosperous.

This comprehensive plan will include educational reforms. Economic policy. Pay and working conditions. Closer collaboration between public- and private-sector actors. More freedom for both employees and managers. And, most importantly: more freedom for citizens.

* * *

When it comes to the climate and our environment – we are not afraid to take the lead.

And my, how it suits us!

Denmark is truly a green superpower today.

Wind turbines are produced in many parts of Jutland. On Als, it’s thermostats. In Bjerringbro, energy-efficient pumps. In Kalundborg, enzymes for biofuel. And in Skive, agricultural waste will be transformed into jet fuel.

In a world that feels increasingly dark and gloomy.

Where the temperatures continue to rise too much and too quickly. And cause destruction to our planet.

Denmark is helping to kindle hope.

We have joined forces with our neighbouring countries. First to pursue the goal of making the North Sea a green power plant for Europe.

And then to make the Baltic Sea the other.

In the future, we will not only supply green electricity to all of Denmark. Together with our neighbours, we will supply green electricity to half of Europe.

That is something we can rightly be proud of.

This should inspire us to do even more.

We are currently a leading country because we develop and find new solutions. We cannot maintain this position if we just stop and shut down.

Here in the Danish Parliament, a new green agreement has been reached nearly once every other week for the past three years.

Among other things, we have agreed on a higher and more uniform carbon tax on industry – so that the companies that emit the most also pay for it.

We have progressed three-quarters of the way towards reducing Denmark’s greenhouse gas emissions by 70percent by 2030.

Who would have imagined such progress when we signed the climate act just two years ago?

Now we must reach the goal completely.

And we must significantly improve the protection of our nature and environment. Our forests and the broad beech trees. The leaves that are so green.

We sing the Danish folk song “Jeg ved en lærkerede” [“I know of a lark’s nest”] for our children.

And the lark is still a common bird in Denmark. But the harsh reality is that Denmark’s population of larks has declined by half.

The butterfly is another example of a species whose population has fallen significantly.

Our plant and animal life are literally disappearing before our eyes.

If we do not do anything – then our grandchildren will only hear about larks, northern lapwings, meadowlarks and bogs in songs.

It was A.P. Møller who said: “The person who has the ability has the duty”.

We know that we have the ability.

An ability that grows with the demands we make on ourselves.

We also have the duty.

But it requires that we stay the current course.

We must protect the Danish gold: our clean drinking water.

Introduce a carbon tax in agriculture.

Create a completely green domestic aviation industry.

And produce much more renewable energy.

For the sake of the climate. To free us from Putin. And to bring prices down.

* * *

Economy. Welfare. Climate.

The last topic I want to discuss is security and safety.

The freedom to live the life you want.

Many. The vast majority. Feel secure in their everyday lives. Not subjected to crime. The possibilities are wide open.

But for others, it is different.

They avoid dark pathways. Don’t take the train home late at night.

Avoid large groups that are loud and seem hostile.

In this way, they take precautions. This is unacceptable in a free country like Denmark.

It is unfair. It is wrong.

Unfortunately, it is not without reason that some feel unsafe.

Unprovoked assaults. Senseless violence.

And all the other things that are not decidedly criminal. But which are clearly threatening and intimidating.

Poor upbringing. Bad behaviour.

We have silently accepted this for far too long.

Who really dares to speak out against everyday harassment and crime?

We must not leave this responsibility to the individual.

We must take this responsibility upon us as a community.

And, unfortunately, it is connected to a failed immigration policy.

I say unfortunately, because nobody flees without cause. Denmark has provided shelter and security for many who make a positive contribution.

But there are also some people who have come here – who do not share our values. Who do not care about this society, which they do not feel they are part of. Even though they have been given every opportunity to be so.

We are in the process of righting many things. Parallel societies are being broken down. Criminal foreigners are being thrown out. 

And, most importantly, the influx is under control. As it should be. It requires that we dare go in new directions and relocate asylum processing outside of Europe.

Here in Denmark, there are some things we can prevent. But not everything.

Those who do not respect the rules of our society. They must be met with much greater consequences.

Just over a week ago, I participated in citizenship day, where we welcomed new Danes into our society.

It has become difficult to achieve Danish citizenship. As it should be.

Those who become citizens have worked hard.

The pride shining in their eyes.

They want to be a part of Denmark!

Just like so many others with a foreign background who have come here, who were born here, who speak the language, who educate themselves, who are employed, and who share our values. Who sing along to the national anthem and now bear our country in their hearts.

And who also will not accept that we ignore the problems. And let the few ruin things for the many.

Social control is real.

Girls who are born and raised in Denmark, who must cover themselves. Who are not allowed to decide who they marry. Who are not allowed to experience youthful romance because of a hopelessly outdated view on family and honour.

Nearly half of the women staying in a crisis centre in Denmark – they come from minority backgrounds. 

In Iran, women are burning their hijabs. Uncovering their hair. And they are being met with violence and force. Several tortured and dead.

While at home we are very reluctant to discuss whether it really is a personal choice of young girls to wear a headscarf.

I understand that these discussions are difficult. Filled with nuances and dilemmas.

But they are important. They are not going to disappear.

As a society, we not only make a choice when we do something. We also make a choice when we do nothing. And that choice is the worst one we can make.

We need a criminal justice reform. To ensure the Danish Parliament can implement the legal policy we want.

We must crack down harder on violent crime that is so devastating to the victims.

Increase the punishment for violence.

And combat the everyday harassment that in some places is changing Denmark.

Nobody should feel unsafe in their own country.

* * *

We are in a time of upheaval. A world in disarray.

A time that has become more insecure.

Things have also been this way for generations before us.

In January, it will be exactly 90 years since the most central politicians of the time met in a flat on Kanslergade in Copenhagen.

Thorvald Stauning is the Prime Minister. It is his flat.

A solution has to be found. The unemployment and poverty rate is enormous. The farmers suffer from dramatic prices. But the political disagreements are significant.

The company is breaking up. Everybody is heading home.

But late at night, Stauning then suggests that they might at least round off with a whisky.

They stay.

And the rest is history.

The Kanslergade Agreement was reached on the same day that Hitler came to power in Germany.

As Stauning said: “We have sacrificed some principles, but saved the country.”

Today, the Kanslergade Agreement stands as the most iconic example of the collaborative Danish democracy.

A tradition upheld by changing Danish Parliaments ever since.

The public pension schemes.

Denmark’s membership of the EU and NATO.

The state education grant and equal access to education.

All of these results – achieved through disagreement and debate, where some pulled in one direction, and others pulled in the opposite direction. Ultimately reaching a compromise.

This Danish Parliament has also succeeded in doing this.

Perhaps you recall that one of the first things we did during this government’s  term was purchase the elephant Ramboline. And Ramboline’s friend, Ali the camel.

Later it turned out that Ramboline escaped from the elephant enclosure at Knuthenborg Safari Park.

But here, in the Parliament, we stuck to the collaboration. And, fortunately, Ramboline came back.

Thank you to Mr Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, Mrs Pia Olsen Dyhr, Mr Søren Pape Poulsen, and Mrs Sofie Carsten Nielsen for the National Agreement on Danish Security Policy in the spring.

And thank you to all the rest of you.

Nine out of ten political agreements in this election period were concluded broadly over the political centre.

It is a tough time for our country. For many families. It is a tough time for our continent. Much of what we have taken for granted can no longer be taken for granted.

But Denmark is a strong country. And our people are industrious and in solidarity with each other.

Crises may challenge us. But in Denmark we can hold our head high.

More pride.

More courage to take responsibility.

Does that sound grandiose?

Maybe a little.

Therefore, allow me once again to address the Speaker of the Danish Parliament and return to his conversations about becoming an older man.

Here, Mr Henrik Dam Kristensen is quoted as saying:

“Philosophy is nice and all when you get to the evening’s fourth glass of red wine. But in everyday life, it’s basically a matter of making sure that things work.”

Things must work. And, fortunately, they do.

But Denmark can do more.

We must make it securely through insecure times.

We must stick together through insecure times.

We must take care of the future.

Long live Denmark!