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We have started a new year. And it can only get better than the old one.
2020 was a rough year. A year of uncertainty. The year of the pandemic.
But it was a year of solidarity as well, in a way which we seldom experience.
Across generations. Across the country. Across the different people we are – we have stood with each other’s lives in our hands.
We have quite simply never tried that before.
New words have emerged. Contact rate. Reproduction number. Protective gear.
We have been fumbling with facemasks and been queuing for testing.
We have discovered how much children can miss their school. And we were reminded of what it means to have a job.
We have opened our windows to empty streets and looked up at the sky, which was clear and blue without a single condensation trail.
We have seen the world in slow motion. While the illness raged, the last tourists returned home, the last party was cancelled and everything turned so quiet that we were able to hear our own heartbeat.
We experienced the human being’s ancient vulnerability, and we found a new strength.
When we cut to the core of human existence – life and death – it all becomes more complicated and simpler at the same time.
We will tell tales of the time during the pandemic from generation to generation.
Just as many of us were told about life during World War II.
What we are living through in this time is historic.
* * *
We stand together by keeping our distance.
Nevertheless, we have come closer together.
Everywhere in society, we have experienced a unity, a willingness to help and touching moments to an extent never previously seen in Denmark. At least not in my lifetime.
Nobody has made it through the crisis without help from our community. Whether it is the financial aid packages for businesses. The colleague who has taken yet another shift. The extended unemployment benefits. The neighbour who has done the grocery shopping.
Everybody has made sacrifices. Everyone has contributed. We are all in the same boat.
We have had to put consideration for one another first. Each and every one of us.
Some find that the price is too high. I understand that. But the alternative was far worse. It still is.
In a time, where separation is fairly easy, we have convincingly chosen unity.
2020 will be written into history as a year that has had many heroes. In a very special way.
Yet our heroic deed during the pandemic is also, what we did not do.
That we did not shake hands. That we postponed a party.
That way of being a "hero" probably suits us Danes well.
We do not tend to care for the grand gestures, but we understand the importance of taking on responsibility and taking care of each other. All the small actions adds up to the great achievement.
Therefore, tonight, I can say it as it was and as it is:
You, who are watching tonight – you have saved lives!
It´s as simple as that. And so unique.
You do not know, whom you have saved.
It can be a woman you passed in the street, who suffers from a chronic illness. Through your conduct, you have broken the chain of infection so that she did not fall ill.
I know that that is no comfort for those of you who are left with a feeling of despair, because you have lost a loved one.
A mother or a father. A spouse. A brother or a sister. A son or a daughter. A good friend.
Every life lost is a loss. A story that ends and must be carried on in your memories.
I believe that today, we have the worst year behind us. But we expect that the most difficult months lie ahead.
January and February will test our endurance. The season is against us. More people will fall ill. The pressure on our hospitals is great as it is. Even greater on the staff, to whom we owe so much already.
The situation is serious. Therefore, we have prolonged the lockdown of large parts of our society until Mid-January.
But no matter what restrictions are put in place with limitations and lockdowns - no matter how many we test - one thing is more important than anything: Our efforts as individuals.
We know what works.
When we get impatient – and we will – I hope that we will remember that the darkest hour is just before dawn.
We can already dimly see the dawn.
All over the world, 2020 became the year in which peoples’ greatest challenge was suddenly identical. The experiences, we had – the dreams we had – were far more the same than in other years, across borders and across continents.
Now, we attach a common hope to the vaccines.
It is impressive, what the world can achieve, when everyone cooperates.
Long live scientific research and cooperation in public-private partnerships.
Long live science.
The vaccine is our way back to everyday life. Being together. The hugs. The parties. All that we are longing for.
But the vaccine is not a shortcut to repeal the restrictions or to relax with regards to our behaviour. Not yet.
The winter is going to be tough. But for every week, more and more Danes will have had the vaccine. Easter Sunday this year falls on the 4th of April. Then, the season will be helping us again. We will have come a long way with the vaccinations.
I believe – I hope – that the Easter holidays will be our turning point.
Not a conclusion, but a turning point.
Until then, we must hold on to all that we are able to do together. Denmark is a nation of pragmatism. We find common solutions.
A total of 14 tripartite agreements have been reached together with unions and employers.
Businesses have reorganized their production in order to make hand sanitizer. Public employees have solved problems under difficult circumstances. The private business world and the public systems have worked together and displayed an impressive amount of innovation and creativity.
There are so infinitely many people to thank.
The Folketing (The Danish Parliament) and elected representatives in municipalities and in regions have put aside the disagreements of everyday life and worked for the common good.
Of course, there have been discussions and criticism. There has to be.
But as Hal Koch rightly said already back in 1945. Democracy is much more than a form of government. It is a way of life.
The votes are not the real strength of democracy. It is the discussion. And the will to find common solutions.
We have reason to be happy about how strong and vibrant our democracy is. Agreements and cooperation have created results of unprecedented magnitude in all parts of our society.
We have proven a lot in 2020.
Towards the end of spring, the economic forecasts were gloomy with an expectation of a drop in the overall economic activity by more than five percent over the year.
We prevented that it ended up that bad. We showed that public health and the economy are intertwined, because limiting the spread of the virus is of vital importance to our safety. And therefore also important for consumption and for getting the economy back on track.
We saw that over the summer, where we had some months with significant economic progress, helped by the financial aid packages and other initiatives, we have sustained the purchasing power.
The Danish economy has done better over the last year, compared to what we had feared at first. Likewise, the rise in unemployment turned out to be less than expected. More than half of the jobs lost in Denmark during spring were regained again by late summer.
But, as it happens quite often, the crisis has been hardest for unskilled workers.
We will do everything we can so that you too can get back into a job.
Perhaps what it takes is for you to pursue continued education. Even though you may not have the fondest memories from your years in school. My advice is nonetheless: Do it. It may be your way out of the crisis.
* * *
The pandemic has been a spotlight on our society. On Denmark.
We have seen the weaknesses. But first and foremost, we have shown the strengths of our society model, convincingly.
That we have made it so far, is no coincidence. It is a result of the choices, we have made together.
It is my wish for the future that what we have achieved will inspire us.
I believe, more than ever, that we can tackle the challenges, which lie ahead of us as a society, together. Including the most difficult ones.
If we can fight a global pandemic, because we decide to do so, because we stand united – well, then think of all the other things we can do.
It applies to the climate, the environment and nature.
When a broad majority in the Folketing agreed to the target that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 70 percent by 2030, we had 10 years ahead of us to reach that target.
Now, the first year has passed. And in just one year, we have already made decisions that take us a third of the way.
That is not half bad, as they say where I come from.
We have decided on a cut-off date for our oil production. And with agreements for both electric cars, a green tax reform, offshore wind from energy islands, more specific waste-separation, 15 new national parks, untouched forests, and increased electrification, we are well on our way to fulfilling the promises we made.
Now, we must get started on reorganizing the Danish agriculture to a production that is even more climate friendly.
And as the world opens up again, the demand for green solutions will increase.
It is now that we must combine Danish businesses, research, and high ambitions regarding the climate.
The green transition must succeed and we can succeed.
Denmark must show the world that politics matter.
We must be true to what we stand for.
This applies in the immigration policy as well. We must step up as a society. Stand firm, insisting on living our Danish values.
We cannot accept that democracy is subject to hatred in parallel societies.
Radicalisation must not be protected. It must be exposed.
The government will rethink the integration effort so that it will be built increasingly upon clear demands and clear expectations, focusing on rights and duties.
Fundamentally, once you have been granted a residence permit in Denmark, you should be able to provide for yourself. If, over a period of time, this is not possible, the government suggests that you – in order to receive your social benefit – should be subject to a duty of contributing the equivalent of a regular week’s work of 37 hours.
These are some of the tasks we are facing in the New Year.
Tonight, I would also like to say more about a subject, which takes up a little less space in the public debate.
Coherence across our country.
Almost every other Dane lives outside the larger cities. Denmark is so small that no matter where you are, you are never more than 50 kilometres away from the sea.
Nevertheless, the possibilities are distributed more and more unevenly.
You can no longer become a teacher in Haslev. You have to go to Roskilde or Vordingborg.
You can no longer attain the vocational school in Maribo. Now, the closest places are in Nakskov or Nykøbing.
Many towns used to have hospitals, but have seen them closed. Kalundborg. Faaborg. Haderslev. Dronninglund.
Police stations have been closed.
Some say that "it´s development".
But it is not development. In many places, it is decline.
And we can change that – if we want to. In a way, where we do not have to create false opposites.
I am proud of our capital.
Copenhagen is a wonderful city. We are envied by the rest of the world for our harbour, where you can go swimming. The bike lanes. The art and the culture. A city that still houses its own population, and where even the city centre holds bustling city life and homes.
We need both a strong capital and well-functioning provincial towns. Small town communities and vibrant country districts.
Jutland, Zealand, Funen and the islands have other strongpoints than those of the capital. Nature is closer. The smaller societies often experience a strong sense of community. Perhaps, the heart as well as the watch moves to a beat that is slightly less hectic.
In Copenhagen, we need more affordable housing. And less noise and pollution from traffic.
In other parts of the country, the challenges are different.
Over the coming year, we will therefore be opening 20 new local police units.
Nine in Jutland. Nine in Zealand. Two on Funen.
In the New Year, we will establish more possibilities for young people to be able to get an education locally – close to their home and close to where they come from.
We will also be addressing the problem that too many Danes are unable to get their own doctor. This applies in particular to Lolland-Falster, West Zealand, North Jutland, and parts of the larger cities - for instance in some of the residential areas in Copenhagen.
Police. Education. Local health care providers. We must have welfare in the entire country. It is about the economy too.
In the New Year, the government will suggest an actual "welfare law". It will ensure – if adopted –, that the money for social services follows the development as more children are born, and more citizens become elderly citizens.
In that way, we will support the welfare of the entire country.
Gravity may be a law of nature, but centralisation is not.
* * *
100 years ago, Denmark and the rest of the world were also in the grip of a pandemic. It was the "Spanish flu". Someone, who lived at the time, has described it as follows:
"There are homes (...), where they are lying ill, all of them, and they have nobody to help, they must crawl out of bed and help each other."
"Of nurses there are none, and doctors barely either."
It is the writer Martin Andersen Nexø.
He also describes how "Horses drove at a gallop through the streets, in order to keep up with the many deaths."
It clearly shows the difference between then and now. Back then, the Denmark we have now was lacking.
The welfare society built by generations before us.
During the pandemic, we fight for them – for you – who laid the foundation of the society from which the rest of us can benefit. And who now are first in line, when the disease claims its victims.
If anyone doubted, that Denmark exists. As a community. As a country. Then, doubt no more.
My speech tonight is a tribute to Denmark.
To all of you, who, together, constitute our lovely country.
2020 is a year we will never forget.
And yes – January and February will be tough. But then, spring will come. The leaves will turn green. The birds will return. In the summer, the bright nights.
2021 will be better.
Thank you to everybody in Denmark for the effort.
Happy New Year!