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Ambassadors, Your Excellencies,
It is a pleasure seeing all of you at this meeting today. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss matters relating to Danish foreign and domestic policy. I am particularly pleased that we have made it a tradition to meet and exchange views on issues of common interest.
In the coming year I see four key priorities in Danish foreign policy: the European Union, climate change,Afghanistan and Africa. I’ll focus on these issues, but also give a few remarks regarding other important issues and regions.
But let me begin with a few remarks on the domestic situation. As you know, the result of the elections in November 2007 meant that the government could continue a third term. This is a historic situation for a liberal-conservative government. The government is backed by the same majority as before the election – 95 seats, as the new party in the Folketing, New Alliance, supports the government and me as Prime Minister. Overall, the political situation remains stable, but naturally there will from time to time be a debate on sensitive issues – like this week we have a debate on asylum policies.
In our new governmental platform we proudly labelled Denmark as “a society of opportunities”. A prosperous and well-functioning society. A society with room for diversity. A society where everyone has the freedom to pursue his or her ideas – on the condition that they fully respect the fundamental rights of all other individuals.
In recent years, we have introduced a number of reforms to meet the challenges of climate change, population ageing and globalisation. This includes a welfare reform that makes the public pension system more resilient to changes in longevity; a reform of local government structures that will help raise quality in public services; and an ambitious globalisation strategy, boosting Denmark as an innovative knowledge-society.
Now we continue along this road. In particular, I would like to mention the quality improvement reform, the job plan, a new energy agreement and the Budget for 2008.
Due to the elections, the Budget for 2008 has been postponed. The Finance Minister will present the Government’s proposal in the beginning of February and we hope to have an agreement at the end of the month.
Another key priority is the quality improvement reform. The aim of the reform is to further boost quality in public service through education, innovation and improved leadership
In the present situation, where we are short of labour, this is a challenge. Thus, an important issue for the Government is the job plan. The aim is to ensure sufficient labour supply, which includes measures to attract qualified labour from abroad.
I will also say a few words on the energy agreement and the strategy for reducing Denmark’s reliance on carbon fuels, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The Government has proposed to double the share of renewable energy by 2025, reaching a minimum of 30 per cent of total energy consumption. This also constitutes a corner-stone of the Government’s climate policy.
Negotiations on these issues will take place on the background of an economy that is performing very well indeed. We have a record low unemployment rate. Never before have so many been employed.
I believe much of the competitive strength of the Danish economy can be attributed to our flexible labour market, with few restrictions on hiring and firing, which is combined with income security for the individual through a strong social safety net.
But we must take care that the economy is not pushed out of balance. If the economy overheats, many of the recent gains may be lost. That calls for prudence and economic responsibility.
Expectations of high wage increases have built up amongst employees and economic stability may be challenged during the collective bargaining in the public sector this spring. It is imperative that sensible and responsible results are reached in order to ensure a sound economy.
Across traditional divides – employers and trade unions, Government and the opposition – the past 25 years have been characterised by broad agreement on the most important elements of a strong and sustainable economy. Therefore, the Government has urged all to continue this practice and demonstrate responsibility.
It will be a great challenge to make ends meet this year. I am confident that economic responsibility will prevail – the risk of otherwise losing out on the large gains made over the last 6 years is simply too high.
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Allow me now to turn to the four central priorities in Danish foreign policy. The first one is Europe. The European Union is the key framework for cooperation in Europe, and the government has clearly stated that Denmark must be placed at the heart of Europe. In 2008 Europe – and Denmark’s relations with Europe – will be high up on the political agenda
Denmark is very pleased with the agreement on the Lisbon Treaty. It was and remains necessary to adapt the rules of EU to take account of the enlargement from 15 to 27 Member States. With the agreement – and after ratification in the Member States – we will finally be able to leave behind the endless discussions on the end state of the European Union. Instead, we can focus on the real issues and the real challenges that we face.
One of the key achievements of the Treaty is enabling the European Union to play a stronger role on the international scene. Considering the global challenges that we face, I believe that the world needs a stronger EU speaking with one voice.
Just to mention a few areas:
- On climate change the EU must continue to show global leadership. The EU must demonstrate that change is feasible when political determination is combined with technological innovation and adaptation of human behaviour.
- On promoting global free trade, where we need to finish the ongoing Doha-round in order to secure a better integration of the developing countries in the world economy.
- On promoting development and eradicating poverty in Africa. Therefore, I was particularly pleased with the outcome of the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon and the renewed partnership between Europe and Africa.
- And finally, regarding peace and security, where the EU needs to be a strong partner with the United States in our common endeavours to promote peace and prosperity around the world.
These are among those areas, where the EU has to play a strong, global role. But naturally, the EU has a particular role to play on issues concerning Europe. In particular on Kosovo, where the EU must stand united. Kosovo is a European issue and Denmark is ready to contribute significantly to the new EU Mission. At the same time, I strongly believe that the future of the Western Balkans lies within the European Union.
It is my ambition that Denmark should play its full role at the heart of Europe. I firmly believe that Denmark can make a positive contribution in relation to Europe addressing the many challenges ahead. Unfortunately, in key areas we are not able to play a full part. Therefore, I believe that the opt-outs should be put to referendum during this term.
But we need to address the issues in the right order:
First, Danish ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is a priority. The Government presented the ratification bill to the Danish Parliament on 9 January, and I hope that it will be possible to finalise Danish ratification before Easter.
Second, negotiations on a broad agreement on the future Danish policy on Europe are ongoing. The objective is to reach a broad consensus on the main outline and framework for Danish European policy – not least on how best to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Lisbon Treaty to bring about concrete results.
Finally, the future of the Danish opt-outs will be an important issue, once the Treaty has been ratified and once agreement on a new European policy agreement has been reached. However, it is too early to venture into details on how and when a referendum will be organised.
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The second key priority is climate change, where my government has pledged to play a central role by hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009 and by engaging actively in the negotiations leading up to the conference.
It is indeed a top priority for the two coming years, and through an active climate diplomacy, we intend to engage as many political leaders as possible in order to achieve our goal: an ambitious and credible agreement that will ensure substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
In Bali last December, the member states of the United Nations agreed to act on the alarming findings regarding climate change. The concrete result of the Bali-meeting was a roadmap for the negotiations the next two years leading to Copenhagen 2009. We are pleased with this outcome.
In 2008 we hope to achieve further clarity on the long-term goal for emission reductions and on the instruments that will take us there. We face tough negotiations. There is a lot at stake for each nation but even more at stake for the global community. And we have to face our responsibility no matter what.
Discussions on climate change take place in many international fora. It has become a popular topic as it should be and I encourage talks everywhere. To achieve an ambitious agreement, we are mindful of the importance of exclusive clubs like the G8 and the Major Economies Initiative. Without the major countries, a climate agreement will not be credible. Not only do we need to include the United States and Russia, but also the biggest developing countries: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. We hope they will all promote an ambitious approach, and support us in maintaining the UN process as the one and only framework for a global climate change agreement.
But we also need to engage the business community, universities and the NGO’s. Therefore, in preparing the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 we will also reach out to civil society in general. Climate change is indeed a challenge where all parts of society need to be part of the solution.
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Let me turn to the next key priority – Afghanistan. My government will continue its strong commitment to peace support operations, and for the time being our focus is on Afghanistan.
We have strengthened our involvement in the South, where the challenges are the greatest. More Danish troops have been deployed and more funds to do reconstruction have been allocated.
Thus, it should be clear to everyone that Denmark is committed to a long-term effort in Afghanistan. And I am very pleased that there is a broad majority in the Folketing behind our engagement in Afghanistan.
But the task is daunting. I see three major challenges:
Firstly, we need to ensure that security and development goes hand in hand.
This is not a conflict with clear frontlines, and the battle against Taliban and terrorists cannot be won with military means alone. But military success and security is a necessary condition for reconstruction and development. Afghanistan is a prime example of the need for coherence between military action and reconstruction efforts. Therefore, we need close cooperation between the Afghan government, NATO’s military operation ISAF, the UN and other civilian actors.
Secondly, the international community must demonstrate its long term commitment to Afghanistan. We will continue to help the Afghan people so they themselves can govern and secure their own land.
Afghanistan is already at the top of the NATO agenda. Continued and steadfast NATO engagement based on solidarity is central to stability and development in Afghanistan. But we also need the UN and the European Union to play their part in a strong and concerted effort in Afghanistan.
Thirdly, we need to communicate to the public – in Afghanistan and in our home countries – what our aims and policies are. We have already achieved positive results in Afghanistan, but sustainable progress will be hard to achieve. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves and the public, why young soldiers from around the world risk their lives for a secure and stable Afghanistan.
The answer is simple: We cannot allow Afghanistan to become once again a safe haven for terrorists.
Democratic forces in the region are under pressure. Recent events in Pakistan have underlined this. Democratic development and regional cooperation is therefore needed to bring progress and stability to this part of the world – I can assure you that Denmark will make a strong contribution.
The final key priority is Africa. In the years ahead there will be a strong focus on Danish development policy with Africa at the centre. As part of the Government platform we have announced our intention to increase Danish development aid from the present level of 0.8 per cent of GNI. By 2010 at least two-thirds of our bilateral development assistance will go to Africa.
With our strong focus on Africa we have decided to set up a new Commission on Efficient Development Cooperation with Africa. I expect the Commission to be composed by a mix of Danish, international and primarily African members.
The Commission will take aim at fostering new and forward looking ideas on how we can put the Danish development assistance to maximum use and strengthen the international development cooperation with Africa. Among other important issues we expect the development challenges regarding youth and employment to be one of the central themes for the Commission’s work. The Commission’s recommendations are set to be ready in the spring of 2009.
In the meantime we will continue to pay special attention to the role of women in development, including within the framework of meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals. We plan to take a special initiative with regard to Millennium Development Goal number 3 on gender equality.
Our effort will have a particular focus on furthering women’s economic empowerment, which can be one of the driving forces of economic growth and poverty reduction. And thus relevant to all of the Millenium Development Goals. We fully support the efforts to have discussions this fall in the UN on how to speed up the MDG process in order to reach the goals by 2015.
I have shared with you my thoughts on the four key priorities of Danish foreign policy, but allow me to finish off with a few words on other issues and regions of vital importance in the world of today.
First on the Middle East. Denmark is continuing its strong involvement in the Middle East. Through our Partnership Programme, we are strengthening our cooperation with a number of North African and Middle Eastern countries in areas of human rights, media, gender and education.
During the last months, we have seen a much needed progress in the Middle East peace process with a strong and positive engagement by both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. In this regard, I would also like to underline the personal involvement by President Bush in bringing the peace process forward. And it is my hope that 2008 will give us a breakthrough in the negotiations, all though the events of the last few days show how challenging the situation is.
We are also witnessing improvements in the reconciliation process in Iraq. My government has decided to strengthen and consolidate the reconstruction efforts in the period 2008-2010.
Last year I visited Argentina and Brazil in April. In September my Government launched a strategy on Latin America during the State visit by President Lula. All of this demonstrates our strong commitment to develop our ties with Latin America.
We want Latin America to benefit fully from globalisation. And in particular we need close cooperation with Latin American countries in our common struggle to combat climate change.
Asia is emerging as an engine for globalisation. Denmark is doing well in Asia – but we can do better. Therefore, in June 2007, my Government launched a new Asia Strategy with wide-ranging priorities to secure Denmark’s position in Asia. As a first step, we have decided to make specific Action Plans on furthering Danish cooperation with India and China – two countries that I look forward to visiting this year.
In a couple of weeks I will visit India together with a business delegation. Later on this year I will participate in the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing.
My aim is to foster close cooperation with these two countries and Asia as such in order to strengthen economic ties and ensure a common response to common challenges, especially climate change.
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I have outlined the key challenges in Danish foreign policy. As you can hear, I expect the coming year to be busy and challenging – foreign policy will be high on my personal agenda. But in a globalised world an active foreign policy is the only way to make an impact – to have a say.
The previous two occasions we have met in this setting, I have particularly enjoyed our discussion. I will therefore conclude by saying that I look forward to your comments and questions.