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We Danes are basically optimistic. We believe that hard work pays off. We believe that we can make progress through joint efforts. We believe that Denmark is a good country based on solidarity – a country that is worth fighting for.
We believe in the future.
But there are also some who face the new year with apprehension. I understand that very well. Because Denmark has been going through an economic crisis for more than four years.
Jobs have disappeared. Some companies experience difficulties. A sense of insecurity makes us hold on to our money. Some are apprehensive about what is in store for us.
But it is exactly when times are insecure that we must hold on to and develop the Denmark we love. A safe country where we take care of each other. Where our children get an education. Where our parents get a nursing home place if they need one. Where we take care of people who find it hard to make life’s ends meet.
We must hold on to that which has made us special. Our community.
We must bring Denmark safely through the crisis. And with everybody on board.
My message here tonight is that it can be done.
But only if we truly understand that we are facing a new reality. The affluence of the first decade of the new millennium will not return. We must be prepared for new times demanding change. Where we must find new solutions in the public sector. And where our companies must manage in tough competition.
It will be like this in the new year and for many years to come.
But we must bear in mind: when the world is changing, our community is at its strongest.
We have shown that before.
Some of us will remember car-free Sundays. All of a sudden we children could go for a walk in the middle of Gammel Køge highway. In our homes, the temperature dropped a few degrees. And we were told to take a shower and not use the tub.
Yes, it was during the oil crisis in the 70s.
The crisis came from outside. It brought the Western world to a halt. But in Denmark, it also sparked new ideas and visionary decisions.
We had thermostats fitted to our radiators. We insulated our houses. We became good at using wind energy opportunities.
Today, Denmark is one of the countries that utilize energy best and we create a great many green jobs.
Because we Danes turn change into opportunities.
When I was a child, we had a black dial-operated telephone. It sat on the table in the hall. And we were not allowed to talk on it for long. Today, most of us carry mobile phones. We surf on the net while going by bus. And a three-year-old knows how to use an iPad.
None of us could have envisaged all this only five or ten years ago. But we are not apprehensive about change. We embrace what is new in order to create a better Denmark.
It gives us a safer everyday life when the teenager can call to say that she is on her way home.
It gives us a safer everyday life when a heart disease patient wears a small transmitter that reads the heart rate and sends information about it to the hospital.
And it makes everyday life less cumbersome when we can order the yellow health insurance card sitting at the computer in our own home rather than queuing for it at the citizen service centre.
We are among the best in the world to embrace new technology.
We Danes turn change into opportunities.
We also see change in the way we live our lives together.
My grandparents stayed together all their lives. That was what people did back then.
But it wasn’t the case for everybody. And single women with children were looked down upon then. There was only one right way to be a family.
Today, it is different.
It is not all relationships that last. Many get divorced. And it is hard when a family breaks up.
But we know that it can work. It is not embarrassing or abnormal. And a family that consists of a mother and two children is as good as any other family.
A generation ago when two men or two women wanted to live together, it was frowned upon. But in Denmark, we have decided not to pass judgment on others based on whom they love. We became the first country in the world that opened up for registered partnerships.
And last year, it became possible for a homosexual couples to be married in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark.
Our community and care for each other grow stronger when we make room for people to live in new ways.
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We used the oil crisis to prepare for the future. We are good at embracing new technology. And we break down prejudices to make room for everybody.
What do we do right?
Denmark is a country with a high degree of equality. Neither gender, bank account nor family background must be allowed to block our opportunities. We have a high degree of freedom, each and every one of us. In that way, more talents are brought into play.
And with freedom comes responsibility. In Denmark, freedom has not led to everybody fighting everybody. But to a fight for all.
That makes us feel safe – also about what is new.
Equality. Freedom. Safety.
These are the fundamental values on which our community is based. And I am convinced that it is, indeed, our strong community that is our best card to get us through the crisis.
2012 was in many ways a difficult year for the Danish economy. In the new year, there are indications that it will slowly improve. Not much, but still progress.
And we take action and take responsibility.
We keep the economy in hand. It is not always so easy. But we need to. It is the very precondition for our common welfare.
We support employment.
As of January this year, the tax reform will give ordinary wage earners more money in their bank account. And the pensioners who have the least will receive an increase in their supplementary pension benefit. We have found the money for that.
We build wind turbines and use biogas. It means that we create new jobs and we get a greener Denmark.
We help people who are in trouble because their entitlement to unemployment benefits has run out or is about to run out. They are receiving offers of education and training. Better job rotation opportunities. And best of all is of course if they get a job. It is a difficult task. But we are trying to perform this task together.
We strengthen our business community. We grant tax rebates when companies buy new machinery. And we eliminate excess regulation.
But it is very difficult to compete when competitiveness has declined by almost 20 per cent in 10 years.
We did not take full advantage of the good times.
I wish that I here tonight could present a fast and ready solution which – with a wave of the hand – would restore our competitiveness so that we could get more jobs and could afford new welfare.
But it is not that simple.
There is only one remedy: a long and heavy haul.
A long haul where we need to get more for the same amount of money in the public sector. Where we think hard before spending more money.
A long haul where we have the will and determination to challenge ourselves and the courage to think new thoughts.
And a long haul where we must take care of Denmark. The time is not for big pay increases. The time is for ensuring that we all become more capable and competent.
Therefore I have set the goal that our children must be the best educated generation in the history of Denmark.
Last autumn, I met a girl in the 8th form who had had difficulty in reading. She told me that she had attended a reading course – or reading camp as she put it. She sounded a little hesitant at first; she was probably a little shy. But her voice grew confident when she talked about the course that had made the letters fall into place and make sense. She was proud that she was not a poor reader any longer.
It was wonderful to see the joy in this girl’s eyes. It made me think how all children want to learn.
It is true – if there are any who are really prepared for change, ready to embrace what it new, it is our children. The rest of us may well learn from their example. I don’t think that I am the only mother who tries – sometimes in vain – to discuss apps, twitter and instagram.
We must support and stimulate children’s wish to learn more. And this is why the time has come to organise the school day in a new way. There must be exciting activities as well as more classes in Danish and mathematics. All children must learn more.
The most essential element in this respect is of course the teachers.
You teachers are the very heart of the school. The more time the children spend together with you, the more competent they become.
Our children must become so competent that when they leave primary and lower secondary school, they are ready for vocational training or upper secondary school.
I wish to say to all young people in Denmark: get an education.
Not for your parents’ sake. Not for my sake. But for your own sake.
The most important thing is not which education you get. The most important thing is that you get one. So that you yourselves can choose. So that you can manage on your own. So that you are prepared for change.
Therefore, I am so very pleased to see that more young people than ever have embarked on education.
For you young people have the drive and spirit to learn new things. Enjoy it. It is fun to learn more and become more competent.
But to you who are studying as part of a higher education programme, I wish to say: we have organised our society in the sensible way that all of us who are taxpayers contribute to your education. We are pleased to do so. But our expectations are that you shoulder your responsibility.
You must complete your education more swiftly. We need you.
You must be prepared for change.
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We also showed that we were prepared for change when Denmark joined the European Community. Today, it is 40 years ago. It was a good decision.
European cooperation represents freedom and democracy. It is a community that has brought Europe together so that Denmark today is surrounded by countries that wish us well.
It is a community in which we take responsibility for each other, also during the crisis.
The EU is not perfect. But we must bear in mind that without the EU, every country would be on its own.
Before we joined the European Community, there were voices of concern: would we be able to maintain what we see as characteristically Danish? Would we be able to stand up to the competition?
Today, 40 years after, our answer is yes to both questions.
We got a stronger voice in the world at large than we would have had on our own. And we achieved greater prosperity from trading with our neighbours.
Once again, what was new was turned into a strength.
We must use this experience now, at a time of great change in the world.
For many years, we have benefited from selling our products to our neighbours and to the USA. Naturally, we must continue to do so. But in the years ahead, the emerging economies will account for half of the world’s progress. And, naturally, we must also be present where growth is booming.
In countries like China and Korea, the population is becoming more affluent at record speed. They increasingly need all that we are good at producing in Denmark. Healthy food products, green energy – and good care services towards elderly people.
Many Danish companies make an all-out effort every single day to attract new customers and business partners. It is important. We stand to gain from trading with the rest of the world. Because exports to Asia lead to production and jobs in Denmark.
Therefore, the Government invests much energy and effort in creating more export opportunities.
We must take action and trade abroad in order to keep our jobs at home.
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Tonight, I wish to extend my sincere thanks to the Danes who very specifically take action abroad. And who change the world through what they do and risk their lives for.
I wish to express my thanks to our soldiers in Afghanistan.
We are proud of you.
And I also wish to express my thanks to your families and friends here in Denmark.
After my visits to Afghanistan and my talks with the soldiers, there is especially one thing that stands out. Their gratitude for the support from home.
Some soldiers say that their own mission is in a way simple. They have to do their job. The family and friends at home can only wait and hope. And that is much harder.
I fully understand the soldiers who say that you here in Denmark are true heroes, too. Because without your support, our soldiers would be without the strongest shield you can carry: the knowledge of being loved and missed.
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At home and abroad we have met new challenges throughout history with an open mind. We Danes are good at making the best of change. From oil crisis to new technology and to trade with the rest of the world.
We have taken responsibility, individually and together. We must do it again.
We must manage the public purse properly and seriously. We must place greater emphasis on education and training. And we must bring everybody on board. We must reach out to those who are in danger of falling.
We must hold on to our society based on solidarity.
Together we must take the safe and solid steps that are necessary to bring Denmark forward.
And when all these steps have been taken, we will achieve progress together.
Happy New Year!