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President of the European Parliament.
Vice-president of the Commission.
Distinguished Leaders of the Political Groups.
Members of Parliament.
Ladies and gentlemen.
Let me begin by quoting from the Danish debate on the European Union:
“The European Union has too much power!”
“The European Union is not for the people!”
These are statements – made by Danish citizens - during our citizens consultations on the future of the EU.
I bring up these statements today – not because they are shared by me or because they are shared by the majority. Far from it.
But because these are views that are not uncommon.
In Denmark and in the rest of Europe.
I bring up these statements because I care. About my country.
About Europe. About our Union.
A Union born from the ashes of war and division. Turned into the greatest and most successful peace project in the history of the world.
My grandfather witnessed the First World War from a distance.
My mother witnessed the Second World War up close.
To her, the Golden Stars were not only symbols of peace. They were also a reminder of the opposite.
Of fear, destruction, war. She was born on the island of Bornholm and witnessed the Russian bombardment – after Denmark had regained freedom in May 1945. She witnessed the burning fire, when bombs fell from the sky.
To people like my mother the Anthem of Europe – was the Anthem of peace.
But to my daughter and my sons – war in Europe is a long time ago.
A story – not a memory.
To them – and to the younger generations – bringing peace in the past will not be enough to justify our Union in the future.
This puts a new pressure on the EU.
How should we respond?
We must keep reminding people of what we have achieved together in the past.
But we must also listen. Listen to what the people of Europe want the EU to be in the future.
If we don’t – we risk jeopardizing European solidarity.
Brexit is a case in point. We must respect the choice of the British people, but we also need to learn from this choice.
For forty years the people of Britain were told how European cooperation was holding them back.
When in fact, Brexit has revealed how European cooperation was solving problems that the Brits now have to deal with on their own:
Securing open borders. Frictionless trade. Peace and security.
In Britain, the government perhaps forgot to tell about the results in Europe. Forgot to tell what we have achieved together.
And perhaps – along the way – they forgot to listen to the voices of concern, too. Before it was all too late.
Many of you would maybe claim that the Danes – too – are “reluctant Europeans”.
You saw how the Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Rejected the Euro in the year 2000. And in 2015, rejected the ability to fully participate in cooperation on Justice and Home Affairs.
But you would be greatly mistaken to cast the Danes in opposition to the European Union.
In fact, the share of people supporting the EU is larger in Denmark than in most other European countries!
And the share of Danes who believe their voice is heard at the European level ranks second among all twenty-eight Member States.
How can that be?
Part of the reason is that in Denmark we have a long tradition of discussing the European Union. Not as much, as I would like. But politicians – from left to right – have in fact promoted this debate for the last 30 years.
This has given everyone – including myself – a much more pragmatic view on our Union.
Perhaps – this is also why Danes are not swayed by distant dreams of a future that might be. Grand ideas of the “United States of Europe” fall on deaf ears.
We are concerned about finding down-to-earth solutions to present day problems. To making the EU work better.
And as a people with a thousand year long tradition for trading, Danes recognize a good deal when they see it.
And the EU is a good deal.
The Single Market is a tremendous benefit to our economy which cannot be underestimated.
The EU is also a close-knit political community. Of nations that share and seek to protect the same fundamental values.
A Union of nations that solve their problems through peaceful means. That is a good deal.
So Denmark belongs in the EU. But at the same time, Danes are proud of their unique model of society.
Over the course of this past century, Denmark has developed one of the best welfare states known in history. People pay a large share of their income to ensure that every citizen – regardless of gender, race or origin – has a fair chance to succeed.
And for the most part, our model of society is well-protected under the EU Treaties and in EU regulation.
In fact the EU has helped strengthen our economy. Estimates say that real wages in Denmark are 10 percent higher than they would have been, had we been outside of the EU.
The freedom of movement ensures that our businesses have direct access to half a billion consumers. That Danes can work and deliver services all over Europe.
However, in certain key areas, I have a hard time defending and explaining the EU rules.
For instance, when our high levels of child benefit payments – financed by Danish tax payers – is made available to all workers in Denmark, regardless of whether their children actually live in Denmark or not.
This is not fair. And it is a challenge to the Danish model of society, which is based on a shared sense of solidarity and on our ability to ensure a sustainable balance of rights and responsibilities.
The EU must guarantee the freedom to move. But freedom of movement must also be fair. And freedom of movement must not be abused.
During this very fall, a number of third country truck drivers – technically employed in another EU country – were found to be working permanently in Denmark under horrible conditions. Apparently under the pretext of the freedom of movement.
Stories like this hurt the image of the EU. And we need to work together to ensure that they are not repeated and that rules are strongly enforced for the benefit of the people.
In some cases – the solution is for the EU to step down. To interfere less.
Yet in other areas, the EU needs to step up.
In four existential areas, I hear our citizens calling for more cooperation.
Our time will be defined by our ability to solve these issues. Together – in this room and in the Council.
The first issue is migration.
This is a challenge that will not disappear anytime soon.
But even if the challenge is still here, we could all do a better job of explaining to the citizens what the EU and the Member States have already achieved. Quite a lot. For instance a 95 percent drop in arrivals since the crisis of 2015.
However, more needs to be done. We have to break the cynical business model of the human traffickers.
We must develop European policies which remove the incentive for those with no real need for protection to embark on a dangerous journey towards Europe.
Common solutions are necessary. But all European solutions are not equally good. I continue to believe that redistribution of asylum seekers is not the right way to solve the problem.
But make no mistake, Denmark is willing to take responsibility and support those frontline Member States in need. We support a more flexible – yet mandatory – mechanism of solidarity.
And we are ready to put action behind our words. In 2019, we will significantly enhance our contributions to Frontex. We already rank among the top four when it comes to financing the EU Trust Fund for Africa.
We are among only three or four European member states who actually have managed to allocate 0,7 percent of GDP for aid – and we are actively exploring further contributions.
Speaking of Africa, I believe it is time for Europe to start rebuilding our partnership with the nations of Africa. Our two continents are bound to each other. What is good for Africa will also be good for Europe.
Europe has flourished because of decades of internal trade liberalisation by the EU. There is no reason why the same benefits cannot be applied to Africa.
That is why I believe we must help Africa in building a true African free trade area, which can serve as the bedrock for future African jobs and prosperity. While pushing for further progress on return and readmission our aim should be to create a full and equal partnership.
The second issue, where increased EU action is essential, is the fight against climate change.
Almost three years ago, Paris – the city of lights – turned into the shining city on the hill – as the world agreed to save the planet from climate breakdown.
Two months earlier – at the UN assembly in New York – I had the privilege to co-chair the very UN meeting, where we adopted the Sustainable Development Goals.
Two historic agreements offering new hope for future generations.
Denmark is determined to act in support of both agreements. During the last 17 years we have tripled our consumption of green electricity.
On windy days, all of our electricity is produced by wind mills. And we are well under way to reaching our goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
I am happy to learn – earlier today – that the Commission has adopted the same vision of carbon neutrality. For all of Europe.
Decades ago, a political decision on renewable energy was taken in Denmark. And it has proven to be a good deal for Danish companies. They were forced to innovate. And now we all profit. Businesses as well as the environment.
Recently, my government has launched a new vision:
In 17 years – in 2035 – every single new car bought in Denmark must be an electric car or another type of zero-emission car.
It is a big ambition. That will not be easy to reach. But it is precisely this kind of decision that I believe will foster innovation. And I will push hard to make this a European policy.
Make no mistake about it: If we set ambitious goals for the green transition at European level – we will motivate our own industry to be frontrunners.
To the benefit of all of us in Europe. And not least to the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
Today, the EU has become the global voice of the climate and green transition. We need to live up to that responsibility. I urge everyone in this room to work to that end. Now is not the time to slow down.
The third issue, where more EU action is needed, is on expanding and modernizing and implementing the Single Market.
That is, after all, the backbone of our European cooperation.
Our internal market needs to be brought up to speed.
I can be blunt: The internal market is no longer only about physical goods at physical borders. The modern economy is much more than that.
Today, services – and in particular digital services – constitute an increasingly important part of our economy. Goods and services are intertwined in global value chains.
And, of course, the Single Market must match this development. It must be digitally competitive. Data must flow freely. Every corner of the Internal Market must be digitally fit – from production to consumer protection.
As legislators we have to stimulate innovation – not kill it in regulation.
The digital transformation of the Internal Market is a huge challenge. But the US and China will not wait for Europe.
Finally, the fourth issue where the EU needs to do more is on free trade.
Europe itself is a testament to how trade liberalization brings both prosperity and peace among free people. It is our duty to safeguard free trade – even when we find ourselves under historic pressure.
In the US – the land of dreams, they are dreaming of less free trade. Of fewer international obligations. Of barriers to trade and perhaps even of breaking up the international rules-based trading system.
We must not allow that to happen. And it has become increasingly clear that only Europe will be able to prevent it.
My fellow Europeans.
I started my speech by saying that the European Union must be justified by more than the memory of division and war.
But that doesn’t mean that we should forget about the past.
In contrast to my parents, I didn’t witness the two World Wars.
I witnessed the Cold War. But I also witnessed the end of it – 28 years ago.
On the 2nd of October 1990, my wife and I fastened the seatbelts in our wrecked Volvo and headed for Berlin.
We took the ferry to Rostock – and reached the Brandenburger Tor at midnight. Just in time to witness the official reunification of Germany.
In my old passport there are two stamps from that trip. One from the 2nd of October saying: Rostock, DDR. The other from the 3rd of October saying: Rostock, Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
To me these stamps prove that even the deepest wounds can be healed.
And that Europe must always strive to fulfill its potential – together and in peace.