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Ambassadors, Your Excellencies,
It is a great pleasure to see all of you today.
This annual meeting – which rapidly approaches a tradition - provides me with an excellent opportunity to give you an overview of current Danish foreign and domestic policy. And for you, subsequently, to ask me any question you might have.
Let me begin with a few remarks on our domestic policy where the financial crisis – not surprisingly - is the current overriding challenge.
As a result of the crisis enterprises are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain loans. The housing market has cooled rapidly and continues to do so. And we are expecting an increase in unemployment in the medium term.
That said, I would like to emphasise that compared to many other countries, Denmark is in a relatively favourable position.
Unemployment is at a historically low level – still just under two per cent. We have a balance-of-payments surplus. And in recent years, we have experienced huge public sector budget surpluses, which prudently have been used to repay our debt.
All in all, this provides us with more manoeuvre space and opportunities than many other countries. And we intend to use that in 2009 to give the Danish economy a boost.
We have decided to encourage banks to grant loans for sound projects. To that end we have just presented a new bill to the Danish Parliament, which will inject extra capital into well-managed banks. Condition based, of course. The money must be put to work sensibly.
Taxes have been lowered as of the 1st of January. And we are prepared to do more in the longer term. The Danish Government has a tax reform in the pipeline for 2010 and the coming years. A reform, which proposes to lower taxes on personal income in order to increase our available workforce and to raise taxes on what we want less of – pollution.
The tax reform will be fully financed, and in order to give economic incentives we might consider offering people more money to spend during the first years.
We have also planned massive public investments over the years to come. This includes investments in new and modern hospitals. In better schools, child-care facilities and housing for the elderly and in efficient transportation.
It is well-known that the Danish government has a very ambitious green agenda. An agenda which intends to boost the economy, create tens of thousands of green jobs and promote a green, sustainable growth.
We have drawn up a 5 point green action plan containing:
o A massive expansion of renewable energy.
o A further increase in energy savings.
o A further promotion of sustainable housing and construction.
o A major investment in public transport and improved infrastructure.
o And a better protection of our environment.
Our green agenda is also crucial and indeed interlinked with the urgent foreign policy challenge of climate change.
2009 must be the year where world leaders come together and take decisive and collective steps in response to global climate change. The Copenhagen Climate Conference provides leaders with a unique opportunity to do so.
The conference will probably take place against a background of a continued financial crisis. But the crisis is more than a challenge. It also provides us with opportunities. To think of new roads to take. To foster new ideas. To launch new initiatives.
We should seize this opportunity and create new sustainable economic growth. And we should limit our dependency on fossil fuels. Green growth paves the way for the creation of tomorrow's low carbon society. And as such there is a clear link between economic recovery and combating climate change.
This is true in Denmark. It is true in the European Union and the United States. And it is true in the major emerging economies.
Reaching an ambitious and comprehensive global climate change agreement at COP15 here in Copenhagen will be the main foreign policy objective for Denmark in 2009.
For this to happen we need the industrialised countries to take lead when it comes to emission reductions. Without a strong leadership and commitment by the industrialised world we will not reach a new global climate change agreement.
We need to have the United States on board. In this respect, I was encouraged by the clear signal from President Obama that priority will be given to climate and energy in the future domestic policy agenda.
Major emerging economies need to be firmly engaged as well. The bottom line is that it makes good economic sense to act. It is not about burden sharing. It is about taking part in a new economic era.
The European Union has taken a major and crucial step. The agreement on EU’s Climate and Energy Package in December was pivotal in securing EU leadership.
But to those who might say that the EU has done its part and that the UN process will now have to take the lead, I will say: The EU must remain in the driving seat. And the next stop is the European Council in March. Here the objective is to reach an ambitious agreement on the remaining Bali building blocks: Financing, technology, and adaptation.
The industrialised countries must also assist the developing countries in their adaptation and mitigation efforts. They are the countries that often suffer the most from the negative consequences of climate change.
We have an intense and challenging process ahead of us. Active involvement of the highest political level is necessary if we are to succeed in Copenhagen. Heads of State and Government must engage in the UN negotiations.
As COP15 host Denmark will do its utmost to facilitate and broker a solution to combat climate change. We intend to engage actively in all the processes that can contribute to a new global climate change deal.
The European Union is also very high on our agenda. During the last six months the EU has managed to achieve a number of important results – not least due to the excellent leadership by the French Presidency.
We have reached an agreement on the climate and energy package. We have agreed on a number of practical measures to tackle the ongoing financial crisis and the economic slowdown. And the EU played a decisive role in handling the crisis between Georgia and Russia.
This demonstrates the EU’s inherent ability to reach important decisions even in a time otherwise marked by economic difficulties.
Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that institutional reforms are necessary to further enhance the EU’s ability to make timely, workable decisions. The EU needs a modern, efficient, and stable institutional framework. A framework which enables Europe to handle present as well as future challenges.
The Lisbon Treaty is that future institutional framework for the EU. It is therefore encouraging that a way forward for the Lisbon Treaty was found at the European Council in December.
I am currently optimistic that the necessary, technical and legal details will be properly dealt with. And that Ireland, hopefully, will be able to ratify the Lisbon Treaty in the second half of this year.
If all Member States complete ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of this year, it will add new impetus to my government’s plans to abolish the Danish EU opt-outs. We remain firmly committed to abolishing the opt-outs in the course of this electoral term.
However, it is crucial that institutional EU matters do not distract our attention from the challenges ahead.
The EU must continue to address the financial crisis in a coordinated manner. We need to prudently strengthen the financial regulation to improve transparency, supervision and accountability on the financial markets. Whilst at the same time maintaining our commitment to a global economic and financial system. A system based on free markets and multilateral rules – both within the EU and globally.
A major challenge for the EU is energy security. Europe must reduce its dependence on imported oil and gas. We must accelerate the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency. And we must improve and develop our energy infrastructure both within Europe and beyond.
There is no doubt that the EU faces a full agenda in 2009. I am fully confident that the Czech presidency – and the coming Swedish presidency – are up for the task.
Membership of NATO remains a key stone in our security policy. As the Alliance celebrates its 60th anniversary in April this year, it also embarks on an ambitious and demanding adaptive process to better meet the range of challenges of the 21st century.
I look forward to welcoming Albania and Croatia as the two newest members of the Alliance at the Jubilee summit in Strasbourg-Kehl.
And I look forward to the return of France into the integrated military structures. This will significantly strengthen NATO. Moreover, it bodes well for the future of EU-NATO cooperation. We need a strong complementary cooperation between these two institutions which are uniquely placed to promote peace and security in Europe and in the world.
As part of our security and defence policy the government has set up a Defence Commission. The Commission is in the final phase with recommendations as to how we can uphold and further develop our ability to engage in international crisis management.
This will be followed up by a five year political agreement.
For NATO a lot is at stake in Afghanistan. We must prevail. Afghanistan is a top priority for Denmark. We are committed and we will stay committed.
A major challenge in 2009 is the upcoming presidential election. It is vital that the international community supports the Afghan government in preparing for and conducting the elections.
We have some 700 troops in Afghanistan. Relatively speaking, this makes Denmark one of the largest contributors to ISAF.
Most of our troops are based in Helmand – the province that has seen some of the most intense fighting over the last couple of years and is the centre of the drug trade.
This commitment reflects our belief that the defence of Danish security starts in Afghanistan – not at our own borders.
We cannot tolerate that Afghanistan again becomes a safe haven and staging ground for terrorists and thereby a threat to all of us.
In spite of progress, the situation in Afghanistan remains highly unstable. Full integration of civilian, military and political efforts are crucial to success.
We will only achieve stability if the military operations are followed by development creating actual improvement in the everyday lives of the afghan people. This was emphasized when my Government launched a new 5-year strategy for our engagement in Afghanistan last summer.
The Strategy includes a doubling of our development assistance to 80 million USD per year from 2009-2012 and an increase in the number of troops. I am of course happy that our strategy enjoys solid and broad political backing from a majority of the political parties in the Danish Parliament.
It has become increasingly clear that the security situation in Afghanistan depends on its neighbors - especially Pakistan. And that it has huge regional implications. We need to address cross-boundary and regional issues to improve the security of the people of Afghanistan and combating terrorism.
During the past years, many African countries have experienced economic growth, more trade and investments. And not least fewer wars and more democracy than before. This is a very positive development but still more needs to be done.
We must therefore address the areas which hinder Africa from reaping the full benefits of progress. Full participation in the processes of globalization will add new momentum to Africa’s efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
This is the reason why my government established an Africa Commission.
In April last year the first meeting of the Africa Commission took place in Copenhagen. The aim of the Commission is very ambitious: We want Africa to be higher on the international political agenda.
We want to develop new and creative initiatives which will create jobs for the growing number of young African men and women. The challenge is to change our focus from creating one job for one individual into creating small entrepreneurs who themselves can generate 5, 10, 20 or more jobs.
The Commission will present its recommendations at its final meeting here in Copenhagen on 7 May 2009. The Commission is committed to promote international implementation. And recommendations will be reflected in Danish development cooperation from 2009 onwards.
Having shared my thoughts on the key priorities of Danish domestic and foreign policy, I would like to end by making a few remarks on piracy and on the situation in the Middle East.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia is a problem, which has a negative impact on the stability of the region and it remains a clear threat to shipping. As you know, the Danish warship Absalon is currently deployed to the area. We see piracy as a international challenge where we need to find international solutions – rather sooner than later.
It is of crucial importance that pirates can be prosecuted. We must therefore establish a regional and international framework for the prosecution of pirates.
Denmark has taken several initiatives to forward this process both in the UN and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). But the region and its organizations, including the African Union and the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development, need to take active part in these efforts.
I am very concerned about the situation in Somalia. We are right now intensifying our efforts to contribute to a peaceful, moderate and stable development in Somalia. This is the only way to ensure a sustainable and long-term solution to the problem of piracy.
The Middle East has dominated the foreign political agenda at the beginning of the New Year. The conflict has once again showed the enormous challenge of bringing the peace process forward.
Denmark is pleased that a ceasefire has been announced. We support a permanent and viable ceasefire that provides for adequate security for both Israel and the Palestinians. We commend all international efforts to this effect, especially the Egyptian-led effort.
Now everything possible must be done to improve the situation for the civilian population in Gaza and to ensure that aid comes into Gaza and is distributed.
Denmark has been actively engaged in the international diplomacy to bring about a solution to the conflict. This includes a Danish and Dutch proposal to send police to monitor and control borders.
We have also contributed with 20 mio. DKK to the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees flash appeal and 10 mio. DKK to our NGO’s working in Gaza. Our general development assistance to the Palestinian people remains high, and we are ready to contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza when that time comes.
The conflict underlines the need for an even bigger effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of a comprehensive peace. It also underlines the need to fight radicalism and extremism in the region.
As I have outlined the key Danish priorities, it is clear that 2009 will be a very challenging year. Reaching a new, ambitious climate change agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 will be particularly high on my foreign political agenda.
Keeping within the near tradition of our annual meeting, I always look forward to discussing political issues with you.
I will therefore conclude by saying that I am ready to answer any question you might have.