Good evening on this the first day of the new millennium. The occasion has certainly been celebrated around the globe. And in Denmark, which is one of the few countries that have existed for more than a thousand years.
But the start of a new century, and a new millennium, also gives occasion for reflection: Where are we as individuals and as society? Where do we come from? Where are we heading?
At the turn of the previous century Denmark was a defeated, poor and indebted country. The life expectancy was low, the infant mortality high and the poor were numerous. Freedom was a privilege for the few. Demands for equality, dignity for all people and a fairer distribution of goods were seen as a threat to the rich and powerful.
But because many had the courage and will, the idea of a new society prevailed: A society of freedom and community, in which we all share responsibility for each other.
* * *
On his day we may well think back on the generations that created our Modern Denmark. On the farmers who ploughed the fields and cultivated the heaths. On the Danish workers who sweated and toiled in the factories. On the women who also went out to work on the labour market for our welfare. On all those who built the country and fought for its defence.
Their names do not appear in the records of history, but the fruit of their labour is the society we know today. We are stewards of their inheritance. And it is our task to maintain the welfare society that is everywhere regarded as the best in the world.
* * *
We now open the 21st century.
Some, indeed many, are already prepared. They are quite certain to be able to manage in a new era with exciting challenges.
Others, I know, ask themselves, 'What is to become of me? Is there room for me? How do I secure my children's future? Have I still got a job? Can anybody use me?'
My reply is this: 'Yes, there is and will be need for everyone if we still work together on developing our society on the basis of community and not selfishness.
* * *
We have made a good start. After seven years of uninterrupted growth we are one of the richest countries in the world, with a strong economy.
We have never had more people in employment. This is decisive, both for the individual person and society. Therefore we can afford to improve our hospitals, schools, childcare while at the same time the private finances of most families have improved.
We have now also started repaying the debts our society owes.
We must afford the fundamental care and security of the welfare society. We should not accept failure in our treatment of those who are weak and exposed. We must not accept that the elderly in nursing homes are treated with lack of dignity. Everywhere in our country there must be proper care for the elderly.
But we must not, on the basis of individual mistakes and failures, let ourselves be carried away by the misapprehension that everything is bad, and that much has gone downhill. Fortunately Denmark is not like this. The civil servants make great efforts for our welfare every single day.
And, let us be honest, as I address fathers and mothers now watching this on TV: Would you like your child to grow up in any other country? Would we like to see our parents be cared for and nursed in any other country?
I think I know the reply: 'No, we would not.'
* * *
The Danish welfare society has faults and shortcoming, that is true, but it is based on the idea that we care for each other. One crucial precondition for this is that our finances are in order. The money must be there before we can spend it.
This is also part of our shared responsibility. If we sign off our responsibility with merely a cheque from society once per month to those who are outside, those who have abandoned all hope of ever getting started again, then we fail utterly, and our society has become poorer and more vulnerable.
The issue is selection and prioritisation. Everybody cannot get everything they want; if it were so, everybody would eventually and inevitably get less. Then there will be people in our society who will not receive the help they need.
The issue is security. Because security gives freedom. Security provides the basis for daring to do, changing jobs, acquiring new skills. At the end of the day, it is security that gives Denmark our international competitive power and real freedom.
Therefore security is not merely one goal among many. It is the very basis for our welfare society.
* * *
Denmark has a long tradition for being a society with room for people from outside.
Eight to nine hundred years ago, carpenters and other builders and craftsmen came from the south to help us build churches. And the merchants came from the German Hanseatic towns and contributed to boosting trade. The Dutch settled in Amager and taught us horticulture and intensive farming.
The so-called 'potato Germans' helped us reclaim and cultivate the heaths of Jutland, and the Polish turnip women took their share of the toil of bringing the harvest home in Lolland Falster.
This was immigration that brought great benefit.
* * *
Also refugees have contributed to the development of the Denmark we know today. The French Protestants, the Huguenots, were persecuted at home and found refuge in Denmark. Here they created wealth and industry on the east coast of Jutland, in Fredericia, indeed all over the country.
These were refugees that brought great benefit.
The descendants of the refugees and immigrants of those days are now as Danish as any of us. When we use our telephone directory we do not even wonder at their names.
* * *
Things are no longer so simple. The voices have turned sharp. So have the problems. I think that unfortunately, perhaps due to our fear of not being tolerant enough, we have closed our eyes to a development that has gone astray.
- There is a real problem if Danish families experience that on their own staircase, in their own neighbourhood, in their own town, they are outnumbered, that their children get problems at school; that they, so to speak, become victims of the formation of a ghetto.
- There is a real problem if Danish families in certain urban communities start feeling like strangers in their own country.
There is a real problem if they do not feel that they are being listened to and that they are being heard.
There are many foreigners who contribute much to the Danish society. There are, however, also groups that make it clear that they do not want to be part of society at all. Make it clear that they care not a whit for our fundamental values. It is not acceptable that a well-educated young Turkish woman in Denmark is in effect forced into marriage with a man from a remote Turkish village. To us it is a human right like any other that both the man and the woman is free to choose partner.
There are too many examples of virtually automatic reunion of families that have turned out to be prearranged and forced.
To ensure a coherent fabric of the Danish society, we must impose three requirements on the immigrants and ourselves:
- That all must learn the Danish language
- That all must work and have the opportunity for education
- That all must accept the values upon which the Danish society is built.
The respect for our fundamental values is emphatically not about intolerance, uniformity of appearance and creed. It is based on a modern view on life and man, upon which this society builds for the benefit of all its citizens.
We do not want a Denmark with new, sharp class distinctions. Everybody must be part, with the duties and rights this entails. The ideals of equality and community must include all and be respected by all.
Danish laws and regulations must be kept whether one comes from Lemvig or the Lebanon.
* * *
And remember this: These are not problems that may be solved in a day or one single year. Integration requires outstretched hands from both sides.
It is not at Christiansborg that the integration takes place. I know that very well. It takes place in people's daily lives, where we meet and must create the basis for the Denmark of the coming one thousand years.
* * *
We have no need of stopgap solutions, borne of panic, prejudice and fear. Neither do we need facile political rhetoric.
What we do need is proper, durable and broad political solutions.
First, a revision of the provisions of the Immigration Act concerning the reunion of families, a revision that will endure and be perceived by most as just and fair.
Second, a strengthening of the integration efforts based on improved co-operation between the municipalities and the Government.
We need a forceful, and, to speak plainly, also economically costly, effort in the residential areas, schools and day care institutions that face the problems in their everyday work.
The Government has intervened and struck against abuse several times. And we have implemented integration legislation for those who have just arrived. This must now be followed up. In this the New Year we shall initiate an overall effort that will extend several years into the future.
* * *
Well, no matter which way we look at it, we are part of the international community. We are also part of Europe.
Before long we must decide if we choose to take part in the European currency, the Euro. The choice is ours.
I myself have no doubt. We must take part. We must agree to be part of it.
Jobs and money move freely across borders today. Immense amounts of money, billions, may be moved from country to country in a matter of seconds. Currency speculators can force a country to its knees, as it happened to England and Sweden at the beginning of the 1990s.
We know that if the Danish crown comes under pressure, all of society comes under pressure. And we also know who suffers when Danish society is in a crisis. Those at the top of society are not hurt. The people at the bottom are hurt. Those who were employed last are hit.
Therefore we must be part of the co-operation within the EU on the common currency. It will create the best and most secure basis for further development of the Danish society in the future.
It will be best for employment in Denmark. This means that we are part of shaping our future.
* * *
The provisions of the welfare society.
These are the issues that occupy us all. It is easy to create division, easy to generate tension, but these are hardly the approaches that will take us forward.
We are a nation of bridge builders, and we are rather good at that.
I see it as my task to hold the nation together, not to create division.
It is one thing to manage finances and the environment. But what does this help if we hand over to the next generation a society divided among itself, characterised by internal disagreement, tension and abysmal divisions among the population.
And think of this: More and more countries around us, even all of Europe, try to build up societies and build on the values upon which we have built. They have tried the other option, total liberalism. Or centrally governed communism.
So we should not doubt. We should stand firm and together. We should not run out of breath. The welfare society has only just begun, and its entire idea belongs to the 21st century. We can make a difference. We may exercise influence if we believe in ourselves and if we hold on to our values and our unity.
* * *
We have created foundations of which may be proud. Despite minor faults, we have a society built on the idea that we must take proper care of each other.
A society in which the healthy help the sick. Where the rich help the poor. Where the young help the old.
To me, this is what politics is all about. In our daily lives we may have the feeling that politics is just about finances. About taxes and charges. And rules that must be kept.
But on this the first day of the new millennium, we may well remind ourselves that political work also contains a vision, a dream, an epic narrative. A narrative about a society that helps the many without getting in the way of the individual.
My hope is for a Denmark which secures her future by making her own decisions. By not surrendering important decisions to others. But by participating actively in the international community in order to lead it in the right direction.
The hope for a Denmark where duties and rights apply not just to the single mother, to the unemployed or recipients of social welfare, but also to those at the top of society. Banks and companies. Everybody who has a responsibility must make his or her contribution.
A Denmark where everybody still has access to health care and education. Where everybody feels a responsibility for our common environment. Where everybody supports the freedom of the individual. Where everybody can look forward to a secure old age, and where none needs feel abandoned. Where we are all part of a community.
These are the constituent parts of a society of enduring quality.
The Denmark of which we may be proud.
Happy New Year.