Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen's New Year Address on 1 January 2019

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Good evening.

Today, we have embarked on a new year that, at first light, appears to be bright.

Things are going well in Denmark.

So, it would be tempting for me to tell about the progress of recent years – parliamentary elections are coming up this year ...

The employment is higher than ever. Month by month, more people are getting employed.

Fewer people receive cash benefits and unemployment benefits. The number of people on public support is the lowest for more than thirty years.

Many young people take an education.

More sick people survive cancer.

And on day like today, with lots of wind, wind turbines cover our entire electricity consumption.

Never before have so many people had so many opportunities.

Globally, progress is also being made: Fewer people are starving. Fewer children die as infants. More kids attend school.

Hence, I could easily hold a hip-hip hurray-speech about how well everything is. In fact, I’m well underway doing so.

But let me stop here. Because there is something else that is important to say.
Concerns I have. And which I think many of you share.

I do not want only to polish the front of the medal. I also want to look at the back. Because that is how the world is.

Not just glossy and smooth. But also disturbing and marked by history.

* * *

My grandfather's outlook was marked by the First World War. By the deep wounds the war gave Europe.

My mother was a child during World War II. She was from Bornholm - eight years old when Nexø was bombed, while the rest of Denmark celebrated the liberation. The sound of the falling bombs, the ruins, the fear. It all followed her throughout her life.

I myself grew up with the Cold War. I've visited dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. Witnessed Germany's reunion.

This year - in 2019 - it's 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell. And the hope of freedom was born throughout Europe.

This is the historic backdrop.

But these years, it seems as if the framework is crumbling.
The peaceful world we dreamed of is in disruption.

The snapshot is flickering and porous.

I am somehow concerned that all that was launched in the wake of the war is being washed away again.

The wish for peace. The hope of democracy. Human rights. The willingness to cooperate.

International communities that commit and protect. Built on a sense of order. Created with the World Wars in fresh memory.

Can we count on that commitment and sense of order when fewer people remember the history – as more than just history? I am - unfortunately - not quite sure.

* * *

It worries me when Russia wants to suppress freedom in countries that got their freedom precisely with the fall of the wall.

It worries me when the United States of America is being self-sufficient. Withdrawing from their international obligations and leaving the climate agreement from Paris.

It worries me when China at a high speed acquires advanced technology that others have spent years developing.

And it worries me when the United Kingdom leaves the EU which has ensured peace and economic progress for more than 50 years.

It may seem tempting to shut off a troublesome world. Turn your back on it. Be self-sufficient. However, is it that easy after all? The world does not disappear.

Denmark's security depends on international cooperation.

Our wealth comes from trading with other countries. Our development is fuelled by vision. We do not become smaller from cooperating with others, we become bigger.

Denmark is a small country. But together we live out a great idea: An open, rich society where prosperity and sustainability go hand in hand. Where few have too much and even fewer too little.

We should not hide that.

We have a lot to offer the world. And we are - as a small country in a big world - deeply dependent on international cooperation. In the EU, NATO, and the UN.

The problems that concern the whole world: They must be solved jointly. Migration. Crime. Environment. Security. Terror.

* * *

Shortly before Christmas, two young women were brutally murdered during a holiday in Morocco. Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen was only 24 years old. Norwegian Maren Ueland was 28 years old. Our fears have been confirmed. The two innocent, defenceless women are victims of cowardly, Islamist terrorists.

My thoughts and my sympathy are with the young women's families. What they have to go through, I have no words for.

We all react with horror. Disgust. And grief. But we must also respond by standing together on what we believe in. People's freedom and equality. We must fight for our values. Across political standpoints. And across borders.

It is not only done with tough legal policies, police, and border control. It also requires closer European cooperation, development assistance, diplomacy, and increased investment in our common defence.

We must stand together in defending our free society.
We must also stand together to solve climate change. It is one of our greatest challenges - as a society, as a generation, as the world.

The messages are gloomy. Drought. Storms. The ice melts. For each report from the experts, an even more black and bleak picture is being painted. It is almost the last call.

You can process that message in two ways. You can choose powerlessness. Or you can choose courage and hope.

In the 1980s, the hole in the ozone layer was the greatest threat to life on earth. But at the last minute the world came together. And banned the damaging gases in spray cans and refrigerators. It is now – it is now – we must show the same drive towards climate change.

* * *

A world in disruption – where does that leave Denmark?
I am a child of the welfare society. Graduated from high school as the first in the family. Like many others of my generation.

I have grown up in a Denmark with a strong cohesion. A country without major divisions between rich and poor. A community where the distance was never greater than that the cashier from the supermarket and the company director could meet in the public swimming pool or at the parent meeting.

Denmark is often highlighted as the opposite to the division that you see elsewhere.
In the United States, the difference between the rich and the poor increases. In the United Kingdom Brexit creates chaos. In France, the yellow vests on the boulevards are protesting against lower standards of living.

Against this background, Denmark appears as a harmonious country.
But self-praise is not of much use. It may be warming in the moment. But it blocks for self-insight.

We must be honest.

The trends in the world – where the big community falls apart. They are also present here. If too many feel left outside. Or choose to stay outside. Then the harmony starts to crumble.

I remember when I went to school, and Ibrahim entered the class after the summer holidays. As the first and only one with a foreign background.
When I went to high school, there were about 50,000 people with non-western backgrounds throughout Denmark.

Today there are close to half a million. In one generation, our country has changed. Is it a problem?

It is, in the sense that we have challenges that we would not have had if we were still a much more uniform population. Rounded from the same soil. Brought up with the same values.

But we can't turn back time. We stand where we stand. We must take it from here. Get together - and figure things out together. Both old and new Danes.

* * *

It is our joint responsibility to take care of Denmark.

With the positive starting point that many people with foreign backgrounds are employed. Paying their taxes. Raising their children to become democratic citizens. To take an education.

This is the front of the medal.

The backside is the young people who are not allowed to marry the one they love. Women who are considered less worth than men. Too many who cluster together in parallel communities.

If we want Denmark to remain a harmonious country. Then we should not receive more than we can accommodate. And we have to make demands on everyone who is here.

When Denmark is an additional choice – something you choose – then we can demand that you really choose it. Put worldly laws over religious laws. For this is what we do in this country.

When we want to preserve Denmark as a free country. Then we must say a clear no to those who limit the freedom of others.

This is how I see it.

We must address the roots of the problems. That is why the government is pursuing a strict foreign policy. Special rules for parallel societies. Fewer who come here and seek asylum. The lowest number since 2008. More are to be here only temporarily.

I know some think it is too strict. But I also think many agree with me. And care about our cohesion as a country.

And I know that this also is a concern to the many Danes with an immigrant background. Those who have chosen Denmark.

They find that their children are put in the same box as criminal gang members or religious fanatics. Because of the colour of their skin, their name and religion.

I want to say to you – to the vast majority of well-integrated citizens with foreign backgrounds: It should not be like that. You show that there is a way forward.

A true community has room for differences. But a real community also has boundaries.

Diversity does not mean we should forget who we are. A liberal mind is not the same as spinelessness.

We have to work together in the difficult balance it is to keep Denmark open to the world, but closed to those who do not want our values.

* * *

I started my speech with a concern for the turmoil in the world. I want to end it with a worry for the things that are very, very close to everyone.

Do we get good help if we get sick? Is there safe care when we get old?
The Danish health service has come a long way in many areas. First and foremost, in the treatment of the serious and complicated diseases.

More than ever survive heart disease. Many more survive cancer. Thanks to faster and better treatment. New medicine. Skilled doctors. And the collection of the specialties in fewer departments, so everyone meets the leading experts within the particular disease they suffer from.

Here we have come quite a long way. But in other areas, the health system is not good enough.

This applies to the offers and the help that meet the hundreds of thousands of Danes living with the major public diseases: Lung disease COPD, diabetes, stress, and anxiety ...

Too many have to travel unnecessarily far for treatment or check-ups at hospitals that are far from home. Instead of being close to where they live – with their own doctor or at a health centre around the corner.

It is tiresome for the individual. And it puts pressure on the hospitals, which are already under a lot of pressure.

Too many infirm elderly people are hospitalized again and again. And too many are discharged to nothing. Because the one hand does not always know what the other one is doing. And because there is too little time to hold hands.

I think most of us have had this experience. From our own lives. From our relatives. I know I have. We must do much, much better. You will hear more about this in the new year.

The core of whether it can succeed is, of course, Denmark's skilled, hard-working healthcare staff.

I want to say to the employees in the health service: I have a great respect for your work. The Danes also have that. We meet you in the big moments of life. When our children are born. When our parents die. And many times in between. Where we wear our heart on our sleeve. And you are ready with the professional overview and the comforting hand.

I know you are busy. I would like to hire more warm hands. But there are few unemployed nurses in today's Denmark. Therefore, we need to do more to get the staff needed. Among other things, by educating more nurses than we have done before.

Here too, the easy solutions – well yes, they are simply too easy.

In the new year, I will present my bid for sound improvements. Based on 21 new health communities close by. Built on the staff's professionalism. And where we really put the patient before the system.

* * *

Last night, the New Year was celebrated all over the world.

First, at twelve o'clock in the tiny Samoa far out in the Pacific. Then the fireworks, the party and the pleasure spread through Asia. To Europe. Africa. And west on – to America.

After midnight, Danish time, I stood on our little balcony. Rockets shot in the air. It rumbled and blasted.

On such a New Year's Eve you can feel closely connected with the rest of the world.

We look up at the same sky. We live on a common planet.

With the responsibility it gives to look beyond one's own nose.

This is how I think, most Danes feel. Not just on New Year's Eve. But on all the days of the year.

And on the whole planet, I can't imagine a place I'd rather live than here in Denmark.

Because we all have contributed to Denmark being a lovely country.

And thus, I came back to my hip-hip hurray-speech anyway.

As long as we talk openly about our concerns. And properly about the problems.

Not in order to grumble. But to solve them.

Knowing that the easy solutions do not last. But the common solutions exist.

Then the present becomes better than the past. And the future – it gets even better.

Happy New Year!

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