Prime minister tells nation that tough times are ahead
Against a backdrop of burning candles and plummeting opinion polls, Helle Thorning-Schmidt gave her first New Year’s speech to the nation as prime minister on Sunday.
Also hanging over Thorning-Schmidt’s head – and permeating much of what the Socialdemokrat said – was the global economic crisis and its effects on Denmark.
“Our goal is to bring Denmark safely through the crisis and out on the other side with our wealth, decency and solicitude intact,” Thorning-Schmidt said. “It won’t be easy. But we can if we will. The new year – 2012 – will not be the year, when we free ourselves from our problems. We must admit that now.”
Thorning-Schmidt then used her family’s history to indicate that Denmark has seen – and overcome – difficult times before.
“From generation to generation – my grandmother’s, my mother’s, my own – Denmark has become a better country to live in,” she said.
While not overtly political, Thorning-Schmidt’s speech did cast blame for the nation’s economic situation on the previous Venstre-Konservative (VK) government.
“Many acted as if the good times would just continue and continue. Consumer spending grew beyond its means and housing prices skyrocketed. Tax breaks were given, even though we could not afford them. And Denmark was not adequately prepared for the bad times. There was no control over the economy. Therefore we have a deficit in the public finances of around 100 billion kroner, and maybe even more than that. It is a staggering amount of money. The deficit means that we pay for welfare with money we do not have.”
In light of the economic difficulties, Thorning-Schmidt said that everyone must be willing to make sacrifices.
“Many will experience changes. Many will be asked to pull extra weight. And yes, we will experience job-cuts and scale-backs. In the near future we must make decisions that will be among the most difficult in our history.”
In addition to the economy, Thorning-Schmidt also used the speech to praise the efforts of Danish troops in Afghanistan, Denmark’s support of the Arab Spring, and Denmark’s six-month EU presidency, which began yesterday.
“Everything that happens in Europe affects us here at home,” she said. “Therefore, we should use every opportunity to affect what happens in Europe. The next half year we have an opportunity to push Europe a small, but important, step in the right direction.”
Thorning-Schmidt’s speech was largely criticised by political analysts for lacking any concrete solutions.
“When Helle-Thorning Schmidt doesn’t use her New Year’s speech debut to present concrete suggestions for political initiatives, it was clearly a conscious decision,” public broadcaster DR’s political analyst Jens Ringberg said. “This [was] a speech where she paints a picture of the crisis-agenda, gives expectations in relation to Danes’ behaviour – that we shouldn’t expect good times – and then just points a moral finger. It’s a gamble.”
Political analyst Rasmus Nielsen of the online news source Alting agreed.
“Of course the government common policy is only three months old. But there has been no implementation of it,” Nielsen told Politiken newspaper. “The prime minister says that many lean years are ahead and that the government in 2012 will help to provide a remedy to the crisis, but she doesn’t indicate how exactly they will do that, and that is a weak point.”
Read the entire speech here (in Danish).