Danish PM laments ‘break-up’ of peaceful world in New Year speech

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said in his traditional January 1st speech that the peaceful world many hoped for when the Berlin Wall fell is in danger of breaking up.

Danish PM laments 'break-up' of peaceful world in New Year speech
Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The PM used his traditional New Year speech, given from the Prime Minister’s Office at Christiansborg, to bring attention to inequality and the global political situation.

“In the United States, the gap between rich and poor is growing. Brexit is creating chaos in the United Kingdom. In France, the ‘yellow vests’ are taking to the boulevards in protest at worsening living conditions. Seen in that light, Denmark is a harmonic country,” he said.

But the root causes of societal problems seen in bigger countries were also prevalent at home, the Danish PM warned.

“We must be honest. The trends out there in the world – where cracks are appearing in society – also exist amongst us,” he said.

“If too many people feel left out or keep themselves on the outside, the harmony is damaged,” Rasmussen continued.

In addition to Brexit and inequality, Rasmussen also cited the United States, Russia and China as causes for his concern.

“It concerns me that Russia wants to disrupt freedom in countries which gained their freedom with the fall of the (Berlin) Wall. It concerns me that the United States is looking inwards, drawing back from its international commitments and the Paris Agreement,” he said.

“It concerns me that China is rapidly developing advanced technology that others have taken years to develop.

“And it concerns me that the United Kingdom will be leaving the EU, which has ensured peace and economic progress for more than 50 years,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen referred to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, an event synonymous with the end of the Cold War, by saying that the “peaceful world” that was hoped for at the time was “breaking up”.

“I find myself concerned that everything that was set in motion in the wake of the (Cold) War is being washed away. The desire for peace. Hope for democracy. Human rights. The will to cooperate. International communities which provide the basis for binding commitments and protection. (These were) built on decency and created with the world wars in recent memory,” he continued.

It would be a mistake for Denmark to follow the example of the United States by turning its back on international partnership and cooperation, the Prime Minister said.

“Denmark is a small country. But together, we can help to achieve a great ideal: an open, wealthy society, where well-being and sustainability go hand in hand. Where few have too much and fewer have too little. We should not take this lightly,” he said.

“We have much to offer the world. And we, as a small country in a big world, are hugely dependent on major international communities. In Nato, the EU and the UN,” he said.

“The problems faced by the whole world must be solved by all of us together: migration, crime, the environment, security, terror,” he said.

The 2019 New Year speech was Rasmussen’s sixth as PM, and his last before general elections to be held no later than June this year.

Topics tackled by prime ministers during the annual speeches are often domestically focused. In 2018, Rasmussen used the January 1st speech to announce a new agenda to address societal problems in underprivileged areas termed “ghettos”.

“This was a speech strong on values, framing how Løkke wants to be perceived as Prime Minister,” Helle Ib, political commentator with newspaper Børsen, told the Ritzau news agency.

“This is a prime minister well aware the elections are coming. The New Year speech reflects that he wants to be seen as the uniting and responsible figure in the centre of Danish politics,” Ib said.

A Social Democrat could just as easily have given the speech, she added in reference to the opposition party hoping to wrest government from Rasmussen in this year’s elections.



How Denmark’s New Year’s Eve traditions will be different in 2020

New Year's Eve is a night for saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new, and Danes don't like to hold back on the celebrations. But they might have to in 2020.

How Denmark’s New Year’s Eve traditions will be different in 2020
A closed-off Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) in Copenhagen on December 31st, 2020. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

In big cities like Copenhagen and Aarhus, December 31st normally sees throngs of partygoers filling the streets and setting off salvos of fireworks – a custom not universally popular.

Meanwhile, close friends often gather to follow time-honoured – and sometimes rather bizarre – traditions.

Although some of the pillars of a Danish New Year should withstand 2020’s Covid-19 onslaught, many will have to be adapted or cancelled this year.

‘Cancel New Year’s party plans’: prime minister

Earlier this week, amid surging coronavirus hospitalisations (Denmark has 926 Covid-19 inpatients at the time of writing), the government announced an extension of the current national lockdown until January 17th.

No new restrictions will be brought in for New Year's Eve, but the current rules limit public gatherings to 10 people and health authorities have strongly encouraged the public not to see more than the same 10 people socially.

READ ALSO: Denmark extends lockdown by two weeks

At a briefing, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen urged people across the country to cancel plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

“In our eyes, it makes no sense for the New Year celebrations to mean that even more infection is spread,” she said, asking people to consider cancelling events they have organised.

Søren Brostrøm, director of the Danish Health Authority, called on people to cancel any New Year's Eve events planned with anyone they did not see normally, “and consider going home early and early to bed,” he added. 

Denmark's national police chief, Thorkild Fogde, said that police would be out in large numbers on New Year's Eve to enforce the ban on gatherings of more than ten people. 

Central Copenhagen square to be closed, more police elsewhere

Police will shut Rådhuspladsen, the traditional centre of the country's celebrations, for New Years' Eve to prevent revellers from gathering.

READ ALSO: Police to close off Copenhagen's main square on New Year's Eve

“This year, we won't only be keeping distance from the fireworks, but also from one another,” Jørgen Bergen Skov, the chief of police in Copenhagen, said in a press release

The square will be fully closed from 4pm on December 31st until 9.30am on January 1st. 

Aarhus will not close off any outside public areas including the central square, but has confirmed extra police officers will be on patrol to enforce assembly limits in place due to the coronavirus. Denmark currently limits public gatherings to 10 people.

The Queen's speech

Some of the most-loved Danish New Year’s Eve celebrations can still be enjoyed this year, as they take place in the comfort of your own home. The most important of these is arguably the Queen’s speech.

Queen Margrethe’s annual message often touches on ethical and cultural topics, as well as the need for solidarity in society. The Queen also customarily takes time to thank Danish servicemen based abroad.

There will be no prizes for guessing the main topic of the Queen’s New Year speech in 2020, and it won’t even be the first time this year she has addressed the public on television over the matter.

In March, she gave a rare address over a specific issue, telling her subjects that attending gatherings would be both “inconsiderate” and “reckless” and could lead to the deaths of loved ones due to the arrival of the pandemic in Denmark.

“Right now we have to show our togetherness by keeping apart,” Queen Margrethe said on March 17th, adding that “sadly, not everyone is treating the situation with the gravity that it calls for.”

READ ALSO: Denmark's Queen appeals to Danes to keep apart in coronavirus address

Whatever she chooses to say this evening, you can be sure that once she signs off the 6pm speech with her famous “God save Denmark” (Gud bevare Danmark) line, people across the country will sit down to enjoy lovingly-prepared New Year’s Eve meals.

The 90th Birthday

Also known as Dinner for One, this ancient black-and-white comedy sketch is shown year after year in Danish homes as the old year ticks to a close.

No matter what else you do on New Year's Eve in Denmark, there is one thing nearly everyone shares: an 11-minute television interlude to watch 'Dinner for One'. Virtually unknown in the rest of the world, the British-made skit from 1963 is loved in Germany and Scandinavia – not least in Denmark and Sweden.

The popular catchphrases: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” – “The same procedure as every year, James!” might ring a little different this year. But the light humour and sense of familiarity could be an apt way to see off a year few will look back on fondly, while hoping for the return of better times in 2021.