'Times are good in Denmark'

Good economic times are the best time to prepare for the future, the PM says in his New Year's address to the nation

Holding his fifth New Year's address to the nation, the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, emphasised the need for welfare reforms, but said that good economic times afforded the nation to implement them gradually.

'Times are good in Denmark. And it is exactly when times are good that we need to make the necessary decisions that are decisive for our country's future. Because that is the way that we can make the good times last longer,' Rasmussen said.

Speaking about the need to reform the country's retirement system was a surprising element of Rasmussen's speech. Political observers have criticised his rejection of the Welfare Commission's proposal last month to reform the retirement system, but in the speech, Rasmussen took on the topic head on.

'We need to gradually postpone the time when we retire if the national economy is going to run smoothly,' Rasmussen said. 'More Danes live longer while fewer are in the labour market. In the future, more Danes need to stay longer in the labour market and more immigrants need to take jobs.'

'Fortunately, we are in a favourable situation. We do not need to rush to take emergency measures. With our healthy economy, we can implement the necessary changes gradually over several years,' Rasmussen said.

One of the more sensitive issues this past year involved daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten printing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. While ambassadors from several Muslim countries asked Rasmussen to intercede, the prime minister refused.

The prime minister reaffirmed his position that the government had no right to meddle in the free speech of media and individuals but offered an outstretched hand to minorities.

'Let me make this quite clear: I condemn any statement or action that attempts to demonise groups of people on the basis of their religion or ethnic background,' he said. 'Those things don't belong in a society that is built on respect for the individual.'

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