Speech/statement | Date: 12/01/2009
Broadcast by NRK and TV2 1 January 2009.
The new year is just a few hours old.
It lies before us, shiny and hopeful. New and fresh, and full of opportunities. But bringing with it challenges and surprises too.
There is not much we can be sure about at the start of a new year. But one thing we do know: there will be both joys and sorrows ahead, as we turn the pages of the calendar.
At the same time, we should all allow ourselves to hope for the best. For ourselves and those closest to us. For our neighbours and friends. For our country – and for our planet.
We also had many hopes as we went into the year that has just passed. Some came to fruition. Others were dashed and never came true.
But how important it is to hope! Hope is one of the greatest things we have. We have to dare to hope even when prospects are grim.
Over the last few days, the hope of peace in the Middle East has again taken a knock. Once again we are shocked by news and images of unbelievable human suffering from this part of the world.
Nothing moves us more deeply than the plight of innocent civilians who are caught up in hostilities. Children who are killed as they are playing or just going about their daily lives. Weapons being turned on ordinary people.
We deeply deplore any use of armed force that hits civilians, whether it is a case of arbitrary rockets or massive air attacks.
We are now stepping up our humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in Gaza.
Our message is clear. Norway supports the unambiguous demand made by the UN. All use of armed force in and around Gaza must stop.
This message is to both parties to the conflict. To Israelis and to Palestinians.
Peace for the peoples of the Middle East cannot be won by the force of arms. There is only one path to real peace:
An end to the occupation.
Negotiation of a lasting peace.
The security that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve.
The use of force must stop.
Emergency assistance must be allowed in.
The civilian population has suffered enough.
I must admit that I have given a great deal of thought to this particular New Year speech. I have been weighing how best to describe the consequences of the international financial crisis for Norway.
On the one hand, it is important to portray the gravity of the situation. There is no doubt that we are seeing a dramatic downturn in the world economy. Total production in developed countries is in decline for the first time since 1945.
Half of what we produce in this country is sold abroad. If people in other countries buy less of what we have to sell, Norwegian companies will have to lay off or dismiss employees.
Now, people in other countries are buying fewer cars and less furniture; they are building fewer houses and factories than before. This is already being felt at our production sites in Raufoss and Karmøy, in Mosjøen and Sykkylven.
We therefore have to be prepared for a rise in unemployment as 2009 proceeds.
This is serious.
Our job is to do what we can, ensure that as few people as possible lose their jobs, and that all who do find new employment as quickly as possible.
Work for all is our first priority.
On the other hand, we must not paint an unnecessarily bleak picture or be overly cautious and pessimistic. Pessimism can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is therefore important to focus on everything that is positive at the start of the new year.
If we look at the world around us, we see that we are in a good situation. Norway is still a land of opportunity.
Almost all of us will still have secure jobs and good incomes in the coming year. Very many will receive reliable state benefits and pensions. Most people have had a pay rise.
At the same time, interest rates are falling. This is being felt. A large majority of Norwegians will have more purchasing power and more money to spend at the start of this year than they had last year.
We should not be overly anxious or cautious. In the coming year, most of us will continue to live as normal. And we should behave as normal too. Otherwise we may exacerbate the problems.
But we must not forget that, regardless of the financial crisis, there are always people who find it hard to pay their bills and meet essential expenses.
It can be difficult for people who are comfortably off to understand what it is like to have little money. It is therefore important that we seek at all times to do more for those who have least.
One of the greatest achievements in Norway has been our low level of unemployment. It is this that is now under threat. Unemployment is a catastrophe both for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole. It hits arbitrarily and unfairly. It increases social differences.
For those who lose their jobs, it is little comfort to know that most people still have work.
Unemployment affects both our ability to create and our ability to share. This is why we have implemented measures to secure jobs and safeguard the Norwegian economy.
I would like to thank the Storting for the good cooperation, which enabled us to agree quickly on a wide-reaching rescue package for the banks. This was crucial in a difficult situation.
I will attach importance to a continued close dialogue with the various parties in the Storting on new measures to address the crisis. This is a time for pulling together.
Norway’s starting point is better than that of most other countries. Our economy is sound. Never before have so many been in work.
Unemployment has been halved since 2005. We have economic reserves that we can draw on, and now we are doing so. We can do this because we have not used these reserves before. Because we held back when times were good, we have more to draw on now that times are hard. This is a traditional Norwegian approach.
And if you raise interest rates in good times, you can lower them in bad ones. That is what is happening now.
As the old saying goes, “It’s when the weather is fine that you should mend your roof”. That is what we have done. And we are benefiting now.
Besides, we have a strong tradition of joining forces in this country. A culture of making an effort together.
The Norwegian language is unique in having a word for working together for the common good – dugnad. It is a valuable aspect of our national character. And we need it now more than ever. Between employees and employers. Between citizens and the authorities. Between individuals and the community.
The welfare society provides a safety net that is particularly good to have in times such as these. We will not experiment with our security. It is the mainstay of the Norwegian model.
At the same time, harder times also provide new opportunities. It is vital to identify them and seize them.
For a number of years, Norway has had a shortage of labour. This is a paradoxical problem, because everyone wants a high level of employment. But there have been too few hands available to take on important tasks that need to be done.
Now that situation has changed. There may be many idle hands. There may be more unemployed. And the tasks are still waiting to be tackled.
If we act wisely now, we can enjoy a two-fold gain. Idle hands can be put to work. Tasks can be completed. We are therefore going to increase public efforts to make Norway even better.
As of today, the local authorities will receive additional funding to do more of the work that we can see is waiting to be done. Schools and nursing homes need refurbishing. Roads need maintenance. Sports facilities need to be opened. When you see scaffolding on public buildings and facilities all over the country, you will know that we are well on the way.
In the environmental area too, it is important to translate the challenges posed by the crisis into opportunities. Improvements to the railways and other forms of public transport are both financial crisis measures and environmental measures.
We cannot let economic uncertainties undermine our efforts and ambitions regarding climate policy. On the contrary, we must take action and ensure that the necessary emission cuts are made.
There is a danger that the problems with the economy will overshadow the huge challenges we are facing in terms of man-made climate change. For we must remember that the financial crisis will pass; the climate crisis will take much longer to resolve.
The world cannot choose between jobs and the environment. We have to achieve economic development and at the same time ensure a clean environment.
That too will bring about a two-fold gain. And this is precisely what sustainable development is all about.
Now that the financial crisis is demanding so much of our attention, there is a risk that those who have the least will be pushed into the background. We must promise one another that we will not give up the deep Norwegian commitment to help the world’s poor.
Let us maintain our efforts for those who have least. We will continue to provide assistance where infant mortality is high, and where giving birth is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do.
And we will continue our efforts to ensure that every child in the world is vaccinated.
It is important to remember that while some aspects of our lives may be threatened by this crisis, there are others that it cannot touch. It cannot undermine the security we can enjoy in our day-to-day interaction with those we are close to. It cannot diminish friendship and love.
Statistics for economic growth can tell us a good deal about the society we live in, but they are unable to quantify a child’s laughter or the sound of children playing or the joy we take in childlike creativity. Statistics have little to say about the level of artistic expression in a society.
There is much human insight and confidence in the future to be found in these words of the Czech writer and politician Vaclav Havel:
“I am not an optimist... . Nor am I a pessimist... . I just carry hope in my heart.”
Without hope we will never reach our goals.
This evening, I would like to send greetings to all those who are seeking to eradicate destitution and poverty on every continent.
Again, at the beginning of this year, the world is witness to wars and unresolved conflicts. These are hostilities that we cannot ignore. In DR Congo, in Darfur, in Zimbabwe, the situation seems hopeless. But we must never give up hope, never give up our efforts to ensure that hope wins through even here.
These conflicts affect us, and we have learned that they can also have a direct impact on us. Terrorist attacks and large refugee flows are among the consequences of conflict and destitution. This is one of the reasons that it is in our interests to contribute to peace and development in the world.
I would therefore like to send special greetings to the Norwegian soldiers and aid workers in Afghanistan. Our military and civil personnel are doing a tremendous job in this long suffering country.
They are giving their time and energy to a cause they believe in. And some of them have paid the highest price of all: their own life.
We pay tribute to their memory with respect and gratitude.
I would like to commend the many veterans who are serving at home and in operations abroad, facing considerable risk and personal strain.
I would like to send greetings to all our other countrymen who are serving outside Norway’s borders.
And greetings to all of you who are on duty this evening – the first of the year. It is easy to forget the many thousands of people who are at work when we sleep or are on holiday: those in hospitals and fire stations, at power plants or driving snowploughs, or doing the many other vital jobs that enable the wheels of our society to go on turning while the rest of us enjoy time off work.
I would also like to send greetings to all of those who volunteer their time to help people in need of assistance and support in their daily lives.
We would like to express our gratitude to Their Majesties the King and Queen for their tireless efforts for our country and its people. We extend to them and the rest of the Royal Family our best wishes for the new year.
And to all of you at home, I wish you a very happy new year – full of hope and optimism.