Solberg’s New Year
Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s address to Norway, 2018Things are looking brighter for Norway.
Since I held my New Year speech last year, the number of job seekers registered with the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV) has fallen by almost 14,000. More families can start the New Year with a sense of security and optimism.
The dramatic fall in the price of oil hit us hard. Ships were laid up. Companies went bankrupt. Thousands lost their jobs.
I met many of those who were affected. They told me about all the applications they had sent, but without success. They shared their feelings of uncertainty about the future. Worries about mortgage payments, fears of long-term unemployment.
In Norway, we are used to pulling together when we have to. That is what we did this time, too. Employers and trade unions agreed on moderate wage settlements, to keep the price of Norwegian goods and services down. A lower exchange rate for the krone also helped a lot.
Many of those who were out of work one or two years ago are now in full-time work. But we haven’t solved all the problems. There are still people who are struggling to find work. The welfare society will cost more in the future, and revenues will increase at a lesser rate than we have been used to.
And to top it all, we must prepare ourselves for a very different future. A future where modernization and digitization of the workplace really take off. And where growth will have to be created in green and climate-friendly industries.
We must ensure that the society we pass on to our children and grandchildren is in at least as good a state as the society we inherited from our parents. This is why we need to create a sustainable welfare society.
It is today’s entrepreneurs, researchers, and talented company employees who need to come up with ideas and create opportunities.
As politicians, we must play our part, by ensuring good schooling and vocational training. A tax system that encourages investment in Norwegian workplaces. And as little red tape as possible.
In addition, we need people who are willing to take risks and invest their savings in start-up companies. And finally, we need a mindset in Norway that allows people both to succeed and to fail.
In almost all workplaces, tasks will change. We will also have to change if we are to keep up with developments. More of us will have to stay in work for longer, but our qualifications will become outdated more quickly. Many of us will therefore have to top-up our education, or maybe even re-train from scratch.
We will work to make this possible. Our aim is clear: to ensure that no one in the Norwegian workforce becomes surplus to requirements.
Throughout Norway’s history, there have been changes that have left their mark on our society. Last year, we marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which was initiated by Martin Luther’s confrontation with the church of the time. The Reformation highlighted the importance of the individual. And it promoted the development of freedom of expression, education, and science. Without these values, our society would be completely different.
It is easy to take these values for granted in our everyday lives, but we should try not to. Our democratic society is not currently under threat, but it is being challenged in various ways. Our freedom and our liberal values are the most important things we have. We must always be ready to defend them.
We must combat radicalization and recruitment to violent Islamism and right-wing extremism. Norway is a peaceful country. Nevertheless, the effects of conflicts elsewhere in the world are visible here, too.
Earlier this autumn, I visited Haugeåsen secondary school in Fredrikstad. The school has a special course for young people on the topic of radicalization. They discuss, for instance, how the words we use in the public debate affect us. I met mature and thoughtful young people who want to fight radicalization with knowledge and open debate. Many people could learn from this.
We must strengthen the resilience of each and every young person, so that they can stand up against those who seek to lure them with the promise of simple solutions to complex problems.
In order to do this, we also need free and independent media that can help us to distinguish between what is important and what is unimportant, and between what is true and what is untrue. We need free and independent media that can help us to understand that there are often many sides to a story.
Many of us grew up in homes where there was always a newspaper or two lying on the kitchen table. Today, it’s often a mobile phone that is lying there. Will our children learn to keep up-to-date with current affairs in the same way as before? Will they learn to be open to counter-arguments? And to trust proven facts? This is perhaps even more important now, at a time when conspiracy theories and false news stories can spread more easily.
To those of you who are parents, my message is this: the best way to bring up young people to be discerning and critical citizens is to lead by example. We should remember this when we are sitting at the kitchen table and when we are using social media.
This is important for safeguarding our values and our democracy.
Everyone in our society should be able to enjoy the freedom that we value so highly. But some people have to fight hard to do so.
Last year, a number of girls and women with minority backgrounds stepped bravely into the public debate. This has not been without its costs. Several of them have experienced serious threats and harassment. Some of them call themselves the “the girls with no shame.” In some communities, shame, or what we call negative social control, is like a prison in which girls, in particular, may be sentenced to spend their whole lives. We have fought against this for a long time, but culture is difficult to change.
Now, we are seeing the emergence of a new generation of girls with minority backgrounds. A freedom generation. A freedom generation who want to decide for themselves what path to take, who to flirt with at parties, and who to share their lives with. They should know that they have my, and our, full support.
I expect there are some worried parents watching this. I know that you love your children. I therefore hope that you can also see how important it is to show them trust. Let them try, fail, and grow. Focus more on their happiness than on what other people might think. Then your children will do well in Norway.
Change can be difficult, but it often leads to something better. A society that is undergoing change needs something to unite around. In Norway, our beloved King and Queen fill this role.
Last year, the whole country celebrated the King and Queen’s 80th birthdays. They have reached an impressive age, and yet they still manage to view today’s society with open-mindedness and tolerance. They stand for all that is constant, while at the same time encouraging us to be open to—and embrace—new developments.
I send my greetings to the Royal Family, and would like to thank them for being such an inspiration to us all.
I would also like to send my greetings to Norwegians who are currently abroad. Soldiers serving in other countries, aid workers, diplomats, and others who are doing an important job, and working to defend the values we believe in. Many of you are probably missing your families, friends, and partners in this holiday period. You can be sure that we are thinking of you, and that we are grateful for the work you are doing.
We should be pleased that things are looking brighter for Norway now. This means that we can start the new year and address the challenges we face with a sense of optimism. Happy New Year!
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 12, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.