Keynote address at the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting by Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen
Statsministerens tale til åbning af OECD’s årlige ministermøde (MCM) den 7. juni 2017
(Taletid: ca.15 minutter)
Ladies and gentlemen
It is an honor for me to stand here today. In the heart of Europe. In the halls of the OECD.
“I need not tell you [gentlemen] that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people”.
Those iconic words were expressed 70 years and two days ago. In the halls of Harvard University. In a famous speech by late Secretary of State George C. Marshall.
On the day of the speech the crowd in Harvard Yard did not expect to see history being made. But they did.
They witnessed a giant leap for the reconstruction of Europe. The vision of what would become the Marshall Plan.
Today – the people of Europe owe much of their progress to this great plan. And this great man.
The core of the plan was to help Europe resurrect from the ashes of war. And encourage our continent to cooperate instead of fighting. (It was) in this spirit (that) OECD was formed under the name of OEED.
Ever since, the OECD has played a key role in promoting peace and prosperity through economic cooperation.
Today, the world economy is more interlinked than ever. Globalization is at its peak. And in my mind the overall benefits cannot be overstated.
Let me give a couple of examples. Since 1990 infant mortality has been reduced by more than 40 percent worldwide.
The number of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced by more than one billion people.
Life expectancy is growing. The level of literacy has never been higher. More people than ever have access to electricity.
In short: Globalization drives a staggering technological development. A wider market access. And better living conditions for the vast majority of the global population.
…For a vast majority. Yes.
But not for all. Because as globalization is increasing – the gap between the fortunate and less fortunate seems to widen.
Last summer, I was reminded about that at two separate occasions.
The first one took place in my own living room
My oldest son, Bergur, had just graduated from Copenhagen Business School.
To celebrate, he invited some of his fellow students for dinner in our apartment.
I was appointed head chef of the evening.
And while I was cooking and serving food for the guests, I couldn’t help noticing their optimism. None of them feared the future. They were full of dreams and ambitions.
Some days later, I was biking with a group of kids who are a part of my foundation established to help boys on the edge of society. Boys, who have suffered many defeats in life. And in school. Now left with nowhere to go.
They were talking about the future as well. One hoped for an apprenticeship. Another had just received his first good grade - ever.
These boys had dreams as well. But their dreams far too often turn into dead ends. Because of lacking qualifications.
This experience reminded me, that the last group is in serious risk of being lost. Now more than ever. Because there is almost no jobs left for people who can’t read an instruction manual. Or calculate a percentage.
That is the flipside of globalization. And if we want globalization to progress, we cannot neglect this issue anymore.
We cannot neglect, that many people feel worse off as a result of global dynamics.
We cannot neglect, that to millions of people – globalization equals job insecurity.
And we cannot neglect, that these people will not buy in on globalization if they feel the price is too high.
The good question is: How do we respond?
It is a question that holds many answers. And no simple solutions.
But to me, the basic answer was given 70 years ago, by George Marshall.
We need to take concrete action. Make sure, no one is left behind.
And to me, there are at least three important things we need to do:
First of all, we have to realize, that the challenges of globalization also need a national response.
Not in a sense of increased protectionism. Or self-sufficiency.
But by making the reforms needed to handle the shifting demands.
Initiatives that ensure job creation. Instead of job preservation.
This is not easy. It takes courage. But there is no way around it.
To me job creation is by far the most effective answer to those who fear globalization.
This brings me to my second point: Our societies, labor markets and companies need to adapt to future demands.
The best way is to provide people with the skills needed to get a new job, when the old one disappears.
Therefore, we need to provide lifelong education at all levels – to all people.
And right now, I’m most concerned about those, who have least possibilities. Therefore, my government has recently proposed a combined set of initiatives targeting the group of pupils, who do worst in school.
Because those kidsare the ones in serious risk of being left behind in the long run. And if they do – they will be among those who pledge for more walls. Walls against globalization.
Instead of walls, we need to give them a bridge to the future. That’s where social security comes in.
Denmark has a high degree of social security, financed by high taxes. This provides us with both advantages and disadvantages.
But one of the great advantages is that it supports a flexible labor market.
For instance, companies in Denmark can easily hire and fire workers.
This allows employers to quickly change and reallocate resources. And it is accepted because it comes with a fair degree of security. This approach is often referred to as “flexicurity”.
Each country has to find its own way of doing things.
But I’m sure of this: If we do not care about those, who are in risk of losing from globalization. Then no one will truly win in the long run.
This brings me to my third and last point. We need to ensure further cooperation.
We need more not fewer international trade agreements which provide a level playing field. And they should include provisions on labour, social and environmental issues.
We need to increase co-operation on issues of market distorting behaviour, tax avoidance and irresponsible business conduct.
We need a solid international response to climate change, poverty reduction, security and migration. Across nations. Across continents. Across beliefs.
But we also need to increase cooperation on a local level. On a national level. And there are many ways to do this.
This spring, I have put together a national Danish partnership called The Disruption Council.
It consists of both labor unions, employer associations, entrepreneurs, CEOs and ministers.
The point is to look at the challenges and possibilities together. And especially to make the unions and the employers join forces.
Because at the end of the day, they are in the same boat. On the same ocean. Facing the same winds of change. And the occasional hurricanes.
Luckily, we already have a long tradition of such cooperation on labor market issues.
And as a consequence Danish employers and labor unions are used to taking responsibility. To cooperate. And – perhaps most importantly: To be constructive. Find solutions.
This has proved to be of great value – not at least to the one’s in danger of losing their job because of globalization.
The OECD is in my view uniquely placed to facilitate the search for answers in this very complex debate on globalisation.
With its fact-based approach and vast knowledge base, the OECD can inspire member countries and international organisations as we debate the challenges and opportunities of globalisation.
Ladies and gentlemen.
When George Marshall held his famous speech, he brought new hope to a Europe at its knees after the war.
And he did so, because he took action. Took care of people who needed it.
Today, we need to do the same. Hope is not enough – action is required.
I need not tell you, the situation is challenging.
The people of the world are looking at us – their representatives – for solutions. And we cannot look the other way.
If we do not close the gaps between the fortunate kids at my dinner table – and those less fortunate kids on their bikes, who could barely keep up – we will all end up losing.
There are no easy solutions here. But there are solutions at hand.
Let’s join forces and make globalization work for all people. Let us be as visionary as George Marshall was.