As Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg got ready to take some time off for “juleferie” (Christmas holidays), he looked back on a year featuring a lot more turbulence than he might have expected. Several nagging issues threaten unity in his three-party coalition government, and Stoltenberg admits he’s not pleased with recent public opinion polls.
The polls, and a new government scorecard, show slippage in voter popularity almost across the board. Only three of Stoltenberg’s 20 ministers managed to improve their scores from June, and not by much.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre once again scored highest of Stoltenberg’s ministers, with 4.6 out of a possible 6 points, down from 4.8 in June. Next came Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen with 4, down from 4.1. The scores were based on interviews with 1,001 persons from December 9-15.
Overall, the Stoltenberg Government only scored 3.25 out of a possible 6 on newspaper Aftenposten’s scorecard, and less than 3 on Dagbladet’s. “No, we’re not satisfied with that,” Stoltenberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday, adding that he does care about the opinion polls and wishes they were higher.
“But we have shown before that we can turn bad polls into good election results,” Stoltenberg said. “At the same time, we can’t rest on our laurels, but must deliver political results.”
He worried that Norwegians have begun to take the country’s consistently strong economy for granted, and stressed that “it’s not just the oil” that’s kept unemployment and interest rates low and business activity high. “This is something we’ve succeeded with and it’s a big political project,” he told NRK. “We shall also improve and renew the world’s best welfare state. Right now that means expanding elder care and building further on good results from the schools.”
Stoltenberg, who personally scored 3.7 out of 6 on Aftenposten’s scorecard, faces a long list of unresolved problems, though, most currently an emotional debate on hospital closures. In addition his government is split on how to deal with predators in Norway and on whether to go along with an EU directive on storage of telecommunications data.
His government has also been rocked by delays with his ambitious carbon capture project at Mongstad, and massive outcries over his government’s decision to build power masts around the scenic Hardanger Fjord. Several of his ministers got caught up in controversies over acceptance of gifts, and one of the coalition partners, the Center Party, is under investigation for misappropriation of funds.
Then there’s the ongoing problems with Norway’s poor roads and train system, and the debate over whether to allow offshore oil exploration and drilling off scenic Lofoten. Speculation is high that Stoltenberg will make some ministerial changes after New Year.
But first it’s time for a Christmas and New Year break, at least out of office if not out of mind. While Norwegians complain and criticize, and Stoltenberg remains under constant pressure at home, at least he can enjoy another round of international surveys during the past year that once again rank Norway as among the best places in the world in which to live. That suggests Stoltenberg’s government, and those before his, have been doing something right.