Center Party keen to close borders

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Norway’s rural-oriented Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) shocked even its sister party in Sweden over the weekend when it voted to promote withdrawal from the so-called “Schengen agreement” that has opened borders among various European countries. The party also wants to replace Norway’s economic agreement with the European Union, in addition to securing high tariffs and subsidies that protect Norwegian agriculture and keep food prices high.

Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete (center) and her deputies Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (left) and Ola Borten Moe have been trying to mount a more offensive and united front but splits were visible during their weekend national meeting. Less than 5 percent of Norwegian voters support the party, but it still gets a lot of attention in Norwegian politics. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete (center) and her deputies Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (left) and Ola Borten Moe have been trying to mount a more offensive and united front but splits were visible during their weekend national meeting. Less than 5 percent of Norwegian voters support the party, but it still gets a lot of attention in Norwegian politics. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Center Party leaders failed in their attempts to moderate the demands of their anti-Schengen members, who claim that Norway’s participation in Schengen has resulted in more crime and narcotics entering the country. Led by Sandra Borch of the Center Party’s youth organization and Jenny Klinge, a Member of Parliament on the conservative side of the party, a majority of party members voted to seek withdrawal from Schengen and reinstatement of passport control at all border crossings. They think that will hinder the entry of “organized foreign criminal bands” into Norway.

“I was shocked,” Sandra Lindström, international secretary of the Swedish Centerpartiet, told newspaper Aftenposten.  Lindström was monitoring her Norwegian sister party’s annual national meeting in the mountains at Loen over the weekend, and said she found the proposal to essentially try to close Norway’s borders to the freer flow of labour and goods both “shocking and disturbing.”

‘Hostile towards foreigners’
Lindström said “we hadn’t expected” that their sister party would approve an effort to withdraw from Schengen, especially because of the reason for it: “Pulling out of Schengen because they’re afraid of crime from foreign gangs seems hostile towards foreigners.” She said only Sweden’s most anti-immigration party, Sverigedemocraterna, uses the “same sort of rhetoric.”

Center Party leaders ended up dismissing such criticism and publicly backing the result of their membership’s vote. “They (their Swedish colleagues) can believe what they like,” party leader Liv Signe Navarsete told Aftenposten. “But in Norway we’ve had strong growth in crime, the police are worried, and something must be done at the borders. The party has responded that we must pull out of Schengen. Now we have to look at how to do that.”

Some party members also want to limit labour immigration to Norway, but party leadership managed to thwart that effort. The party did vote, however, to demand a national referendum on whether Norway should continue to honor its economic agreement with the European Union, the so-called EØS-avtale that provides access to EU markets. The Center Party thinks it’s too liberal and wants to scrap it, too.

Slim chances
It’s unlikely the party will succeed in its mission to close the borders, but Navarsete claimed a pull-out “will be a theme” during new negotiations among government coalition members if they win a third term after national elections in September. Current public opinion polls suggest that’s unlikely as well.

In other voting at the Center Party’s annual meeting, a majority agreed, among other things, to support a military draft for women as well as men, to ban the serving of alcoholic drinks after 3am, to reform the current regional health care delivery system, and to increase the amount of inheritance that’s tax-free.

As expected, party members also agreed to ban oil exploration and production off Lofoten and Vesterålen in northern Norway, to protect fishing grounds and the scenic beauty of the area. One of the party’s deputy leaders who currently serves as oil minister, Ola Borten Moe, has wanted to open up the offshore area for oil activity but suspended his effort when he realized the majority in his own party was against him.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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