Refugee deal stirs critics left and right

Bookmark and Share

NEWS ANALYSIS: Critics are claiming that Members of Parliament sought refuge themselves when they compromised Wednesday over how many refugees Norway should take in from Syria. Finance Minister and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen will be playing a critical role in assessing a deal that satisfies neither the left- nor the right-wing parties and still threatens the country’s conservative government coalition.

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, now also Norway's finance minister, could be encouraged by results of a new public opinion poll showing a solid gain in support from voters. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, also Norway’s finance minister, will play a major role in ultimately deciding whether her party can remain in government, carrying out a refugee program it doesn’t support. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Several county leaders from Jensen’s conservative Progress Party, one of the two parties making up the governing coalition, were blasting the deal struck Wednesday for Norway to accept another 8,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. Others point out the real number amounts to just 3,500 over the next two years, down from the 10,000 that parties including Labour, the Liberals, the Christian Democrats, the Socialist Left  (SV), the Greens and the Center Party were demanding.

‘Too many’ versus ‘not enough’
Critics on the left complained the final figure wasn’t nearly enough given the severity of the refugee crisis. SV’s leader Audun Lysbakken walked out of the final negotiations on Wednesday, saying he couldn’t support taking in only 8,000 over three years instead of 10,000 over two. Norway can afford to offer more help, he claimed, and, as details of the settlement emerged, he especially criticized an agreement to help finance the new refugee program by taking NOK 250 million from Norway’s foreign aid budget. That money, he argued, was supposed to be used for other development projects.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, several county leaders for the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) called the refugee deal “irresponsible” and totally at odds with the party’s decision not to accept any additional refugees beyond those already in Norway or agreed earlier. Ronny Berg, leader of the party’s chapter in the northern county of Finnmark, said on national radio Thursday morning that the refugee deal can have consequences for the party’s participation in the minority government coalition, just like deputy party leader Per Sandberg warned on Wednesday. Berg said he feels “overrun” by the Conservatives, who lead the coalition.

‘Quite serious situation’
“This is a very special and quite serious situation,” Berg said on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He claimed the Conservatives and the government’s two support parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, had already effectively broken off cooperation with Frp. “Is it okay with them, then, that Frp also breaks agreements that form the basis of the government cooperation, with no consequences?”

Frank Sve, Frp county leader in Møre og Romsdal, called the agreement “unclear and unrealistic” because local communities “can’t accommodate so many refugees.” Leif Eriksen of Frp’s Østfold County chapter called the refugee deal “absolutely terrible,” arguing that refugees should be helped where they are instead of being relocated to a far-off country like Norway.

‘Unclear,’ but ‘we can live with this’
Other Frp county leaders weren’t so harsh, though, and party leader Siv Jensen will be listening to all of them as the party’s board evaluates the refugee deal. Frp had pulled out of negotiations on it last week, so was not involved in the compromise. Frp’s government partner, the Conservatives, were, and approve of it. “We can live with this,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservatives, said Wednesday as she and others tried to downplay any government crisis.

It’s not certain Jensen and her party can live with it. “Right now there are many aspects of the agreement between (the other) parties that are unclear,” Jensen told reporters on Wednesday. She highlighted at least one small victory for her party, in that only 500 refugees, and not 5,000 as initially demanded, will be welcomed to Norway this year. The parties, she claimed, “recognized that receiving 5,000 couldn’t be done, and that resettling them is difficult.”

‘Not a question of government participation’
Jensen said, however, that the agreement itself would not prompt Frp to leave the government coalition. “This is, at this point, not a question about continued government participation,” she said. The majority of more moderate Frp members still believe their party can be more effective in position than in opposition, even though its support in public opinion polls has taken a dive since the election in 2013.

It can be good indication of compromise when no one is completely pleased with a result. With Sandberg now claiming that the refugee deal won’t be thoroughly analyzed until a national board meeting in October, after municipal elections in September are over, the government seems in no immediate danger of falling and Solberg can likely keep her coalition intact, at least until the autumn.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund