NEWS ANALYSIS/UPDATED: It’s entirely unclear whether Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her government will still be standing when Norway’s Parliament re-opens next autumn. Not only did she need to fend off complaints over her support for boxing just after this year’s parliamentary sesson opened, Solberg also needs to be ready with some hard punches from the right, to defend her government’s state budget and remain in office.
Monday’s ceremonial opening of Parliament was especially important this year because it launches the last session of the four-year term that began in 2013, when Solberg’s Conservatives won enough votes in the national election to form a minority coalition government. Now her critics are stirring up a “crisis” mood, predicting that her coalition’s proposed budget won’t win support in Parliament.
“The government’s survival is at stake,” intoned newspaper Dagsavisen, which traditionally supports the Labour Party, on Tuesday. “There’s always a crisis mood during budget negotiations when the country has a minority government. It’s highly unusual, though, when the crisis loom even before their state budget is put forward.”
Accused of ‘greenwashing’ the budget
The newspaper’s editorial writer was referring to the decision by Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen of the Progress Party to release the so-called “fuel tax portion” of their proposed budget early. It’s the most potentially inflammatory part of their budget as it tries to balance calls for a “greener” budget that would discourage driving to reduce carbon emissions, while also trying not to hit Norwegian motorists’ pocketbooks too hard. Solberg and Jensen declared that their proposals for minimal fuel tax increases and some reductions in other driving costs were non-negotiable.
That means that if they don’t ultimately win support for their proposals in Parliament, Solberg and her government will need to resign, clearing the way for opposition leader Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party to take over as prime minister and form a new government, less than a year before the next election. Much of the debate that could lead to that will be over how “green” the state budget really is. Solberg suggests it will be the greenest ever presented, while others accuse her government of “greenwashing” it.
Formal debate began on Tuesday over the content of government declarations made during Monday’s ceremonial opening, and debate over the budget has now taken off. Economists generally gave it good marks while newspaper commentators called it a good, expansive budget for an election year.
While King Harald stumbled and nearly fell when leaving the Parliament’s opening ceremony, Solberg is determined not to. She stresses the ongoing need for reform and restructuring of government functions to preserve Norway’s welfare state. She’s getting some help from new figures showing economic recovery but her opponents were ready to pounce. Støre has claimed that Solberg’s government has few and poor new ideas: “They describe the many challenges we face, which are easy to agree with, but put forth very little about what we should do.” Other opposition politicians are ready to attack everything from what they see as too much use of Norway’s oil money to taking in too few refugees.
Amidst all the budget hype, Solberg also had to answer questions about boxing during a break in the annual festivities tied to the opening of parliament. Solberg has been widely criticized over the enthusiasm she showed at Norway’s first professional boxing match in 35 years on Saturday, during which Norwegian boxing star Cecilia Brækhus knocked out her French opponent in just over three minutes. Solberg’s government had lifted the regulations that banned boxing without helmets and Brækhus could finally box at home.
“I can understand that folks have different views on professional boxing, and boxing as a sport,” Solberg told NRK when confronted with the complaints over her attendance at Saturday’s match in Oslo. Many Norwegians and opposition politicians didn’t like seeing Solberg’s jubilation over a sport where participants can end up knocked out and bloody, and with serious head injuries.
“But Cecilia Brækhus, who was named as sports star of the year and has also been hailed as one of our foremost boxers, can now box at home and I think it’s legitimate to hail her,” Solberg continued. Solberg noted that she also shows up at ice hockey, football and handball matches, among other sporting events.
“In a case which the Conservatives have promoted for 25 years (lifting the boxing ban), it would have been more strange if I had not been in place (at Brækhus’ match),” Solberg said. The prime minister later drew laughter on the floor of Parliament after the leader of one of her support parties, the rather slim Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats, said he felt like he was going into a boxing ring on key political issues. “But then you’ll never meet me,” the admittedly heavy Solberg responded, “because I’m in an entirely different weight class.”