Prime Minister Erna Solberg started off her annual pre-holiday meeting with Norwegian reporters by lamenting all the horror and misery in Syria, before launching into the trials of the budget crisis and other challenges at home in Norway. In summary, she’s looking forward to a better New Year.
Solberg, who discussed her government’s “demanding” autumn on Wednesday just as officials at troubled Telenor were doing the same, characteristically looked for the bright spots but said it was “not possible” to speak on Wednesday without acknowledging “one of the worst tragedies the world has seen” that was unfolding in Aleppo. She placed much of the responsibility on Russia and other countries that have supported Assad’s regime in Syria, adding that there have been “clear violations” of the rules of war. She called it “a sad day for the world community.”
Turning to matters closer to home, the prime minister referred to terrorist attacks in Europe, the uncertainty tied to Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the challenges of technology that’s developing more quickly than ever before. But she also noted that Norwegian officials were already holding meetings with their British counterparts to discuss how trade between them on a bilateral basis, instead of through the EU, would develop.
Solberg said she was glad her government finally won approval for a state budget, a long process that involved months of drama and threatened to topple her cabinet. She noted how the budget sets priorities for the year ahead, and can help address another source of uncertainty in the form of Norway’s own economic restructuring after oil prices collapsed.
Yet another source of tension this year was the government’s new defense plan that also has won support in Parliament. Many battles remain, as local communities fight to retain defense presence at a time of consolidation and reorganization.
She also addressed all the tension over asylum and immigration issues in the wake of last year’s refugee influx. “Aside from the tax portion of climate measures (in the state budget), immigration is the most difficult area” regarding her minority government coalition’s cooperation, both between her Conservative Party and the Progress Party but also with their coalition’s two support parties in Parliament. In the area of immigration, she said, both the Progress Party and the Conservatives have policies that are different from those of the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.
“When we’re in a phase where many (unsuccessful asylum seekers) shall be sent out (of the country), it’s difficult,” Solberg said. She denied that the Progress party’s controversial Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug and her “style” are what makes cooperation with the two support parties demanding.
“We must admit that it’s the deportations of Afghan minors that’s the theme of discussions,” Solberg said. “It’s easy to say it’s about style, and some try to use that, but this actually is all about policies.” She declined to comment in detail about how demanding the autumn was for the relationship just between her party and the Progress Party. “They have ambitions for their issues,” she said, “and we have for ours.” She claimed that she has viewed the Progress Party as making some solid contributions on the climate front, to help reduce carbon emissions.
Asked whether she thought the government cooperation had been better or worse in the last half of this, Solberg said she thought it had been “just as it has been.”
She wouldn’t say whether she may make any ministerial changes in what’s been a relatively stable government. She noted that her Christmas wish list still includes a four-party coalition in which the Liberals and Venstre would join her coalition. That appears highly unlikely at this point. She said she “will be the last one to give up” on her dream of full government cooperation. Her government managed to survive all the turbulence of the fall, and she, at least, will still be the one delivering the prime minister’s annual New Year’s address to the nation, always broadcast nationwide on New Year’s Day.