Norway’s rural-oriented Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) presented two key portions of its election platform on Friday that opponents claim will “punish” foreigners who have residence permission in Norway but don’t hold Norwegian citizenship. The party itself also stands to gain more power on at least one of the proposals, but claims it’s only trying to make citizenship more important.
“We believe that if you’re going to live in Norway over time, folks should also seek Norwegian citizenship and it should make a difference to be a citizen,” Ola Borten Moe, a former oil minister who leads the Center Party’s program committee, said on Norwegian Broadcasting’s popular political talk show Politisk Kvarter on Friday.
Foreign residents who lack Norwegian citizenship are already not allowed to vote in national elections. Now Moe and his Center Party don’t even want them to be included in the population counts that determine how many representatives each geographic area of Norway has in Parliament.
Since the vast majority of permanent foreign residents in Norway live in Norwegian cities, especially in Oslo, their exclusion would potentially leave the Center Party with more Members of Parliament itself. That’s because the small, protectionist party’s consituency mostly comes from farmers and others living in the outlying districts that the party champions. Fewer representatives from the cities and more from the districts would likely give the Center Party, which only won 5.5 percent of the vote in the last national election in 2013, more seats in Parliament.
Moe insisted the proposed change would only mean that the distribution of parliamentary seats (mandater, or mandates) would be based on the actual numbers of Norwegians who have the right to vote for them. Moe said he thinks it’s “strange” that people who currently don’t have the right to vote in parliamentary elections are now included in the counts used to determine parliamentary representation.
The proposal, sure to be viewed as highly offensive by those who already are subject to taxation without representation in Norway except in local elections (where resident non-citizens can vote), met immediate resistance from the Christian Democrats party, which otherwise often sides with the Center Party on tariff and subsidy protection for farmers.
“I am a Member of Parliament for those who have voting rights and those who don’t have voting rights,” said an indignant Olaug Bollestad of the Christian Democrats. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand and think that those who don’t have citizenship shouldn’t have any form of representation. They must be counted.”
Also ‘punishing’ religious organizations
Bollestad also bashed Moe’s party’s other proposal, which would change how the Norwegian state currently grants financial support to religious organizations based on membership numbers. The Center Party only wants to allow religious organizations to secure state support based on the number of members of their congregations who are citizens. Church, synagogue or mosque members who are permanent residents but do not hold citizenship would no longer count.
Moe claimed that Norway “probably has the most generous program” in the world regarding state financial support for all faiths. It means that not only the former state church (now known as the Norwegian Church) can receive state support but all religious groups can. Exclusion of members who are not citizens would mean huge financial losses for the Catholic Church in Norway, for example, various mosques and other faiths that attract new immigrants be they from Poland, the Philippines, the Middle East or the US. The Catholic Church has been in trouble for padding its memberships lists with immigrants from Catholic countries. Moe wouldn’t say whether he was singling out the Catholics, only opting to acknowedge that “police charges have been filed.”
Moe argued once again that his party’s proposal would make Norwegian citizenship “more important” for foreign residents, and make citizenship more attractive. It would be “good for everyone” if more foreign-born residents became citizens and thus “more tied to Norway,” he said. Moe claimed it “should mean something” to live in Norway and choose Norwegian citizenship, and, apparently, less for those “who choose to hold on to their originaly citizenship whether it be German, Swedish or American.”
Making citizenship ‘more important than faith’
Bollestad of the Christian Democrats pounced again, bashing the Center Party’s proposal as making citizenship “more important than people’s faith, and faith can mean so much to people when they arrive in a new country.” Bollestad said that religious congregations provide many immigrants with a “sense of belonging” and a social network, and help immigrants integrate. She said that her party would not support “punishing” church organizations or immigrants themselves for a lack of Norwegian citizenship.
Bollestad also cited an example of a German friend who has lived in Norway for more than 30 years, “contributed to the Norwegian state, paid taxes, contributed to social work” and who is “a resource in our society,” but who has retained her German citizenship because it’s an important part of her identity. When the program leader commented that “perhaps it’s time for her to apply for Norwegian citizenship,” Bollestad responded that “it’s not like you can just turn a switch and become Norwegian.” For very many people, she said, the land where they were born and reared remains important throughout their lives.
One major problem with the Center Party’s proposals, the program leader pointed out, is that it currently takes at least seven years from date of arrival in Norway to qualify for Norwegian citizenship. Norway also remains one of the few countries in the world that does not allow dual citizenship, and that discourages many foreign residents from applying for Norwegian citizenship. While exceptions have been made, current law officially demands that anyone applying for Norwegian citizenship must relinquish their existing citizenship. That’s difficult for many to do. Support seemed to be growing to finally allow dual citizenship in Norway last year, but no progress was made during the autumn parliamentary session.