Minister survives Center’s attack

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Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen survived an effort by the anti-wolf Center Party to unseat him on Tuesday. The Center Party ended up as a target of massive criticism itself after insisting that Helgesen allow at least 32 more wolves to be shot, even though the Justice Ministry claims that would violate Norwegian law and international conventions. 

Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen won the confidence of the Norwegian Parliament on Tuesday, after a dramatic conflict over wolves. He survived an effort led by the anti-wolf Center Party to unseat him after he’d refused to carry out a hunt that would have eliminated two-thirds of Norway’s wolf population. PHOTO: Klima- og Miljødepartementet

The leader of the Center Party’s Members of Parliament, Marit Arnstad, went ahead Tuesday with its threat to propose a lack-of-confidence vote in Helgesen and thus effectively fire him. Arnstad claimed in an address to Parliament that Helgesen had not fulfilled his duty to keep the Parliament sufficiently informed of developments in the wolf conflict, that he had not followed up on the Parliament’s intentions to reduce Norway’s wolf population, that he had proposed a change in the law that did not allow for killing more more wolves and that he had created an “erroneous” impression that a compromise on such agreed in Parliament last year was not in accordance with Norwegian law.

“The Center Party has no confidence that the minister, in a good manner, will follow up the third round of measures (on reducing the wolf population) that the Parliament will undertake today,” Arnstad declared. She said that a lack-of-confidence measure was necessary, claiming that Helgesen had all but ignored the Parliament’s instructions in two earlier rounds.

Marit Arnstad of the Center Party ended up suffering defeat on Tuesday, when no other party in Parliament backed her proposal to effectively fire the environment minister. PHOTO: Stortinget/NRK screen grab

Arnstad, a former government minister herself whose party has been leading a variety of attacks on the government over the past few months, found herself being attacked instead. Not a single party in Parliament went along with her proposal to express a lack of confidence in Helgesen and thus force his resignation.

Heikki Holmås of the Socialist Left party (SV) called Arnstad’s proposal “the most poorly justified lack-of-confidence proposal in years.” Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party had already claimed on national radio that the Center Party seemingly wanted to force a government minister to break the law in its zeal to shoot wolves. Rasmus Hansson of the Greens Party called Arnstad’s proposal “embarrassing” while an MP from Helgesen’s own Conservative Party, who earlier had criticized the minister, refused to vote for a lack of confidence in him.

“It’s a long way from being critical (of how Helgesen has handled the conflict over wolves in Norway) to declaring a lack of confidence,” said MP Gunnar Gundersen, who represents the rural county of Hedmark where wolves are viewed as a threat. Gundersen, like many other MPs, was also satisfied with Helgesen’s latest proposals for carrying out the Parliament’s intentions.

Labour refused to back its prospective government partner
The Center Party’s attempt to cast Helgesen to the wolves himself was ultimately shot down by the Labour Party, even though Labour and Center look likely to try to form a new left-center government together if they win enough votes in the September parliamentary election. Labour claimed that Helgesen, in his own opening remarks earlier in the day, had “removed any doubt … in the presence of the prime minister” that he was taking the wolf conflict seriously and would do what he legally could to reduce the wolf population on a case-by-case basis.

“We have received the assurances we need in order not to vote for the Center Party’s proposal,” said Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre.

That was the proverbial last nail in the coffin for the Center Party’s effort to oust Helgesen, and their latest attack on the Conservatives-led government coalition fell flat. Helgesen, meanwhile, promised that after all the action in Parliament Tuesday, he would “immediately follow up with altering regulations regarding predators,” with the consequences to be determined on each report of threats posed by wolves. That means more wolves may be shot, but not en masse or, probably, on the scope demanded by the Center Party, which found itself alone in its call for a mass slaughter.

Arnstad was unrepentant when the drama was over. She maintained there was still a “large majority” in Parliament that stood behind “instructing” Helgesen, and she criticized how he had “generated uncertainty” on the wolf issue. She didn’t seem bothered by the Parliament’s massive criticism against her and her party on Tuesday. “I have no strong reaction to that,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) in downplaying the loss her party suffered.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund