Solberg loses on paternity leave

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg was already heading into her first loss in Norway’s newly reconvened Parliament on Tuesday, just hours after debate over her minority government’s program began. Opposition parties reportedly have formed a majority to reverse her conservative coalition’s cutback on paternity leave.

Maybe there was a reason Prime Minister Erna Solberg was wearing black as she strode into Parliament for its ceremonial opening on Monday. She won re-election and held her head high, but now faces constant opposition on an issue-by-issue basis. PHOTO: Stortinget

As Members of Parliament got back to work a day after Norway’s national assembly was ceremoniously opened, the Christian Democrats let it be known they’ll support a proposal from the Labour Party to expand new fathers’ paternity leave quota to 14 weeks. Solberg’s government, when it was still backed by the Christian Democrats and Liberals prior to last month’s election, had cut it back to a minimum 10 weeks of the total leave new parents are allowed following the birth of a child. Now the Christian Democrats are no longer bound by a cooperation agreement they had with the three other non-socialist parties in Parliament. They’re free to vote as they like, and they like the idea of more family time.

The Christian Democrats also want to propose expanding combined parental leave by another four weeks as well. “These are important issues for us,” Geir Jørgen Bekkevold of the Christian Democrats told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “The most important is to make sure fathers get more time together with their children.”

The paternity leave loss may be a sign of more to come for Solberg’s coalition, as the Christian Democrats asset themselves in a Parliament where the balance of power changed with the last election. Even though the non-socialist parties won a majority of seats, and Solberg could continue as prime minister, the Christian Democrats decided against either joining Solberg’s Conservatives-led coalition with the Progress Party or formally cooperating with it. They want Solberg to remain as prime minister and have agreed not to topple her government, at least not immediately, but sometimes their centrist leanings leave them agreeing more with the left side of Norwegian politics than the right.

It all leaves Solberg much more vulnerable. During her last four-year governmental period, she held her minority coalition together because she only needed support in Parliament from one of the two small, centrist parties. Now she needs support from both, and neither the Christian Democrats nor the Liberals are obliged to offer it.

The Liberals continue to evaluate whether to accept an open invitation from Solberg to join her coalition, but even if they do, the three parties in it will still need support from another party in Parliament to push through legislation.

The battle for Parliamentary approval has therefore begun, with the Socialist Left party (SV) vowing to put forward at least 10 proposals that may win a nod or more from the Christian Democrats and the other parties. Both Center and Labour are doing the same as they try to force through their policy and propose legislation themselves. Solberg faces much more complicated days and months ahead.

Nikolai Astrup, the new leader of the Conservatives’ delegation in Parliament, claimed he wasn’t letting himself be scared by the opposition’s new aggressive tone and their sudden streams of legislative proposals. “It’s not new that the Center Party wants to shift Norway into reverse,” Astrup told NRK, adding that he thinks it’s all a sign of “optimism” in the newly formed Parliament that the opposition will ultimately have more power.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund