Women consolidate their power to rule

Bookmark and Share

NEWS ANALYSIS: First they all went to a rock concert together last weekend. The next day, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), the three women gathered again on Sunday afternoon at Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s residence behind the Royal Palace, to discuss how they could soon lead Norway’s non-socialist government.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives (left), Liberals’ leader Trine Skei Grande (center) and Finance Minister Siv Jensen of the Progress Party (right) are meeting once again to discuss formation of a new minority government coalition. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Negotiations for a new, expanded non-socialist government coalition have resumed among Solberg’s Conservative Party (Høyre), Finance Minister Siv Jensen’s more conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), and, now, Trine Skei Grande’s Liberal Party (Venstre). Despite its name, which even directly translates into “Left” in English, Grande’s Liberals hold a non-socialist centrist position in Norwegian politics. There’s no inherent contradiction, therefore, that parties literally called “Right” (Høyre) and “Left” (Venstre) can hold government power together, along with Progress.

Ministerial posts up for grabs
Both DN and newspaper Aftenposten were among Norwegian media outlets reporting that Solberg, Jensen and Grande are now seriously talking about how Grande’s Liberals can join the current two-party conservative coalition led by Solberg with Progress as her “junior partner,” as Jensen herself has called her party’s role. Solberg and Jensen led with support from both Grande’s Liberals and the Christian Democrats, but the latter dropped out after last month’s election and has joined the opposition, with promises of supporting Solberg herself as prime minister.

Grande’s party will clearly want some ministerial posts in areas of special political importance to it, like education (currently headed by a stand-in for the Conservative minister, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, who’s on paternity leave), climate and the environment or even, if it’s resurrected, a ministerial post devoted to foreign aid issues. That’s an area of special importance to the Christian Democrats, and even though they didn’t want to join the government, more attention to foreign aid issues could help secure their support for the government. That’s important, because even if the small Liberal party joins the government, it will remain a minority coalition and will need extra support in Parliament.

Major cabinet reshuffle postponed
All the politicking now going on is likely to lead to a cabinet reshuffle for Solberg, but will take some time to sort out. Aftenposten reported that it may not be clarified until November, after party programs and political demands are discussed with the aim of finding common ground.

That’s why the only ministerial changes expected to be announced on Friday are those to replace Foreign Minister Børge Brende (who’s resigning to work for the World Economic Forum) and the vacated post of any minister who may take over for Brende. Speculation is strong that current Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide will succeed Brende, and thus add to the ranks of women holding key government posts.

EU Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen is tipped as a top candidate to take over as defense minister. PHOTO: Mission of Norway to the European Union

On Wednesday, Solberg’s minister currently in charge of EU and EEA issues, Frank Bakke-Jensen of the Conservatives, emerged as the front-runner to replace Søreide as defense minister. He’s from Båtsfjord in Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost county that border on Russia, which once again presents one of the major defense threats facing Norway. It’s also considered politically advantageous for Norway to have a defense minister from Finnmark, which figures heavily into the restructuring and beefing-up of Norway’s own defense forces that Søreide has headed.

It’s unclear, and perhaps unlikely, that Bakke-Jensen’s vacated post of EU minister will in turn be filled. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday night that it probably won’t, with Søreide expected to assume responsibility for EU issues that now include close monitoring of the Brexit negotiations, and how Britain’s exit from the EU will affect Norway.

No deadline for discussions
That scenario opens up the possibility that foreign aid issues, for which Brende had to assume responsibility over the past four years, will be spun off and handled by a dedicated minister. Such a post may even entice the Christian Democrats to return to the fold, and join the government along with the Liberals.

It’s by no means certain that the Liberals will actually join the government coalition themselves. It all boils down to how the small parties think they’ll best be able to exert influence and press forward their policies. Having control over a ministry can help, while being a swing vote in the Parliament can also give them power, influence and visibility.

Solberg refuses to say how long she thinks the “discussions” and political horse-trading will go on. “We’ll be finished when we’re finished,” Solberg told Aftenposten. “Christmas could be a fine time to end on, but it could also be January 31.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund