Budget agreement saves government

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UPDATED: Norway’s conservative minority government coalition won support for its state budget proposal from the two other non-socialist parties in Parliament late Wednesday. The coalition’s Conservative and Progress parties had to make some concessions to win support from the Liberals and Christian Democrats, but they all claimed they were pleased with the results.

The four men who hammered out a newly negotiated state budget agreement were mostly smiling on Wednesday. From left: Nicolai Astrup of the Conservative Party, Helge Andre Njåstad of the Progress Party, Terje Breivik of the Liberal Party and Kjell Ingolf Ropstad ov the Christian Democrats.PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The budget agreement protects the minority coalition government led by Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg from being toppled by any single budget issue in Parliament. The government no longer has a formal support agreement with either of Norway’s other two non-socialist parties, and is under constant threat from opposition parties. That’s why striking an agreement over the state budget for 2018 with both the Liberals and Christian Democrats was so important.

It was reached among the leaders of the parties’ respective finance committees, without having to call in any of the party leaders themselves. Party leaders have been involved in earlier discussions, but negotiations in the final stretch went smoothly enough that the four men at the lower level got the job done on their own. Their agreement signals a defeat for the left-center opposition parties in Parliament.

‘Tesla tax’ dumped
Both Nicolai Astrup of the Conservatives and Helge Andre Njåstad of the Progress Party claimed they were “very well satisfied” with the budget result. Njåstad was proud of how the government managed to remove a tax on business machinery, prevent increases in fuel taxes and bring vehicle taxes down. Proposed introduction of a tax on heavy, expensive electric cars, dubbed the “Tesla tax,” was dumped, while Progress could brag that it won acceptance to create two new districts to expand Norway’s new “animal police.” Progress also won acceptance for new police jobs that will ensure work for all graduates of the state police academy, with an extra NOK 131 million earmarked for more police to be stationed in outlying districts.

Njåstad’s government partner Astrup said the Conservatives were “most satisfied” that the government’s main programs survived budget negotiations, with more money allocated for health care, defense and transport.

The two government parties made several budget concessions to the small parties, though, to gain support for the state budget as a whole. The Liberals bragged that they won more assurances for job creation and more environmenally friendly transport regulations. The Christian Democrats, meanwhile, had lobbied particularly hard for what they called “greener, more family-friendly” policies, and won funding for more teachers to ensure one teacher for every 16 children in the first to fifth grades, and one teacher for every 20 children from the fifth to 10th grades. The Liberals had also pressured for more funding for the schools.

More UN refugees accepted
The government was also prodded into taking in nearly twice as many UN-registered refugees for residence in Norway as they’d proposed. The government only wanted to accept 1,120 while that will now be boosted by another 1,000, to 2,120.

To finance all the additional funding, taxes on sugar and chocolate will be boosted and new efficiency demands are expected to cut government costs. The Liberals said they were most pleased that the newly adjusted state budget, that’s now bound to pass through Parliament, offers more environmental protection and will make it easier to start new businesses.

Prime Minister Solberg admitted that her Conservatives suffered some losses over the budget, and that the Christian Democrats won a “school victory” over its demand for lower teacher-student ratios. “A minority government has to make compromises,” Solberg told NRK Thursday morning. “I think it’s fine to be honest that the Christian Democrats won a victory over its model for how we should provide for more teachers in the schools. We accepted a model that we don’t think is best.”

The Liberals continue, meanwhile, to negotiate with the Conservatives and Progress Party over actually joining the government, which would usher in several ministerial changes. Solberg also has kept the door open for the Christian Democrats to join government, but they feel they have more to gain by remaining outside government and having swing vote power on a number of issues.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund