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Stoltenberg fends off criticism

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, his Labour Party and the coalition government he leads have come under increasing criticism lately, over everything from hospital reform to use of Norway’s oil revenues. The government parties have also tumbled in public opinion polls, but Stoltenberg denies their ambitions have declined or that the criticism is justified.

Jens Stoltenberg (right) faces new challenges from voters and his government partners Kristin Halvorsen (center) and Liv Signe Navarsete (left). This photo was taken late last summer during the election campaign. PHOTO: SV

“We have big ambitions, to make the world’s best society even better,” Stoltenberg told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. The newspaper had analyzed his government’s platform in detail the day before, and reported that several of its stands on issues were either more vague from its platform in 2005 or left out entirely.

Stoltenberg’s government has, for example, dropped its promise of setting a maximum price for day care services, reducing the amount patients must pay for health care services or offering fruit and vegetables to pupils in elementary schools. Platform positions on such issues as foreign aid, carbon recapture anti-poverty programs have been watered down.

Stoltenberg’s government partner Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left and now education minister after four years as finance minister, said herself during the Easter holidays that the government “lacks sparkle” and a clear direction. On Thursday, Stoltenberg faced criticism from his other coalition partner, Liv Signe Navarsete of the Center Party, over hospital reform.

The mood has changed since Stoltenberg (center) presented his government outside the Royal Palace last fall. PHOTO: Statsministerskontor/Scanpix

The prime minister, on his way to Mexico for another environmental summit, said it was “a completely wrong picture” to portray the government as lacking ambition. His incumbent government’s latest platform “is at least as ambitious as the first,” he claimed.

Stoltenberg conceded that “there are some various adaptations,” but claimed they made parts of the platform “even more ambitious.” He pointed to his government’s National Transport Plan that provides NOK 100 billion in funding over the next 10 years, what he considers “full nursing home coverage” over the entire country and realization of environmental goals set on in the Kyoto Agreement. None of that was in his previous government’s platform.

Stoltenberg also claimed his government has three major goals: To have Europe’s lowest unemployment rate, full nursing home coverage and the greatest rehabilitation of Norway transport system ever. He was pleased by recent figures showing that Norway ranks high in terms of steady economic growth over the past decade.

He also took issue with Aftenposten’s report, saying that his government was on target for meeting maximum prices for day care and that Norway still donates more than 1 percent of its gross national revenues to foreign aid.

While Stoltenberg has put business development and sick leave reform high on his agenda, another recent report in Aftenposten indicated that voters are much more concerned with crime and care for the elderly, the quality of teachers in public schools, integration and the environment. Several random interviews with Norwegians at a bowling alley, a bingo parlor and a factory resulted in some harsh assessments of Stoltenberg’s government, and the prime minister himself.

“”We have to be able to tolerate clear and tough feedback,” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten, adding that he’s glad people are engaged in government issues. “We need to be open to praise and criticism and new ideas.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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