Labour unveils 99 integration tactics

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The largest party in Norway’s governing coalition, the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap), has put forward 99 new proposals to improve social integration of immigrants – a move that has been welcomed most of all by their most conservative opponents.

Jonas Gahr Støre, who serves as foreign minister in the Labour-led government, presented his working group's proposals at the party's national board meeting on Wednesday. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet.no

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced a series of ideas to foster what he calls a “new Norwegian ‘we’” generated by a party working group. The moves were welcomed by both Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre) and the traditionally anti-immigration Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), which both claimed credit for shifting the political debate in the direction of the new suggestions.

The 99 policies include mandatory Norwegian tests for those seeking citizenship, a minimum of 600 hours of language and Norwegian social studies for immigrants, assessment of four-year olds in order to make sure they understand basic Norwegian before entering school, and the banning of religious symbols for police, lawyers and judges.

Conspicuous by their absence from the documents were any policies relating to illegal immigrants, who have received much press attention in recent months through the case of Maria Amelie, a Russian author who lived in Norway as an undocumented immigrant since her teens. As Støre and his Labour Party colleagues met this week for a national board meeting where his group’s policies were presented, scores of illegal aliens from Ethiopia were camping out inside Oslo’s cathedral downtown, demanding they be allowed to stay in Norway.

Politicians have been split between proposals to grant amnesty to some of the undocumented workers – estimated to number up to 38,000 – or to further crack down on illegal immigration into the country, but Støre avoided the issue, claiming it “fell outside of the ongoing integration policy.”

Stressing ‘opportunities’
While admitting that the right-wing party Frp shared some of his suggestions, Støre was quick to stress in newspaper Dagsavisen his belief that “there are big differences in basic values and inspiration” between the rival parties. He castigated Frp’s “smearing” of immigrants, and criticized their policies such as building asylum seeker reception centres in Africa and “giving immigrants lower pay.” Støre told newspaper Aftenposten that “we have not set up a working group because we have a problem (with integration), but because we have opportunities.”

Other opposition parties mocked Ap’s new approach, with the Liberal Party (Venstre, V) leader Trine Skei Grande stating that “Ap is increasingly close to Frp’s language and rhetoric while their solutions are unimaginative.” Indeed, the main conservative opposition parties both asserted that Støre’s working group had vindicated their respective, and differing, approaches to integration policy.

Per-Kristian Foss of Høyre described the majority of the suggestions as “following from Erna Solberg’s (leader of Høyre’s) policies from the previous government of (Prime Minster Kjell Magne) Bondevik,” adding that Ap had come around to “Høyre’s more moderate line.” But FrP’s Per Willy Amundsen told Dagsavisen: “it’s about time, Ap,” pointing to demands for Islamic Imams to take obligatory courses in Norwegian language and society, increased language requirements for citizenship and prohibition of marriage between cousins as policies that Frp has championed for years.

The proposals will go forward to Ap’s national conference later this spring – but already internal opposition to at least some of the plans is crystallising. Eskil Pedersen, leader of the Labour Party’s youth wing (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking, AUF), responded that young party members “are skeptical” about some proposals, especially “that one must take an obligatory Norwegian test in order to become a citizen.”

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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