Students at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo listened to an unusual lecturer on Tuesday, Progress Party leader and longtime Member of Parliament Siv Jensen. Her message was clear: There’s opportunity in crisis, and Norway can’t afford to rest on its laurels.
As ministers from the country’s left-center government huddled for their annual budget conference in Jevnaker this week, Jensen presented some budget thoughts of her own. As a top politician in opposition, her job involves criticizing the government, and she didn’t disappoint.
“In Europe they’re forced to be cutting back, while in Norway, the public sector keeps growing,” Jensen told the students assembled for BI’s annual Næringslivsdagene (Business Days), which is organized by the students themselves. This year’s theme was “Beyond Borders,” with topics and speakers aimed “to make students aware of a world outside their own borders” and form closer ties between the students and business.
Or, in the case of Jensen, politics. Her topic was how the economic situation in the EU presents challenges and opportunities for Norway. She thinks Norway is missing out on many of them.
“This is all about how we’re using our money,” Jensen said. She’s a longtime advocate of using more oil revenues to invest in needed infrastructure improvements and nursing homes, for example, while the government led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party wants to restrict oil revenue use and save the money for future generations.
“I think everyone agrees that our oil money must also be for the benefit of future generations,” Jensen said. “But we need to make a clearer distinction between spending money and investing it.” Using oil revenues today to improve highways and rail transport, or build more nursing homes, will also benefit future generations, claimed Jensen.
“We believe we can organize this in a different way,” she said in her 45-minute lecture that drove home Progress Party politics and bordered on a campaign speech to young potential voters. They listened, laughed at some of her jokes and characterizations and asked few questions.
She called for a “modernization” of the so-called handlingsregelen, the rule that limits use of oil revenues to 4 percent of the size of Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund called “the oil fund.” She also advocated limiting growth of the public sector and speeding up “socially profitable” investments.
Back on the offensive
Jensen, emerging from a year full of crises within the Progress Party and disastrous municipal elections last fall, appeared back on the offensive, perhaps buoyed by some recent public opinion polls showing a slight rebound in voter support. She questioned why Norway, in need of engineers, wasn’t beefing up engineering programs at local universities. She claimed Norway could be a net exporter of renewable energy: “Before we became good with oil and gas, we were good with water,” she exhorted, referring to Norway’s long history of developing hydroelectric power.
“We’re sitting with enormous competence but need more value creation,” she said. “At some point, our oil revenues will taper off, and we’ll need to live normally, like other countries.” Norway, she thinks, needs more legs to stand on.
Meanwhile, currently troubled European countries, she warned, may revive and emerge especially hungry for business, with only the best of their companies surviving the crisis. Norwegian businesses, she said, will need to be ready to meet that competition.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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