New SV leader: ‘Weaken US ties’

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Audun Lysbakken, who’s had anything but a smooth start as new leader of the Socialist Left party (SV), got down to business over the weekend and among the first things he called for were weaker ties between Norway and the US. He prefers stronger cooperation with other Nordic countries instead.

Audun Lysbakken, shown here after being elected as new leader of SV, seems keen on asserting himself and now is calling for more distance between Norway and the US. PHOTO: Sosialistisk Venstreparti

“Our dependence on the US is very old-fashioned,” Lysbakken said when addressing the annual meeting of the Oslo chapter of SV. He was well-received, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Sunday, with a standing ovation from the youthful crowd attending the meeting.

“We should no longer have a situation where  a super-power in Washington is setting the agenda,” Lysbakken said. “It’s not wise for a small country to be so bound by the USA.”

SV has long opposed Norway’s membership in NATO but put its stand aside when election results in 2005 gave the party its first opportunity ever to share government power. SV thus softened its anti-NATO position to join the three-party left-center government coalition led by the Labour Party and also including the Center Party. Labour is pro-NATO, and the Center Party has supported NATO membership as well.

Asked how Norway would take care of its own security if it wasn’t so closely allied with the US, Lysbakken said the country should strengthen ties with its Nordic neighbors, presumably including Sweden, which is not a member of NATO.

“What’s important for Norway, and critical for our security, is our ability to assert our sovereignty in our local area,” he said, “not waging wars in other parts of the world.” That was a clear jab at Norway’s participation in Afghanistan, which SV only reluctantly went along with.

Lysbakken’s call for Norway to distance itself from the US is the first of many aimed at putting SV back on the offensive. New party leaders are trying to asset themselves and take a tougher stand within the government coalition on a wide range of issues from the environment to, now, defense strategies. The perceived need to get tough was behind the so-called “renewal” of SV’s ministerial staff last week, which controversially resulted in the ouster of veteran SV ministers Erik Solheim and Tora Aasland. They were replaced with much younger SV ministers, and Solheim did not bow out quietly.

Solheim was so upset over being replaced that he’s sounded off on a number of occasions since, irritating some SV colleagues and all but spoiling the debuts of both Lysbakken and the new SV ministers. Lysbakken, meanwhile, refused to criticize Solheim, opting instead to praise his work over the years but maintaining that SV’s government representation needed “new energy.”

While Solheim claimed Lysbakken had put the party ahead of the country when he replaced experienced ministers such as himself, Lysbakken said he was “investing in the government coalition’s future,” with the goal of boosting SV’s chances of winning enough voter support at next year’s national elections to remain in the government. “I believe that’s in the country’s best interests,” he said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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