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Friday, July 19, 2024

Progress Party ready to rule

Norway’s most conservative political party, the Progress Party,  wrapped up its annual national meeting on Sunday and the message from party leader Siv Jensen was clear: “We have one ambition, to have influence. There won’t be any (non-socialist) majority without us.”

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen made it clear in her opening remarks at the party's annual national meeting that the Progress Party is keen to form a government with other non-socialist parties. PHOTO: Fremskrittspartiet

Jensen had stated firmly in her opening address on Friday afternoon that there was no way her party would support a non-socialist government of which it’s not a member. That theme continued throughout the weekend and along the way, party members indicated they’re very keen indeed to form a government with like-minded counterparts.

Jensen has been keen on gaining or at least sharing government power for years. She sees herself as a strong candidate for prime minister, but the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) had a rough year last year with several scandals, and still has a credibility problem among many voters. It’s support has fallen in public opinion polls, meaning that the Conservatives (Høyre) would likely dominate any non-socialist government coalition.

Other parties, though, are taking Jensen and her troops more seriously, as confirmed by the Liberal Party’s historic decision at its own national meeting last weekend to reach out a hand to the Progress Party. The two parties already agree on many issues and several measures approved during the Progress Party’s meeting showed signs of moderation that could appeal to parties like the Liberals. There were few if any signs of the Progress Party’s traditionally provocative stands on various issues. Proposals, for example, to show zero tolerance for road tolls and formalize doubt that climate change were shelved.

‘New era’ in national politics
Commentators were thus speculating that Norway may indeed be facing a new era in national politics. It appears more likely than ever that the Progress Party (usually referred to simply as “Frp” in Norway) could join forces with Høyre on the non-socialist side of Norwegian politics, with support from parties that once seemed highly unlikely to cooperate with Frp.

The speculation behind a new brand of cooperation among the borgerlige (non-socialist) parties was fueled by comments from Høyre leader Erna Solberg Sunday evening, when she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Frp was appearing ready to rule with others. Key Frp officials denied, however, that the party was so keen on government power that it would make major compromises. “We’re not going to be a ‘Høyre-light,” Erlend Wiborg, a candidate for the party’s top leadership group, told NRK. “We will compromise and negotiate, but we won’t negotiate too much.”

Differences will remain
Frp deputy leader Per Sandberg, a longtime member of parliament, said he thinks many party members are worried the party will become too much like Høyre. “We will make sure we won’t be,” Sandberg told NRK. “There’s no room for two Conservative parties in Norway. I’m confident there will always be a difference between us.”

Measures coming out of the annual meeting did indeed carry some well-known traits, like a willingness to use far more of Norway’s oil revenues to invest in such things as infrastructure, schools and nursing homes in Norway, instead of stashing most all of it away in a fund for future generations. But even that issue was tempered somewhat by a limit on oil revenue spending, just higher than the current one.

Jensen seems intent on retaining Frp’s traditional profile but has also cooperated already with other parties, and is as keen as all others to disassociate the party – often still viewed as an anti-immigration party – from terror defendant Anders Behring Breivik. He was once a member of Frp’s youth group but withdrew because he viewed it as far too moderate.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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