Conservatives back ban on begging

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The leader of Norway’s Conservatives didn’t like it, but Erna Solberg’s party members voted at their annual national meeting over the weekend to promote a ban on begging. Solberg otherwise enjoyed re-election as she rallied her troops in a drive to seize government power next power year.

Erna Solberg was re-elected as leader of Norway's Conservative Party (Høyre) and is rallying her troops to grab government power after next year's national elections. PHOTO: Høyre/Jon Moss

Solberg got her way for the most part on other issues, but the majority voted against the Conservatives’ leadership on the begging matter. Solberg didn’t think a ban on begging would help keep beggars off the streets, and wanted to show that there are some liberal forces at work within Norway’s Conservative party (Høyre).

“But now I’m also in favour of a ban,” Solberg said after the vote, following lively debate, ended at 184 against 102. “The national meeting decides what the party’s policies will be.”

Beggars now sit on sidewalks of most all Norwegian cities, but the vast majority aren’t Norwegian. Rather, most are from Romania who have made their way to Norway in the hopes of collecting plenty of small change. Many Norwegians have reacted negatively to the sometimes aggressive methods of the beggars, and contend that organized crime and human traffickers are behind the bands of beggars who also set up camps around town and violate local sanitation laws.

Those against a ban on begging accuse proponents of simply being uncomfortable when confronted with people in such poverty. One member of Oslo’s city council from the Socialist Left party wants the city to erect shelters, showers and toilets for the beggars, a proposal flatly rejected by Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang from the Conservatives. The ban went through, and may be pressed into law in Oslo since the Conservatives lead the city government coalition.

In other matters, the Conservatives also want small local townships to be forced to merge with one another in order to provide better services, and they have some clear ideas on foreign policy and tax cuts, too. It’s all part of a major push to garner enough voter support over the next year that they’ll be able to take over the reins of national government from the current left-center coalition that’s ruled since 2005.

Solberg fancies herself as prime minister, and some newspapers actually put together mock-ups of what a future Conservative-led government might look like. Among candidates for foreign minister, for example, is Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, who currently heads the parliament’s foreign relations committee. She wants more activist European policies and support for the EU, tougher stances against countries like Russia and Belarus, a reduction in the number of countries receiving foreign aid from Norway and more emphasis on demands for respect of human rights. It was a Member of Parliament for the Conservatives, after all, who nominated Chinese dissident and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, which has all but frozen relations between China and Norway ever since Liu won.

In other areas, the Conservatives want to allocate even more funding to Norway’s train system, more construction of nursing homes and better pay for health care personnel who boost their competence.

The party wasn’t ready to follow the advice of the popular finance minister for their sister party in Sweden, Anders Borg. He thinks Norway should cut taxes to spur economic growth. The Norwegian Conservatives aren’t so sure that will help, but are open to reducing or eliminating the country’s unpopular tax on net worth (formueskatt), reducing inheritance taxes and cutting taxes on those with relatively low incomes.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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