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Monday, June 17, 2024

If the Conservatives ruled the land…

NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s political parties are rolling out their platforms in advance of next year’s national elections, and the Conservative Party (Høyre) grabbed lots of attention when its top politicians outlined their positions this week. Høyre leader Erna Solberg seems ready to rule, armed with her party’s strongest show of potential voter support for more than 100 years.

Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party (Høyre), is keen to take over as Norway's next prime minister, with her party's new slogan that's similar to arch-rival Labour's: "Opportunities for all." PHOTO: Høyre

The most recent public opinion polls show Høyre with nearly 39 percent of the vote, its highest level since national elections in 1909. The party has won government power over the years with less, and with the arch-rival Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) trailing for months at around 30 percent, the Conservatives now seem well-placed to sail into office either on their own or as leader of a coalition that could include a few of Norway’s other non-socialist parties like the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), the Liberals (Venstre) or the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF).

Commentators immediately noted that Høyre’s new platform has moved at least slightly to the left, with some startling similarities to Arbeiderpartiet (Ap), which has been leading Norway’s left-center government coalition since first winning the election in 2005. Høyre’s new slogans like “Opportunities for all” echo Labour/Ap’s longtime “Alle skal med” (roughly, “Everyone shall be included.”). Høyre has dropped earlier proposals to remove a one-time tax on the price of a new home, is putting more emphasis on funding for public transport and decided to continue to allow members of labour unions to write off the cost of union dues on their taxes. The Conservatives have even adopted a heart as a party symbol, albeit in their traditional colour of blue as opposed to Labour’s red. Hearts have otherwise long been linked to both the Christian Democrats and Labour, the latter especially since last year’s terrorist attacks on the heart-shaped island of Utøya.

Liberalization but lower tax cuts
Since Høyre has had a firm grip on public opinion polls for more than two years now, their positions may well become the law and usher a host of changes into Norwegian society, much like a ground-breaking Høyre-led government did back in the mid-1980s. That’s when they all but revolutionized daily life in Norway even though such measures as allowing stores to stay open later in the evening. Now they want to go further, allowing stores to also open on Sundays, for example, and for Norwegian consumers to be able to shop at state-run liquor stores later on Saturday afternoon.

While Høyre’s proposed tax cuts aren’t as extensive as some expected, the party does want to reduce and eventually remove Norway’s controversial taxes on net worth (formueskatt) and inheritance (arveavgift). The party’s deputy leader Bent Høie called the inheritance tax “deeply unfair,” while the party thinks the tax on net worth discourages ownership and savings and hurts competitiveness.

The party wants to make high-speed train service in the region around Oslo (from Lillehammer to Halden and Skien) a priority but also stresses the need for better highways. Høyre would encourage more partnerships between the public and private sectors and streamline funding for major road projects, changing the current piecemeal approach that results in only short sections of roads being built at a time.

Public base, private options
Høyre claims it does not want to privatize the health care sector and supports a strong public health system, but thinks patients should be able to choose between public and private options. The party also wants to make it easier for private developers to build nursing homes and it wants to boost the rights of patients and their families.

Høyre also wants to allow more private schools in Norway and better educate and train teachers. Its positions on defense and foreign policy remain firm, with strong support for NATO and the European Union. They’re not admitting it, but party leaders seem pleased with Norway’s policies under the current and respected Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party, indicating there wouldn’t be any major foreign policy changes if they took over. Their traditional support for the police and tougher punishment for criminals also remain largely unchanged.

Some media commentators noted that Høyre is projecting a “softer” profile and a “light-blue” program aimed at winning next year’s election. A victory means Erna Solberg would replace Jens Stoltenberg as prime minister. His party has made several unpopular steps lately, not least its decision to appease its small farmer-friendly coalition partner Senterpartiet by backing a controversial increase in import tariffs and, most likely, the prices farmers demand for their food products. Høyre and other non-socialist parties like Fremskrittspartiet have long urged less such regulation and not least trade liberalization. Now they have the chance to do just that.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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