Stoltenberg comes back swinging

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has responded to new challenges from opposition parties by warning that a change of government can threaten Norway’s social welfare state. He listed what he considers a string of accomplishments by his own government, as early campaigning before next fall’s national elections seemed to get underway.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg went on the offensive at his Labour Party's national board meeting this week, warning that a change in government would threaten the welfare state and instill uncertainty. He's already campaigning for re-election next year. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

“There’s still a year to go before the next parliamentary elections,” Stoltenberg told cheering supporters at a national board meeting of his Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) on Tuesday. “It’s an election we’ll win together.”

Stoltenberg’s remarks came as his party’s arch rival Høyre (the Conservatives) was rolling out its own party platform. They also came while many political commentators were predicting doom and gloom for Labour and its current coalition government partners, the Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) and the Socialist Left (SV). All of them have lost support in current public opinion polls, with Sp and SV falling to levels so low that they likely wouldn’t even win representation in Parliament.

News on Monday that Labour had gone along with controversial demands by the Center Party to raise import tariffs on foreign meat and cheese imports was particularly unpopular, with some voters contending it alone could cost Labour the election. Stoltenberg chose to concentrate, in his speech to Labour Party faithful, on his other accomplishments as prime minister, and to warn that a non-socialist government could mean much less funding for Norway’s social welfare programs.

“We know that both Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet (the Progress Party, Norway’s most conservative)  want comprehensive tax cuts,” Stoltenberg said. “We don’t know how big, but we know that they would be cuts that would weaken the ability to finance our important welfare obligations.”

He said the most important compromises would be made between the Conservatives and the Progress Party, not between the Conservatives and more center-oriented parties. He also noted that the center parties like the Liberals (Venstre) and the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) haven’t rejected the idea of supporting a government that includes the Progress Party. “This is a new, conservative alternative that leaves us with sharp battlefronts,” Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg also warned that the non-socialists want more private schools, “want to cut foreign aid and weaken workers’ rights.” They would “create uncertainty,” he claimed, that’s “undeserved.”

Stoltenberg claimed that during his coalition government’s seven years in power so far, “a record 300,000 new jobs have been created, a record number of new day care centers have been built, applications for students wanting to be teachers have risen by 50 percent, new four-lane freeways have been built, new train service improvements are underway and 1.5 million more patients were cared for at Norwegian hospitals.

His remarks were met with loud and lengthy applause, with Stoltenberg keen on a third term as prime minister.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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