Christian Democrats want to rule

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If Norway’s Christian Democrats get their prayers answered and win enough votes to jostle for power in a new government coalition this fall, the country may be in for some big changes regarding relations with Israel and several key ethical issues. As the small party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) wound up its national meeting over the weekend, its former leader and prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was offering lots of strategic advice.

Former KrF leader Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former prime minister when KrF had much more voter support than it does now, received a warm welcome at the party's national meeting. He urged KrF to cooperate with all the non-socialist parties as it tries to rebuild and gain government power. PHOTO: Kristelig Folkeparti

Former KrF leader Kjell Magne Bondevik, who served as prime minister when KrF had much more voter support than it does now, received a warm welcome at the party’s national meeting. He urged KrF to cooperate with all the non-socialist parties as it tries to rebuild and gain government power. PHOTO: Kristelig Folkeparti

Bondevik headed KrF back in the 1990s, when it had double-digit support among voters and he managed to wind up as prime minister. The party lately has been a shadow of its former self but its aspirations remain high. Its current leaders made it perfectly clear they’re campaigning for a spot within a new right-center coalition after the national election on September 9.

KrF leader Knut Arild Hareide dismissed the notion of a government formed only by the Conservatives (Høyre) and the even more conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), claiming that not even the strategists in those parties themselves think they’ll get enough to rule alone. Hareide seemed confident Høyre will do well enough to only need to reach out to his party and to the Liberals (Venstre), leading to his first choice of a right-center coalition.

Bondevik isn’t so sure, and urged the party faithful against being “arrogant” towards Frp. He thinks it’s strategically important for KrF “to talk to all” the non-socialist parties, and be prepared to enter a more right-leaning government.

Striving for influence
“KrF can’t expect to become quite large as soon as this fall,” Bondevik told newspaper Dagsavisen. “That lies in the future.” He agreed with Hareide that his first choice would be a new coalition of Høyre, Venstre and KrF, and that he thinks Hareide should be a minister in it despite Hareide’s personal reservations because of the job’s intrusion into family life.

But the most important, Bondevik said, is to be able to influence government policy. If that means joining a coalition that also involves Frp, Bondevik said, so be it. “We’ve earlier been seen as arrogant because we wouldn’t talk to Frp,” Bondevik admitted. “We didn’t mean to be, but that was how it was seen, and I have to take some of the responsibility for that myself. For me, it was more about political distance (KrF favours far more market regulation, for example, than Frp does) but we did strike some budget deals with them. That will continue to be important.”

New tone towards Israel
If there’s one key area where KrF and Frp clearly agree it’s on foreign policy regarding Israel. Both are far more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians and KrF members agreed over the weekend to remove a paragraph in its earlier party platform that referred to Israel’s responsibility to solve the ongoing conflicts. The party also shied away from a “two-state” solution, declined to refer to “Palestine,” asked other neighbouring countries to solve the problem of Palestinian refugees and wants to move Norway’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Frp agrees on all those points regarding policy towards Israel, meaning that if Høyre forms a four-party government coalition with Venstre, Frp and KrF, two of its partners will demand an entirely new and, in Norway, controversial approach to Middle East issues. Norway’s current left-center government has insisted on territorial rights for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis, and has maintained a tougher line towards Israel and against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

Norway’s Labour Party has recently tried to improve relations with Israel, and some Israeli officials reportedly noticed a “new tone” during a recent visit by Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, but neither Labour not Høyre have proposed the degree of change KrF and Frp advocate. Høyre has, according to its foreign policy spokesperson Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, supported the current Labour-led government’s Middle East policies.

‘Pro-family,’ less insistent on faith
In other issues, KrF delegates said they wanted to be known as Norway’s “pro-family” party, proposing “flexible” parental leave for child care totalling 68 weeks at full pay to be take before the child is age 10, instead of the roughly 58 paid weeks of combined maternity and paternity leave now granted from time of birth.

KrF also voted to work towards dissolving the health care system’s regional organization if elected, to use more of the health care budget on treatment of mental illness, to reduce the tempo of oil and gas exploration and production and to work towards a ban on both sperm- and egg donation.

Most controversial, internally, was a decision to no longer require that KrF’s elected representatives be active practicing Christians. Some members felt that undermines the core of KrF’s identity and foundation, but party leaders tried to offset concerns by appointing a highly conservative Christian to its board. That was aimed at preventing the loss of KrF’s most fundamental members over to the much more conservative and smaller party De Kristne, which currently has no representation in parliament.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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