Immigration salvo splits coalition

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Uncertainty over the make-up of a new conservative coalition government in Norway has been elevated to near chaos after the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) proposed drastic new measures that would make it much more difficult for any would-be immigrants to settle in Norway. Not a single one of Frp’s potential government partners, or any other parties in Parliament, support Frp’s latest proposals to curb immigration, throwing the prospects of a government that includes Frp into more doubt.

Members of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) campaigning on Oslo's main boulevard, Karl Johans Gate. This photo was taken just before news broke about Frp's latest proposals to curb immigration, PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Members of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) campaigning on Oslo’s main boulevard, Karl Johans Gate. This photo was taken just before news broke about Frp’s latest proposals to curb immigration, PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

It was almost as if Frp wants to sabotage its own desire to be part of a non-socialist government. After months of seeming to moderate its standpoints on issues such as immigration, and stressing that it wants to cooperate with Norway’s other right-leaning parties to form a government, the party reverted to its old rhetoric about how immigration to Norway is too costly and threatens Norwegian culture. Its latest assault on immigration was revealed by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on its national nightly newscast Dagsrevyen, which obtained a copy of an internal report that Frp had not yet released itself.

The Frp report’s proposals for how the state should achieve what it calls “economical and sustainable immigration” are seen as so drastic that even its supporters within the Conservative Party (Høyre) were flatly rejecting them, not just the two smaller right-center parties that already have said they disagree on too many social issues with members of Frp to be able to govern with them.

“I can’t even find the words to describe much of what I’m reading (in the report revealed by NRK),” said Geir Bekkevold of the Christian Democrats party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF). He was severely shaken by Frp’s anti-immigration proposals.

Marriage no grounds for residence, etc
They include, among other things, that marriage should no longer be viewed as a reason for  non-Norwegians to obtain residence permission in Norway. Only Norwegian citizens would be granted the possibility of establishing a family from abroad in Norway. Frp also proposes that no foreign citizen should be able to apply for Norwegian citizenship until they have lived and worked and paid taxes in Norway for at least 10 years, and have never gotten into trouble with police.

Any four-year-old child who doesn’t speak and understand fluent Norwegian should be forced into Norwegian day care with the parents paying the full cost. At the same time, Frp wants the state to cancel Norwegian lessons and re-evaluate temporary residence permission for any would-be immigrants who travel back to their homelands on holiday.

Frp also wants Norway to renegotiate its international obligations to take in refugees.

“I’m really taken aback that they would propose these sorts of things, when they know they’re clearly at odds with the policies that we, the Liberals (Venstre) and the Conservatives (Høyre) want,” Bekkevold told NRK. “But it’s good that this comes out now, before the election, so voters can see what they’ll get with Frp in a government.”

Deepens dilemma for Høyre
The tough anti-immigration proposals, which Frp leader Siv Jensen said are “aimed to stimulate debate,” deepens the dilemma that Høyre is already facing, over what kind of right- or right-center government coalition it might lead. Høyre is the largest of the non-socialist parties but is unlikely to win a majority of seats in Parliament on its own and thus needs support from the others. Høyre leader Erna Solberg continues to claim she wants all four non-socialist parties, including Frp, in the government. Now that may not be possible.

Michael Tetzschner, a veteran Høyre politician who serves as the party’s spokesman on immigration issues, immediately objected to Frp’s proposal that immigrants must work and pay tax in Norway for 10 years before than can apply for citizenship. “We don’t agree that normal, law-abiding folks should have such a long quarantine,” Tetzschner said, adding that he thinks many of Frp’s proposals will hinder integration instead of nurture it.

Frp's anti-immigration proposals have taken the air out of its potential partners' balloons, and perhaps its own. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Frp’s anti-immigration proposals have taken the air out of its potential partners’ balloons, and perhaps its own. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

He’s also surprised that Frp is so skeptical about immigrants who come to Norway to work, not least because labour immigration is needed in order to sustain the economic growth Frp itself promotes through use of more oil revenues. Høyre agrees that immigrants and their children should be tested on their proficiency in the Norwegian language, but doesn’t think they should be punished or hit with large expenses if they fail the tests.

The divisive proposals from Frp come just as some top Høyre politicians reportedly have thought it’s better to form a majority government with Frp than to deal with a “sour and aggressive” Frp that’s once again excluded from government power. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that key Høyre officials thus feel Solberg should choose to form a government with Frp instead of with the smaller KrF and Venstre. They think it will be easier to negotiate with Frp within the government and then with the centrist parties, instead of negotiating a right-center government platform and then trying to get Frp to go along with it.

While Frp’s new proposals were upsetting the party’s own potential partners, they were swiftly condemned by the incumbent and opposing left-center parties. “This is the most drastic attack on fundamental human rights that I’ve ever seen in Norway,” said Heikki Holmås of the Socialist Left party (SV), who currently serves as Norway’s government minister in charge of foreign aid. “On the very day we see terrible photos from Syria, Frp goes on the attack against international conventions for refugees. With this, Frp says a gigantic ‘no’ to the rest of the world. Such a party should never get into government.”

‘Vigorous and offensive’
Frp leader Jensen, who has fought hard to win government power for her party and says Frp won’t support any government of which it’s not a member, stressed that she hasn’t taken any firm position on the anti-immigration proposals from her own party’s commission. She also conceded that the party “needs to spend some more time” on some of them.

She called them “vigorous and offensive,” though, adding that Norwegians “must dare to be proud of their own background and identity in order to also manage to be generous with other cultures that come to Norway.” Political commentators suggested that Frp is simply trying to secure the right-wing vote in Norway and thus came with such provocative proposals late in the election campaign.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund