Norway’s four non-socialist parties agreed on Wednesday to extend their intense talks on the possibility of forming a new government. After eight days of huddling at a hotel in Oslo since collectively winning the recent parliamentary election, they still can’t say how many of them will be part of a Conservatives-led coalition.
The party leaders all won a green light from their respective boards on Wednesday afternoon to continue what’s called “sondering,” basically a process of determining whether they have enough common ground to actually negotiate specific issues for a common platform. They were supposed to have decided on Wednesday which of them will join the coalition and which might simply become part of the opposition in Parliament instead.
Holding out for influence
Both the Conservative Party and the Progress Party, which together won 43.1 percent of the vote, appear eager to rule together, with the Progress Party reportedly poised to make compromises in order to get its first stab at government power ever. The coalition will be led by the Conservatives, which is the largest of the four parties with 26.8 percent of the vote.
They need the much smaller Liberal and Christian Democrat parties at the center of Norwegian politics, though, to gain a majority in parliament. The Liberals still seem more keen of the two to join forces with the Conservatives and the Progress Party, while Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats is clearly holding out in the hopes of prevailing on various issues even though his party won just 5.6 percent of the vote.
Newspaper Nationen was reporting Wednesday night that Hareide isn’t willing to make too many compromises to rule with the other parties, especially the Progress Party. While all the three others, for example, want to ease protectionist agricultural policies and lower food prices, Hareide is much more sympathetic to Norway’s farmers and wants to retain strict regulation, high subsidies and punitive tariffs on imports. There are other key differences on major issues, and Nationen wrote that Hareide had recommended against joining the government even though he agreed to keep talking.
Hareide’s party has been called a “party pooper” on many issues involving market liberalization, individual freedom and even sex. The Christian Democrats favour a more restrictive society, opposing lower alcohol taxes and egg donations, for example, or measures that would allow stores to stay open on Sundays. Real reform in Norway would likely only occur if the Christian Democrats does assume its place in parliament and stays out of the government, because it can put the brakes on the Conservatives’ and Progress Party’s agendas just like the farmer-friendly Center Party did to Labour in the current outgoing government.
Getting along, though
All four party leaders and their two deputies claim, however, that the tone among them is good, even humourous, and that they’re getting along better than might be expected. The fact that there have been virtually no leaks from their talks supports the theory that they have confidence in one another. If any single party was irritated, they would likely leak tips to all the eager Norwegian reporters waiting outside their door.
They nonetheless haven’t been able to find enough common ground to make any coalition commitments yet. Hareide faces a lonely existence in the parliament if his party opts out, but claimed he and his colleagues would mount “constructive opposition” from their seats in Parliament. Others within his own party, though, have said that means they’d face “another four years in opposition with no power.”
The four parties have agreed on at least one issue, municipal reform that would greatly reduce the number of townships in Norway. They disagree on tax and foreign aid levels, cultural expenditure, defense spending and support for the police, among other issues in addition to market liberalization and agriculture policies.
“Without the Christian Democrats, the three other parties can unite on more modern, liberal politics,” commentator Jan Arild Snoen of the conservative magazine Minerva told newspaper VG.”With all four of them, they might be so boring that they would hardly have a chance of getting reelected.”