UPDATED: After two weeks of talks and a final get-together on Monday, Norway’s four non-socialist parties formally ended their first round of talks on forming a new government. They then moved on to meetings with their own party fellows Monday afternoon, with a decision expected soon on whether they’ll all move forward with forming a new Conservatives-led government coalition or whether one of both of the two small parties will drop out.
“I think our party will be satisfied when the day is over,” a smiling Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the small Christian Democrats party, told reporters before heading another meeting with his board and fellow Members of Parliament. Neither Hareide nor the other party leaders would give any indication of the outcome of their last 12 days of talks.
That’s at least one area where the four parties (the Conservatives, the Progress Party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats) have been united – in their commitment not to reveal the substance of their talks or how they might have ironed out their differences on a long list of issues. They have all found some common ground, however, that may at least lead to some pacts in parliament for future legislation if not to shared government power.
The four parties had recessed over the weekend, breaking away from the marathon negotiations of late last week to meet with their respective party fellows, spend time with family or even engage in some home remodelling. Ketil Solvik-Olsen of the Progress Party, for example, sent out a message on social media, for example, that he would spend part of his weekend working on some roof trimmings, while Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservatives said he’d be cooking up some stew and only negotating on dinner music. “Nice with a change,” Solvik-Olsen wrote.
Monday was expected to be hectic, though, with the last round of negotiations and then their party meetings. Political commentators expected some sort of announcement about which parties will make up Norway’s new government coalition on Monday evening. Hareide said it was unlikely before 8pm.
It’s the two small parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, that have been making the most demands even though they hold only 5 percent of the vote each. They nonetheless may be able to push through their positions on such issues as amnesty for children of asylum seekers (extracting promises from the Progress Party and the Conservatives to let them stay in Norway) and even on a delay in any oil exploration off scenic Loftoten and Vesterålen.
Both the Conservatives and the Progress Party may want them in the government badly enough that they’ll cave in on such issues and let the two small parties get their way.
More money needed
It may be tougher on the issues of agricultural policies, several social issues and funding for local governments, even though the four parties already seem to have agreed on a need to streamline municipal bureaucracies and reduce the sheer number of local governments in Norway.
The Christian Democrats, however, want to keep protecting Norwegian farmers from foreign competition, giving them the same level of subsidies (the highest in the world) and maintaining high tariffs to restrict imports. “The Christian Democrats want to protect agricultural land and that’s not an option for us or the other two parties,” Torgeir Trældal, agricultural spokesman for the Progress Party, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We disagree on how much we’ll give the farmers in subsidies, but there I think we can come to some agreement.”
Some commentators were predicting that Conservatives leader Erna Solberg, whom all four parties back as Norway’s next prime minister, will simply need to find more money in the state budget to appease all of them. That may not be so hard, given the increase in available oil revenues that can be spent.