Erna Solberg of the Conservatives and Siv Jensen of the Progress Party finally started rolling out their new government platform on Monday evening, promising to make Norwegians’ lives simpler and offer them more individual freedom. Solberg said the government she’ll lead “will have more confidence” in ordinary folks, and let them make their own decisions.
That means more freedom to choose everything from health care solutions to day care programs from a wider variety of public and private options. Jensen said the “focus” will be on a reduction of public sector bureaucracy in Norway’s social welfare state, and more cooperation between the public and private sectors.
She and Solberg haven’t hammered out all their programs or ironed out all their differences, but each was smiling and nodding while they faced reporters and their own Members of Parliament at the Sundvolden Hotel northwest of Oslo Monday night. Earlier in the day, they’d chartered buses to bring their party faithful to Sundvolden and finally fill them in on what they’d agreed during the last month of talks since they collectively won the right to form a government in the September 9 parliamentary election.
“This is an historic day,” Jensen told the crowd at the hotel that was bathed in blue lights for the occasion (the color used by the conservative side of Norwegian politics). Jensen said the platform she and Solberg had agreed “was so good” that her party finally could go into government after 40 years in opposition.
She and Solberg called the platform a “road map” for the years ahead and both made it clear they’d had to compromise on quite a few issues. “I’m proud and very humble at the same time,” Jensen said. “We know where we’re coming from, and where we want to go.”
Both seemed every bit as intent on making an immediate mark, and letting Norwegians know that they’ll soon see a difference from the last eight years, as their predecessors were when outgoing Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg took over as leader of a left-center government. One of the first, largely symbolic, moves his government made was to buy some high-price private property on the fashionable Bygdøy Peninsula in Oslo and open it up to the public. Jensen and Solberg repeatedly talked about giving Norwegians “more everyday freedom” and more individual choice.
Stores will be allowed to open on Sundays if they want to, so shoppers can shop if they want to. Vinmonopolet stores can also stay open later so Norwegians can buy more wine and liquor if they want to. The new government led by Solberg intends to remove inheritance tax, so families can keep their fortunes intact. Health care and elder care reforms are aimed at ensuring that Norwegians get the type of treatments in hospital or care at home that they want and need. Jensen promised more freedom of choice “so that everyone can be sure they get the care they need when they need it.” Her party won approval, for example, for a pilot project with state financing of elder care, instead of having to rely on financing through local governments, where care varies from place to place.
Road projects on a roll
The new Solberg-Jensen government will also make roadbuilding a priority, “building Norway through better transportation,” with less of it financed through the user tolls (bompenger) that Jensen’s party despises. Jensen didn’t win support to eliminate road tolls, but a new form of state-owned road company will be able to finance projects as a whole, instead of just a few kilometers at a time, through borrowing with state guarantees and public-private partnerships. “This is a major effort, along with a new infrastructure fund,” Solberg said. “It will mean more earmarked money for specific projects, and build the roads we need faster, more efficiently and cheaper.”
The duo also wants to deregulate much of Norway’s heavily subsidized and regulated agricultural sector, with state broadcaster NRK reporting that they intend to get rid of the so-called “odelsloven,” a law ensuring transfer of farm property to the next generation or to other family relatives instead of being able to sell it on the private market, and the law known as “boplikt,” which means that buyers of attractive real estate in holiday or rural areas must actually live there, instead of using the property as a holiday home.
They nonetheless stressed “responsible fiscal policies,” with the rule limiting expenditure of oil revenues to remain intact. Immigration policies will become stricter, with some asylum centers to be locked and immigrants reportedly being put on probation for five years upon arrival in Norway instead of the current three years required to fulfill requirements for permanent residence.
Myriad details of the government’s new platform will continue to dribble out over the next week, while Jensen and Solberg continue to negotiate over who will make up their roster of ministers. It hasn’t been firmed up yet, both said, although Solberg told NRK that she already had made a few phone calls to ministerial candidates. Given the lack of leaks from their past few weeks of negotiations, Solberg said she expected decisions on the remaining issues still to be resolved will also be withheld until they’re ready to make announcements.
“I’m proud of what we’ve managed to put together,” Jensen told reporters. Both she and Solberg claimed they were “extremely satisfied” and they think the voters will be, too.
“Our ambition is to make a great country even better,” Jensen said. “We just have another way of doing things,” Solberg echoed. Her new cabinet will be formed by next Friday, October 18, when it will meet for its first formal Council of State with King Harald V.