Representatives for Norway’s dissatisfied farmers quickly broke off negotiations with government officials on Tuesday, because they weren’t getting enough additional state support. Agriculture minister Sylvi Listhaug called the farmers’ decision “unfortunate,” and both sides blamed the other for their failure to come to terms.
Listhaug of the conservative Progress Party grew up on a farm herself, but is keen to reform Norway’s heavily subsidized agricultural system that contributes to the country’s strictly regulated food production and high prices. The farmers, meanwhile, have relied on state subsidies, price controls, production quotas, strict regulation and protection from imports for decades. They view most proposed change as a threat and argue that it would jeopardize food production in Norway.
Listhaug and her colleagues argue just the opposite, claiming that their reforms would increase food production and clear the way for more full-time farmers. The farmers respond that Listhaug’s proposals would hurt small farms and “industrialize” farming in general.
“Both I and the government think it’s unfortunate that the talks broke off,” Listhaug said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “Our goal was to reach agreement.”
‘Willing to stretch’
She also said the government was “willing to stretch” its offer, which provided an additional NOK 150 million that would, on top of the NOK 13 billion the farmers already receive, result in average pay raises for farmers of 3.5 percent. Listhaug was prepared to offer “more money and the rest, therefore we’re disappointed.”
Listhaug said the government had two alternatives: “Either continue the torment that Norwegian agriculture has amounted to in recent years or launch a new course where to a greater degree farmers would produce the food that Norwegian consumers really want, and where those really living full-time off their farms will have priority.”
Nils T Bjørke of the farmers’ organization Norges Bondelag claimed the farmers were willing “to discuss various solutions for future-oriented and sustainable Norwegian food production, but the state has shown marginal will to negotiate.”
Tempers rose during Tuesday’s press conference with both sides accusing the other of using incorrect information and inflammatory rhetoric. Listhaug claimed Bjørke and his colleague in the group representing small farmers, Merete Furuberg, were using scare tactics against their own members. Furuberg objected to Listhaug’s characterization, not least that the farmers were tormenting themselves and Norwegian consumers.
Talks broke off just a half-hour after they began on Tuesday afternoon. The farmers will now likely carry out various protest actions and attempt to disrupt food production to demonstrate their anger, while the government forwards its original offer to parliament. It already had won some nods from Members of Parliament but now may hinge mostly on the Liberal Party (Venstre), which can provide the government with a critical swing vote but which has wavered back and forth on its willingness to actually liberalize farming.