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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Party leaders take over budget talks

A week of negotiations over the government’s proposed state budget collapsed on Tuesday, when representatives from the two government coalition parties and their two support parties gave up efforts to agree on compromises. Now the party and parliamentarian leaders must take over negotiations, with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen following talks closely.

Finance Minister Siv Jensen (left) and Prime Minister Erna Solberg after meeting King Harald V at the Royal Palace in Oslo on Wednesday. In the background, the new minister in charge of family issues, Solveig Horne, and new Health Minister Bent Høie. NRK and other channels carried much of the government transition live on national TV. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/
Finance Minister Siv Jensen (left) and Prime Minister Erna Solberg were all smiles when they took over government power last year, but now they face a big battle over their state budget and must negotiate all over again with their two so-called support parties in Parliament. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/

The four veteran politicians who had been trying to come to agreement on the government’s proposed budget claimed the collapse of their talks was not dramatic. All of them (Svein Flåtten from the Conservatives, Gjermund Hagesæter from the Progress Party, Hans Olav Syversen from the Christian Democrats and Terje Breivik from the Liberals) represent their respective parties’ finance policies. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that they simply “had nothing more to give” and thus had to turn over negotiations to their own party bosses.

“We had come to a point where it was natural to send this up to a higher level,” Hagesæter told NRK.

Their talks have been closely followed in the Norwegian media, but none of the participants would detail what they were offering in terms of compromises. It seems the minority government coalition’s two so-called support parties (the Christian Democrats and the Liberals) didn’t turn out to be so supportive of the conservative government’s new initiatives and tax cuts after all.

They had already harshly criticized the government’s state budget proposals to cut the annual tax levied on Norwegians’ net worth (formueskatt), arguing it would benefit the wealthy far more than those with average incomes. They also wanted, among other things, to earmark much more money for foreign aid and environmental programs, to preserve child welfare payments to Norwegians on disability, and, more recently, to give amnesty to the children of rejected asylum seekers. The Christian Democrats especially wants concrete rules and programs to ensure “what’s best for the children,” and prevent refugee families from being deported even in cases where parents have lied about their situation. They’re threatening to discard an earlier agreement on the issue if budget negotiations fail.

NRK reported over the weekend that more than NOK 2 billion had been shifted around within the state budget, in order to satisfy various demands. It clearly was not enough, and now the parliamentarian leaders for Solberg and Jensen must take over negotiations with the party and parliamentarian leaders of the support parties. Jensen already appeared to step in on Monday, when she held a special meeting within her party on the status of the negotiations.

“I feel we have stretched ourselves far already,” Hagesæther of the Jensen’s Progress Party said on Tuesday. It doesn’t help that the Christian Democrats and the Liberals have many different priorities themselves. Agreement on the budget must be reached by the end of next week, if the government is to get its budget approved in Parliament. If not, the government risks falling. Berglund



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