Budget battlers call for a ‘time out’

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Top Norwegian politicians have called a ceasefire in the battle over the minority government’s proposed state budget for 2015. The government has five days left to satisfy the two small parties from which it needs support to get its budget through parliament, but the negotiators won’t meet again until Sunday.

Non-socialist parties celebrated winning a collective majority, but they ultimately couldn't agree on forming a government.

These four party leaders need to agree on a new state budget within the next week. From left, in happier days, Siv Jensen of the Progress Party, Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberals. PHOTO: Høyre

The quarreling has gone on since Finance Minister Siv Jensen of the Progress Party presented the conservative government coalition’s first budget on October 8. It was immediately slammed as being “anti-social” and not environmentally friendly enough. Not only were the main opposition parties in Parliament quick to blast the budget from all sides, the government’s two so-called support parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, didn’t offer any support for the budget either.

They’ve been battling with the Progress and Conservative parties ever since, in an effort to put their stamps on the budget. The two sides admitted they were still far apart after a meeting on Thursday, and needed more time to cool off and consult with their respective party fellows.

“It’s not optimal that we need to take this break,” Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the Christian Democrats, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We would have rather seen a solution in the course of Friday.”

So would Trond Helleland, parliamentarian leader and currently the chief negotiator for the Conservatives. “But we’ll work really hard now, and continue negotiations on Sunday,” Helleland told reporters after the two sides broke off.

‘Chaos and uncertainty’
Opposition parties are using the budget impasse for all it’s worth, with Labour Party MPs claiming the delay is causing “chaos and uncertainty.” Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre said he thinks the two government parties and their two support parties will ultimately come to terms, with an altered budget getting through parliament, “but this has all created uncertainty around the budget that I think we would have been better off without.”

The budget battle has taken a toll on the government parties’ standing in public opinion polls, and strengthened that of the two small support parties. Labour, meanwhile, has seen some soaring popularity among voters while the government struggles to win support for its budget, but settled back down to 36.2 percent of the vote in the latest poll from newspaper Aftenposten. Labour remained Norway’s single largest party even after last year’s election, but the Conservatives and the Progress Party together were strong enough to form a government. Now they’ve fallen back to just 23.1 percent and 11.9 percent of the vote respectively.

Such voter fickleness is to be expected, claim commentators, while Hareide of the Christian Democrats claimed that the government “must admit that there are things in the budget that folks just won’t have.” In order to satisfy their own voters, though, it’s important for the Conservatives and especially the Progress Party to push through the initiatives that swept them into office last year, including cuts in Norway’s tax on net worth and reductions in other taxes and fees. The Progress Party is mightily resisting, for example, the Liberals’ attempt to raise fuel taxes to discourage driving.

Venstre leader Trine Skei Grande new seems more keen on getting into government than on maintaining a bloc with the Christian Democrats. Even though her party's name, "Venstre" (The Liberals), means "left" in Norwegian, it's on the "right" and conservative side of Norwegian politics, adding to the confusion for some voters. PHOTO: Venstre

Trine Skei Grande, leader of the Liberal Party (Venstre), caused a stir when she walked out of state budget negotiations to take her nephew to the theater Wednesday night. Foreign media scoffed at her priorities, but other Norwegian politicians defended her choice, claiming it’s important for politicians to take care of their private lives as well. PHOTO: Venstre

There was one entertaining diversion from the budget debate this week, which foreign media described as “typically Norwegian.” Just as negotiations moved into high-gear on Wednesday, the Liberals’ leader, Trine Skei Grande, left the bargaining table to take her four-year-old nephew Linus to an annual pre-holiday children’s theater performance. Correspondents for a German news bureau and the Financial Times expressed surprise that a top politician would desert state budget negotiations in favour of such family time, but Grande’s political colleagues hailed her priorities.

“It just showed what Trine is like,” her fellow negotiator Hareide told state broadcaster NRK, in defending Grande’s theater visit. “She goes full-force into politics to make a positive difference with her contagious warmth, and when it comes to her family, she always fulfills her promises.”

He said that Grande had already told him weeks ago, when budget negotiations started, that “I’m ready to work 24 hours a day, except for Wednesday at 6pm on November 12, because then I’m taking Linus to the theater.”

Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Socialist Left (SV), also claimed Grande had her priorities straight, while Labour leader Støre added that “it’s great that in Norway, politicians can combine their jobs and private lives. This was just an example that politicians also have a life they need to take care of outside of politics.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund