Prime Minister Erna Solberg has been huddling this week with her fellow party leaders needed to keep her government together. They all returned to the Oslo hotel where their government program was hatched after the elections of 2013, and emerged from meetings claiming they were ready to carry on.
“We have been though a demanding period, but we’re now ready to build on our cooperation,” Solberg announced after a round of meetings at the Radisson Hotel in Oslo’s Nydalen district on Tuesday. The meeting was officially part of a scheduled budget conference, but was needed to clear the air following some major disagreements.
After months of turmoil that started with clashes over the government’s state budget and climaxed last week with a major quarrel over immigration, the four party leaders involved seemed to have patched over their differences. The challenge is that Solberg’s government officially consists of just her party, the Conservatives, and the Progress Party, led by Finance Minister Siv Jensen. But since those two parties failed to win a clear majority in Parliament, they rely on support from two small centrist parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals. And that’s what has led to a lot of noise, especially in recent weeks.
“It depends on how you define ‘noise,’ though,” Jensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday evening. “What some people will call ‘noise’ is in fact honest political discussion and commitment from four political parties.” Solberg claimed that “we tolerate” brisk discussion, and disagreement.
Solberg stressed that “this government cooperation is based on four parties … and we will manage together,” even though the two small parties remain officially outside her government coalition. “We have agreed to speak together more often,” said Solberg, adding that her government will more frequently invite the two support parties to join talks on various issues, and before major proposals are put forward. She and her fellow ministers will share more information with the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, and give them more credit when programs pass through Parliament.
‘Have to talk together’
Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberals seemed satisfied as all four party leader met reporters. Hareide’s party “is secure with the cooperation we have,” he said. He added that he and Per Sandberg of the Progress Party, with whom he publicly quarreled last week, now “speak well together on political issues.” Many commentators have mostly blamed “loose canons like Sandberg” for the recent spate of tension, noting that Solberg and Jensen cooperate well. Jensen’s Progress Party, though, has lost almost half its voter support since the election of 2013, and needs to maintain its appeal to the most conservative parts of its constituency that Sandberg represents.
Bernt Aardal, an election researcher at the state Institute for Social Research, said the government coalition must exhibit closer cooperation if it’s to retain public confidence. “All four have to talk together, and try to cooperate better,” Aardal told newspaper Dagsavisen. “If they don’t manage that, it will be difficult for Erna Solberg to be reelected in 2017.”