The Progress Party’s call for a referendum on whether Norway should accept an extra 8,000 refugees over the next three years set off a new debate that turned nasty on Friday. Trond Giske, deputy leader of the Labour Party, told his counterpart from the Progress Party to “act like a man,” adding that the only right thing for the Progress Party to do would be to withdraw from the government.
“Just say ‘we don’t agree’ (with the refugee deal hammered out by the Progress Party’s government partner, the Conservatives, along with Labour and four other parties this week), that ‘we can’t administer such a policy,'” Giske told Per Sandberg, the outspoken deputy leader of the Progress Party who earlier in the week threatened that the party would indeed leave the government if ordered to take in thousands more refugees from Syria.
‘Declaration of war’
Giske said that asking the public to vote on the issue was equal to “a declaration of war” against the Progress Party’s own government partner. Prime Minister and Conservatives leader Erna Solberg has said “we can live with” the refugee agreement. Sandberg clearly doesn’t agree.
Giske’s attack on state broadcaster NRK’s debate program Politisk kvarter infuriated Sandberg, who responded by calling Giske “direkte frekk” (roughly the equivalent of “downright shameless”), live on national radio. “You’ve been a government minister yourself, you’ve sat in a government,” Sandberg fumed. “You should know how the system works.” He claimed an agreement negotiated by the Parliament doesn’t necessarily influence a government: “This is an agreement made in Parliament, and has nothing to do with the government.”
Sandberg also had to tolerate a verbal bashing from Audun Lysbakken, head of the Socialist Left party (SV), which also refused to back the agreement on refugees but for reasons entirely different from the Progress Party’s. SV wanted Norway to take in more refugees, not less, and at least 10,000. Lysbakken claimed the Progress Party’s call for a referendum was not serious, but rather “a cry for attention.” He added that “if you really think that 8,000 poor refugees from Syria will lead to the end of Norwaym then the only honest thing to do is pull out of the government,” Lysbakken said.
Referendum ‘a sign of panic’
It’s unusual for politicians to defer to voters through a referendum, which is widely viewed as them shirking their responsibility instead of letting the people decide. They have been used more frequently at the local government level, though, often at the initiation of the Progress Party.
There’s little if any support for a referendum on the refugee issue in parliament. “I think it’s sad that they (the Progress Party) want to have a referendum on whether we should help some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the Christian Democrats, which generally supports the government. He told NRK that he thought the referendum proposal was a sign of “panic” from the Progress Party’s side.
Meanwhile, the European chief of the United Nations’ refugee program said Norway should be proud of its offer to take in 8,000 additional Syrian refugees, claiming it was in line with the country’s “humanitarian tradition.” Vincent Cochetel told NRK that he hopes Norway’s hospitality will be contagious, so that other European nations will do the same. To date, Germany and Sweden have admitted the most refugees, with Sweden’s contribution the greatest relative to its own population.