Finance Minister Siv Jensen, who also heads the Norwegian political party that’s long been most skeptical towards immigration, announced at its national board meeting over the weekend that the recent influx of refugees into Norway can’t continue and must be brought under control. On Monday she received support from an unlikely opposition party.
The national meeting of the Progress Party’s top officials in Oslo had been billed as one of the most important political gatherings of the autumn. It was widely expected to revolve around an examination of why the party performed so poorly in last month’s municipal elections. Jensen’s party has suffered a heavy loss of voters since it won government power in 2013, and various party fellows’ anti-refugee rhetoric during the election campaign had been challenged and harshly criticized. Jensen’s own suggestion that local communities could simpy refuse to take in refugees set off a storm of controversy, and the party’s tough stance towards the refugee crisis was widely viewed as the reason for its election losses.
‘Costs will exceed’ all expectations
With thousands of refugees streaming into Norway since the election, not least over the country’s northern border to Russia, Jensen opted instead to step up her party’s restrictive stand. She spoke little about what went wrong in last month’s election, when her party won only 6 percent of the vote in Oslo, for example, and lost 10 of its 12 local mayor spots around the country. It was the party’s worst election showing in more than 20 years, but Jensen concentrated instead on stressing progress made during the past two years as part of Norway’s conservative government coalition and, mostly, warning about the consequences of the refugee influx.
“The costs will, in the short term, exceed all earlier prognoses,” Jensen said from the prodium in her prepared remarks. She confirmed that the government will present actual financial figures later this week, when Prime Minister Erna Solberg is due to ask Parliament for funding authorization since it will exceed this year’s budget. Jensen wouldn’t reveal any figures, but said she “can confirm that the numbers are high,” and that they will “have consequences” for the government’s policies and programs.
Several proposals to meet the challenge:
The bottom line, according to Finance Minister Jensen: “Norway cannot continue to take in the numbers (of refugees) who are arriving now. We absolutely must bring this influx under control.” In order to do that, her party’s leadership proposes much tougher border control, reducing the assistance extended to asylum seekers, granting more temporary instead of permanent residence permission (to increase the chances of refugees returning to their homelands if conflicts ease) and restricting the possibilities for refugees who are granted asylum in Norway to later bring their families to Norway as well. Family reunification, Progress Party politicians have proposed, should only be allowed if the families in Norway take full financial responsibility for any other family members allowed to immigrate.
Solberg, meanwhile, is also due later this week to present the government’s plan for handling the refugee influx, the magnitude of which has surprised almost everyone. She has already called for a national dugnad (the Norwegian word for a collective effort) to accommodate the roughly 20,000 refugees expected to have arrived this year alone, and has also warned of the huge costs and challenges of even more refugees arriving next year in a small country like Norway.
On Monday, both Solberg and Jensen were getting unusual support from the head of the rural-oriented opposition Center Party, which generally argues in favour of the strict regulation and subsidies that both Solberg’s Conservatives and Jensen’s party fight against. Trygve Slagsvold Vedum told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that all the parties in Parliament should unite to help the government handle the refugee crisis.
Vedum described the refugee influx as so dramatic that a broad, non-partisan compromise is urgently needed. “The best thing about Norwegian politics is when we, irregardless of party lines, mange to pull together,” Vedum told NRK. “We have managed that in the cases of pension reform, day care for children, climate issues and many other demanding issues.”
“The situation around the refugee influx to Norway means that it’s not easy being in government right now,” Vedum said. He said the government needs the support of all other parties, simply to have the “peace” needed to tackle a very difficult situation. That suggests the government will get more support for its contested use of Norwegian oil revenues to finance the unforeseen refugee costs, and its efforts to reduce the influx itself.
Vedum’s comments, and Jensen’s, come just as 11 European countries have agreed on new measures to reduce the tempo and magnitude of the refugee influx themselves. Vedum and his party are strong opponents of the EU but now want the EU to toughen border restrictions farther south, to ease the flow of migrants streaming into Europe and heading north.
One major, thorny issue remains over how Russian authorities have been allowing refugees and other immigrants in Russia to travel to, and thus cross, its border to Norway, while restricting their access to the Finnish border. The Norwegian government has demanded an explanation from the Russians, and wants the refugee stream from Russia stopped. Police in Finnmark, in Northern Norway, have claimed to NRK that Russian authorities have appeared keen to rid themselves of refugee obligations by sending refugees on to Norway.