Norway’s premier Erna Solberg is clearly hoping to finally have some time off over the upcoming Christmas holidays. She admitted on Thursday, at an annual end-of-year press conference, that she’s now wrapping up her “toughest half-year” as prime minister.
The influx of asylum seekers arriving in Norway has been the most challenging issue, along with other crises, threats and terror that have dominated the past six months.
“This has been my toughest half-year as prime minister, simply because there have been so many major jobs to do,” she told reporters gathered at her residence. “It’s been a demanding half-year for Norway, for Europe and the world.”
The refugee crisis has craved the most attention from government officials, Solberg first and foremost. While 1,391 people sought asylum in July, the number skyrocketed to 8,666 in October. All told, more than 30,000 are expected to have arrived in Norway by the end of the year, with officials expecting another influx next year.
“It’s demanding to handle a situation where the arrivals just kept increasing,” Solberg said. The influx also set off new tensions with Russia, over control of the border in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark. Arrivals have decreased dramatically just in the past week, after Solberg’s government further tightened border controls and threatened quick deportations of those not qualifying for asylum. She warned against thinking, though, that the refugee crisis has been solved.
“We can once again experience lots of arrivals,” Solberg said. “We have some breathing room now to find accommodation, instead of having to improvise, and we have better structure now.” But the challenge of refugees fleeing war and poverty at home is likely to continue, she said.
Solberg also devoted much of her year-end wrap-up to the need to restructure Norway’s economy in light of the dive in oil prices, and the need to address rising unemployment. The only solution to both unemployment and large numbers of refugees in Norway, she said, is the creation of new jobs. “If we’re going to master the challenges for Norway, we must create more jobs,” she said.
In between various crises, Solberg was also busy with the late summer municipal election campaign and the election itself, in which her Conservative Party lost its foothold in several Norwegian cities including Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø. Then came the opening of Parliament, the state budget process and serious threats to security caused by Islamic extremists. Her government is now grappling with whether to contribute more to the fight against them in Syria and Iraq.
On Wednesday Solberg also reshuffled her cabinet for the first time, resulting in new leaders for seven ministries. She joked at the press conference afterwards that now they can spend the Christmas holiday wondering about what they’ve done in accepting the challenging jobs ahead.