With her revised national budget in the box, her Progress Party doing well in the polls, her minority government’s coalition remaining intact and her leadership of her party unchallenged, Finance Minister Siv Jensen had reason to celebrate on Wednesday, and not just because June 1st is her birthday.
Jensen is turning 47 just as Norway’s Oil Fund is turning 20. She was extending congratulations to the fund on Tuesday just before being congratulated herself. The Oil Fund, she wrote on social media Tuesday evening, “gives us enormous possibilities to build out welfare, and in today’s situation when unemployment is rising, jobs can quickly be created when we use extra oil money for buildings and facilities, maintenance of hospitals and for building new roads and rail lines.”
She’d advocated using more oil money for years, to invest in needed infrastructure improvements within Norway instead of simply investing the fund’s proceeds abroad. Now she’s doing so, and catching some criticism for dipping into the fund like never before. At the same time, however, she hasn’t come close to actually tapping as much money as she could under the rules for Oil Fund use. She claims she’s just temporarily using “extra” oil money to lubricate the state budget.
Good poll results
Despite the criticism Jensen can also be comforted by some recently solid public opinion poll results. Her party has not lost voters by being the “little sister” in a minority government with the Conservatives, like many predicted. The most recent “party barometer” conducted for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) by reesearch firm Sentio showed Jensen’s Progress Party up 2.9 points to claim 17.6 percent of the vote, more than the 16.3 percent that won the party government power for the first time in the last national election. While polls go up and down, the Progress Party has maintained an average of 16.8 percent over the past six months, which DN described as “a stable expression that Siv Jensen is managing to hang on to voters, so far.”
She’s pleased, and credits hard work on the part of government ministers. She thinks the solid poll showings reflect “high visibility, high activity and a budget that takes unemployment seriously.” Her budget won approval from the government’s two support parties in Parliament after a round of weekend negotiations.
Election researcher and professor Frank Aarebrot also claims Jensen’s Progress Party also had some “good timing” with the refugee crisis. “Norway suddenly had a refugee problem and the Progress Party managed to stem the influx,” Aarebrot told DN. “That increases loyalty to the party. The paradox is that when they succeed with their asylum policies, they may disappear from folks’ consciousness and lose support.”
Jensen could also celebrate 10 years as leader of the Progress Party this spring. She told newspaper Aftenposten in connection with her party’s annual meeting that she felt proud, touched and an enormous sense of responsibility when she was elected in 2006 as the party’s first female leader and following the legendary Carl I Hagen as party boss. “The most important thing for me was to fill the role in my way, not being a bad copy of others,” she said. “It’s something you can only develop over time. I think I’ve done that.”
Her workload is enormous and the pressure “higher than ever,” she concedes, and there are days, she told Aftenposten, “when I just want to pull the covers over my head and let the world move forward without me today.” She always gets up and goes to work, though, and claims to remain highly motivated. “The day that motivation falls, I’ll have to find something else to do,” she said.
That day isn’t likely to come anytime soon. She thrives in her role as finance minister in Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s government, but is quick to note that it will be another tough election campaign next year and after the election, all agreements will need to be renegotiated. Her long tenure as a politcian in opposition has left it’s mark, and the opposition politician within her “is still alive and well.”
Jensen and her sister Nina, who heads the environmental organization WWF in Norway and often spars with the finance minister, are both proud descendants of the historic Norwegian feminist Betzy Kjelsberg. The author of a new biolgraphy of Kjelsberg published earlier this year claims that Kjelsberg “built bridges. She talked with everyone, with workers, labour organizations, industrial leaders and women’s rights activists, and expanded their knowledge of one another.” Jensen has learned a lot about that during her time in government, needing to negotiate with three other parties. There may be some cake at the office on Wednesday, but there will also be a lot of work to do.