Norway’s Progress Party, which is part of the country’s Conservatives-led minority coalition government, has for the first time come out publicly against joining the European Union (EU). The party has earlier refused to take a firm stand on EU membership, which is also still opposed by the vast majority of Norwegians.
“We have been too unclear earlier,” Per Sandberg, deputy of the party and one of its most outspoken members, told newspaper Dagbladet over the weekend. “Folks haven’t known what we meant about the EU.
“Now we’re saying for the first time ‘no,’ as the first party on the right side of Norwegian politics,” Sandberg said.
The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) currently shares government power with the Conservative Party (Høyre), which has continued to support EU membership despite public opposition to it. Norwegians have voted against joining the EU twice, first in a referendum in 1972 and again in 1994.
The EU issue has thus been dormant for decades, also during the former Labour-led government coalition’s two terms. Labour, ironically enough, has been one of the only parties whose leaders have agreed with their otherwise arch-rival Conservatives in viewing EU membership favourably. Erna Solberg, head of the Conservatives and currently Norway’s prime minister, and both of Labour’s former and current leaders (ex-premier Jens Stoltenberg and his successor Jonas Gahr Støre) think EU membership would be good for Norway and good for the EU. Since Norway must abide by most all EU rules and regulations anyway, in order to gain access to the EU market, Norway’s few EU backers think Norwegians should have more say in forming those rules and regulations. Others liken the situation to taxation without representation.
Norwegians continue to be generally anti-EU regardless. A recent public opinion poll conducted by research firm MMI for Dagbladet still showed 66 percent of those questioned answering that they’d vote against joining the EU if another referendum were held today. That’s down from record high anti-EU sentiment that even topped 80 percent in some polls a few years ago, but the opposition remains solid enough that few if any politicians are inclined to try drumming up support. The most recent poll showed that 18 percent were unsure while only 16 percent favoured EU membership.
Sandberg, who leads the Progress Party’s program committee ahead of next year’s national elections, said it was time for the party to finally take a clear stand on the EU issues. While the EU started as a peace project to hinder more wars among European nations, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts, Sandberg claimed the union has now been reduced to a source of conflict between member countries. Voters in Great Britain have famously opted to leave the EU after being among its biggest members, and Norway is now keen to strike a bilateral trade deal with the British.
“The EU is in the process of digging its own grave,” Sandberg told Dagbladet. “Then there’s no reason for us to speculate on this question in our own party any longer.”