UPDATED: Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide reportedly took part in a secret meeting at the Parliament early this week, in an effort to rescue efforts for a broad political consensus on the government’s long-term defense plans. It didn’t take long for the Center Party to resume negotiations with the government parties and the Labour Party and by Thursday, other party leaders came back to the table as well.
The Center Party, along with both government support parties (the Liberals and Christian Democrats), had walked out of the talks over plans to dramatically reorganize Norway’s defense establishment. The plans include a boost in defense spending but also controversial closures of some bases and transfers of some operations from Northern Norway, for example, to Rygge in the south.
That sort of centralization always upsets the Center Party, which champions the interests of outlying areas. Few communities want to lose defense presence or the spending it generates for the local economy. As of the middle of last week, only the two government parties (the Conservatives and the Progress Party) and the Labour Party were still sitting around the table, since the Socialist Left party (SV) had walked out the week before.
Majority not enough
The three parties still talking were enough to secure a majority in Parliament, but the government and Defense Minister Søreide want maximum support and consensus for the defense plan, even if only symbolic. At stake is the framework for the country’s defense and extra costs of NOK 165 billion over the next 20 years.
SV still can’t bring itself to approve the largest chunk of defense spending Norway has ever made for 52 new F35 fighter jets from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The Liberals and the Center Party are also critical about the time frame for paying for the new fighter jets. They want to postpone acquisition of some of the jets, and have claimed that Søreide and the government had posed an unacceptable ultimatum that the fighter jets weren’t up for renegotiation.
There was no formal break-off of the talks last week, though, and newspaper Aftenposten reported that the government is assured of support for both the fighter jets and new submarines and surveillance aircraft from Labour.
Andøya, helicopter transfers may be up for renegotiation
Support isn’t as strong for the defense ministry’s plans, recommended by military brass, to shut down the Andøya air station and move the army’s fleet of transport helicopters from Bardufoss in Northern Norway to Rygge. The government may be willing to negotiate those points.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported this week that Søreide seemed to coax the Center Party back to the table, with its leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum saying there was “a real wish” to find a solution, “but it’s important that the army and civil defense are strengthened.” That may ward off some of the cuts in local areas that the government wants to make.
The two government support parties were still “waiting out in the corridor” for word of some concessions on the items that displeased them, but on Wednesday they re-entered the room. They resumed negotiations on the defense plan even though the three biggest planned expenditures (the fighter jets, submarines and surveillance aircraft) “stand firm,” Øyvind Halleraker of the Conservatives told Dagsavisen, adding that “now all the parties except SV are sitting around the table again.” The defense plan is due to be ratified during this parliamentary session.