After months of debate, Norway’s government parties reached agreement with the opposition Labour Party on a new long-term defense plan that includes more funding but will also shut down the air base at Andøya in Northern Norway. “A day of sorrow for Andøya, defense forces and democracy in Norway,” claimed the head of the base’s officers’ federation.
The minority coalition government, keen to enact a plan that was highly recommended by the defense department’s own military brass, came to terms with Labour and received budget backing for an extra NOK 300 million from its two support parties in Parliament, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals. Both of them, however, refused to back the plan itself, and vowed to present alternatives when defense organization is discussed by the Parliament’s committee on defense and foreign policy.
The Liberals and the Center Party objected to the air base closure at Andøya and to a lack of a clearer framework for both army and civil defense operations in the years ahead. They claimed the government failed to produce good enough numbers to justify the looming shutdown of Andøya.
Local officials were also deeply disappointed, and the flag at the air base was lowered to half-mast. “We are disappointed and frustrated,” local mayor Jonni Solsvik of the government’s own Conservative Party told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said the local population of more than 5,000 was especially frustrated that they failed to receive a good enough reason as to why the government couldn’t take more time to double-check the numbers on which the shutdown is based.
“We’re not ready to leave Andøya yet,” Solsvik said. “This is a very offensive community, and we will keep fighting (to keep the base open).” The base is Andøya’s major employer and its closure is expected to result in at least 1,000 of its residents leaving the community.
Liberals’ leader Trine Skei Grande said she “fundamentally disagreed” with the pact settled among the Norway’s three largest parties: Labour and the government’s Conservative and Progress parties. She wanted the base to remain open.
Details were still emerging from the defense plan agreed Tuesday afternoon by the three largest parties. It reportedly also preserves a coastal artillery unit at Harstad along with civil defense, army and coast guard forces in Troms and Finnmark. Helicopters won’t be moved from a base in Northern Norway to Rygge in Southern Norway, at least not for a few more years, and some military bands will also continue to receive funding.