Prime Minister Erna Solberg finally stepped into the fray and spent much of the weekend trying to win support for her minority government’s state budget for 2017. Efforts to meet a 6pm deadline on Sunday failed, but no one wanted to admit defeat and topple Solberg’s government.
Budget negotiations thus went into overtime on Monday, not least after the Liberal Party came up with a new package of allegedly climate-friendly measures on Saturday. They were so extensive that both the two government parties (Solberg’s Conservatives and the Progress Party) and their other support party, the Christian Democrats, needed time to calculate their effects. The government parties, meanwhile, reportedly had proposed another NOK 3 billion-worth of new climate measures themselves, mostly involving carbon capture and storage.
Details of what’s actually on the table were withheld by the top-level politicians now hashing out the state budget that must be approved in some form if Solberg’s government is to continue in power. “The only thing I can say is that we’re still working,” Solberg told reporters on Sunday. “We’re working hard.”
Others weren’t ruling out the prospect of a budget crisis that would force Solberg to ask for a vote of confidence in Parliament. If that failed, along with the budget, her government would have to resign, leaving the Labour Party-led opposition to form a new government until national elections are held next September.
“If we don’t find a solution, there’s no doubt the main responsibility will lie with the government parties,” Kunt Arild Hareide, leader of the Christian Democrats, said late last week, before Solberg cancelled an official dinner in Bergen Friday evening to fly back to Oslo and assemble, Hareide, Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande and Solberg’s government partner, Finance Minister Siv Jensen, who leads the Progress Party, at her home. They met again on Saturday, but no solution was forthcoming. The only thing they agreed on was that they would not meet their self-imposed deadline of Sunday evening.
Hareide had created confusion earlier in the week when he suggested that his party could agree with the government parties on a budget without the Liberals. That upset the Liberals and Hareide was soon back-tracking, insisting that the current “government cooperation” involved all four parties. Even though his party alone could give Solberg’s government a majority in Parliament, political commentators were claiming Sunday that all four parties would need to agree on a compromise in order for a budget to be approved.
Still quibbling over symbolic ‘small stuff’
Critics including the leader of environmental organization WWF, Nina Jensen, were complaining that the budget battle involved more posturing and symbolism than significant emissions reductions. While the politicians literally quarrel over small change in the form of how many øre (cents) fuel taxes should be increased, they’re ignoring measures that would really cut carbon emissions, like cutbacks in oil exploration and production.
The Liberals have been accused of trying to portray themselves as forcing through a much “greener” budget than the government parties have proposed, while the government parties claim their budget already is the greenest in history. Others point out that the Liberals’ call for higher fuel taxes, which already are among the highest in the world and have long been a bone of contention, won’t necessarily cut driving and thus emissions. Most Norwegians just pay higher taxes when they’re imposed, and carry on as usual.
Parallel call for halt to Arctic oil
Meanwhile, a member of the Christian Democrats’ program committee proposed working towards an “international agreement” that would call for a ban on production of oil that’s most expensive to extract. That would include undersea reserves in the sensitive Arctic, where Solberg’s government (with the support of most parties in Parliament) has been moving ahead with new licensing rounds.
“It’s been claimed beyond doubt that if we are to reach the climate goals agreed in Paris, much of the world’s oil must remain untapped,” Erik Lunde of the Christian Democrats, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We can’t continue to base ourselves on fossil energy. It’s therefore important that Norway work for an agreement that would ensure that oil in the Arctic keeps lying there.”
That’s totally at odds with the Norwegian governments’ positions over the years, but much more in line with what Nina Jensen of WWF and other climate activists are saying. Asked how realistic his proposal really was, Lunde replied that “the vast majority in Parliament say that climate change is our time’s biggest challenge, and that it can destroy our lives.”