Yet another crisis meeting at the home of Prime Minister Erna Solberg has failed to end her minority government’s budget stalemate with its two support parties. They still won’t support the budget, meaning Solberg still faces the prospect that her minority government coalition can collapse less than a year before the next national election.
Leaders of the two parties that broke off budget negotiations with the government earlier this week were questioned over why they accepted the last-ditch invitation from Solberg to meet for more talks.
“This hasn’t been a negotiations meeting,” Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party (Venstre) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on her way out of Solberg’s official residence in Oslo Wednesday evening. “We have just oriented the prime minister on the measures we have taken. Nothing new come out of this meeting.”
Solberg had told reporters at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that she wanted to keep trying to reach agreement on a state budget for next year, after the Liberals and Christian Democrats announced they were pulling out of more negotiations. She invited Grande and Knut Arild Hareide to her home and they went, but Hareide confirmed that “we have not come any closer to a solution.”
Time is running out
Four days remain until the government is expected to finally deliver a budget for debate in Parliament. The government must have support for it, otherwise Solberg will likely need to formally request a vote of confidence. If she fails to win majority support for her Conservatives-Progress Party government, it most likely will fall.
Hareide repeated on a live nationwide radio news program Wednesday evening that “we have said very clearly to the government parties that our door is open 24 hours a day.” The Christian Democrats leader added that “we have even said we’ll be open on Sunday,” a reference to just how far a party that consistently opposes stores being allowed to open on Sundays was willing to go to “constructively” negotiate a new budget. During the pre-Christmas shopping season, though, stores (and his party) are allowed to open on Sunday.
“We need a state budget,” Hareide said on NRK’s influential Dagsnytt 18 program. “Everyone must be willing to yield in the final phase.”
Painted themselves into a corner
Many commentators claim the government parties, especially the Progress Party, have painted themselves into a corner by refusing to negotiate their package of proposed fuel- and other taxes on driving. The Liberals have fought for higher taxes, to discourage driving and therefore cut carbon emissions. Many other politicians, including several in opposition and even within the Christian Democrats, claim the taxes won’t cut emissions enough to justify the budget crisis that’s arisen. The Liberals, however, appear just as adamant against backing down as the Progress Party.
Solberg claims her government’s budget will cut emissions and also make Norwegian business more competitive and improve social welfare programs. She said the Conservatives and Progress parties have presented additional proposals to appease their support parties that would help familes with small children, provide more teachers in the schools and support Norway’s outlying districts. She didn’t assume any direct blame for the budget crisis herself.
“I am prime minister, but the cooperation is between four different parties with four different party leaders,” she said. “I believe there are still possibilities to find a budget solution … I want to keep working to find such a solution.”
Shortly after the party leaders left Solberg’s home late in the day on Wednesday, top politicians who’ve been negotiating on behalf of the Conservatives and Progress parties arrived for a short meeting of their own with Solberg. Then Solberg herself emerged, on her way to appear on NRK’s nightly national newcast Dagsrevyen.
She had said earlier that she understands that many people “are impatient and that the Parliament wants an answer” to the budget uncertainty. She claimed her government and its support parties were still working “to give the Parliament and the country the answers that are needed.”
“We have discussed the situation we are in, without an agreement on the budget,” Solberg told reporters Wednesday evening. “And we have discussed how this will be handled further.” No additional developments had been made public as of mid-day on Thursday.