Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen headed into a new round of talks on Wednesday with the leaders of Norway’s two other non-socialist parties, to hash out politics and priorities for another four years of cooperation. All four parties collectively won a majority after the parliamentary election two weeks ago. Now they have to see whether they can govern together.
Solberg has issued a standing invitation to the Liberals and Christian Democrats to join her Conservatives and the Progress Party in forming a new conservative government coalition. The Christian Democrats have been playing especially hard to get, though, claiming they won’t rule with Progress (Norway’s most right-wing party but still social democratic by non-Norwegian standards).
The Christian Democrats’ leader Knut Arild Hareide was already threatening over the weekend that Wednesday’s talks, which follow last week’s first session at Solberg’s residence, could be the last in which he takes part. If his party’s demands aren’t met, regarding policy and formation of a minority government without the Progress Party, he has a mandate from party fellows to go into opposition without any formal agreement of cooperation. He has, however, repeatedly stressed that his party wants Solberg to remain as prime minister, suggesting he wouldn’t vote to topple whatever coalition she manages to form.
Trine Skei Grande, leader of the Liberals, said the new talks were beginning with “a clean slate.” Like all the others heading into the meeting that began in mid-afternoon, she said policy was most important. She seems more likely to form a government with Solberg and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, but would prefer Hareide join in. Several politial analysts were suggesting that may happen, with Hareide joining later.
Jensen: ‘We have a lot in common’
“We have to discuss, to speak together,” Solberg told reporters gathered inside the Parliament, where the new meeting was taking place. She prefers to call the talks “conversations” rather than “negotiations.” Jensen seemed most upbeat, telling reporters that “we (all four parties) have a lot in common, we have cooperated well for the past four years.” It’s their actual positions on policy, she added, that will decide who can work together.
Magnus Takvam, political commentator for state broadcaster NRK, said that Solberg and Jensen will likely hammer out a centrist-oriented political platform regardless of what happens. Both need to appeal to the Liberals and Christian Democrats (both considered centrist parties somewhere between Norway’s right and left sides of politics) whether they’re part of the government or outside of it, to gain their support.
It’s a challenging situation for Solberg and Jensen, who need support from both the Liberals and Christian Democrats to push through their programs, instead of just one or the other. The future of their non-socialist government project is thus uncertain, with the Labour-led left ready to take over government power at the first opportunity.
Finding more common ground
Solberg herself also stressed the importance of their politics, claiming shortly after the election that she wants most of all to work for more economic growth, more modernization and “new ways of tackling challenges” during the next four years. It was too early, she wrote in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), to say how cooperation among the four non-socialist parties could function. “But the assignment the voters have given us must be carried out well,” she wrote. “My ambition is for us to evaluate the greatest challenges, what we think are the most important problems, and what political basis we have to solve them.”
She offered something for all four parties: “The voters gave us a mandate to continue to modernize Norway, to restructure the economy so that it’s greener and smarter, to renew, simplify and improve the public sector, to create new jobs and live up to our obligations under the Paris Agreement.” She stressed that they already have proven, “through our collective agreements and creative disagreements, that we find good compromises to take Norway in the direction we want. At our best, we find solutions no one thought of before.” That, Solberg claimed, has led to political innovation.
She listed her Conservatives’ priorities as improvements to Norway’s schools, more job creation, better elder care and quicker health care plus a stronger defense and preparedness. She did not specifically mention climate issues, but will need to compromise on them with both of the smaller centrist parties.
No matter what happens as she tries to form a new government, “we have a robust democracy, and institutions that ensure stability,” Solberg claimed. She wrote that she’s prepared for lots of opposition in Parliament: “Our democracy depends upons all of us looking for weaknesses in each other’s politics. The government will surely experience gaining a majority within the Parliament against us, that’s part of the system.”