Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the Christian Democrats party, has left the fold of Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s conservative government, but Solberg remained upbeat about continuing in her post as head of a minority coalition without them. Hareide has, after all, promised to be “constructive” in Parliament, where his small party can now exploit its newfound power of holding the swing vote on a wide spectrum of political issues.
“The Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) have made it clear that they don’t want to enter into more conversations about forming a foundation for the government,” Solberg, sounding like she had a cold, told reporters Wednesday evening. She had just led the second round of government talks that began last week, this time on neutral ground at the Parliament building itself. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that it was important to the Liberals and Christian Democrats that the latest talks not be held either at Solberg’s residence, like last week, or in her office. With fellow party officials joining them this time, they also simply needed a bigger room. The talks lasted around four hours, before Hareide excommunicated himself.
“Our (preferred) alternative for a center-right government (excluding Norway’s most conservative Progress Party) did not succeed,” Hareide said. He quickly added, however, that “we want to cooperate constructively and well” with whatever new post-election non-socialist government coalition Solberg forms and will lead since she currently has no majority against her in Parliament. The five left-wing parties led by Labour failed to win such a majority in opposition after the September 11 election, leaving the four non-socialist parties on the winning side.
At least for now. Despite his proclamations of constructive support for Solberg, Hareide is now taking his party into the opposition, and the five left-wing parties already there will be seizing every opportunity to tempt the Christian Democrats over to their side on an issue-by-issue basis. They already have come up with a string of temptations involving family, rural and regional issues that could leave Hareide forming a majority with them, and against Solberg.
For now, however, Solberg and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen will continue to govern together and put the best possible spin on the situation. “We respect the choice the Christian Democrats have made,” Jensen said after the meeting. Solberg stressed that the government she and Jensen have led for the past four years “will continue and it will put forth the new state budget proposal” for 2018.
The difference is that while they only needed support from either the non-socialist Christian Democrats or the Liberals during the last parliamentary period, they now need both. Solberg’s and Jensen’s “conversations” (Solberg doesn’t like calling them “negotiations”) will continue with the Liberal Party led by Trine Skei Grande.
The Liberals now have three choices: They can join the government and gain ministerial influence, they can simply strike another formal agreement to support the Solberg-Jensen government in return for support for their pet issues, or they can join Hareide and head into opposition as well. Grande said she didn’t expect any decision could be made until after Jensen, who still serves as Finance Minister, presents the Solberg government’s state budget proposal on October 12.
‘Door remains open’
Solberg said that she and Jensen, who seem to have gotten along well during the past four years, have agreed that “our door will remain open for both these parties (the Christian Democrats and Liberals)” throughout the entire upcoming parliamentary period. It will be “business as usual” until there’s any clash on a particular issue.
Many commentators expect the Liberals will be tempted to join the government, be part of forming policy and gain influence and visibility by being granted ministerial positions in areas important to them, like schools or the environment. Some expect the three non-socialist parties will eventually succeed in luring the Christian Democrats back into the fold, by offering them important ministerial posts as well. The need to negotiate every single issue coming before parliament can be exhausting for all involved. Hareide will be under most pressure, as the two sides try to pull him in their directions. That, however, will put him in a position of power and high visibility as well, as the party rebuilds for the next election.
The situation created by the last election points up how even small parties can have a powerful voice in Norway, as the proverbial mice that roar. Questions remain over how much influence parties will less than 5 percent of the vote should have. That’s an especially touchy issue for the Progress Party, which has tried to raise the limit for full parliamentary representation from the current 4 percent. If they had succeeded, they now could have lost government power altogether. Progress has found itself dependent on not one but two small parties, which is likely to force both it and the Conservatives into lots of compromises.