A day after Parliament finally agreed on a new defense program for Norway, two MPs from the otherwise allied Labour and Center parties kept fighting live on national radio Wednesday. Another fight looms over funding, since the defense compromise was struck before politicians have figured out how to fund it.
On Tuesday the Labour, Christian Democrats and Liberal parties struck an agreement with the government coalition’s Conservative and Progress parties on a broad agreement involving the Norway’s army (hæren) and home guard (heimevernet). The home guard will get more soldiers based around the country while the opposition led by Labour won an agreement that the army will retain a helicopter base at its Bardufoss location in Northern Norway.
The government had wanted to consolidate the army’s helicopter operation at the Rygge air base and airport in Southern Norway. Now the helicopter operations will be split between Bardufoss and Rygge, and the Bardufoss air station will continue to be developed with its own leadership.
Details over how that will ultimately be carried out, however, won’t be clear until the government unveils its revised state budget next spring. No funding for helicopters and an air base at Bardufoss is included in the state budget recently agreed between the two government parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.
Labour went along with the funding uncertainty pending budget negotiations next spring. Neither the Center Party nor the Socialist Left Party (SV) were willing to do so, however, leading to the quarrel between Labour MP Anniken Huitfeldt and Center MP Liv Signe Navarsete broadcast live on NRK Wednesday. Their quarrel is significant because Labour and Center are generally expected to cooperate as key members of the opposition in Parliament. Labour and Center were also government partners themselves in the coalition that ruled from 2005 to 2013.
The quarrel, which largely was over which parties met and cooperated during the difficult defense negotiations, was also heated, with Huitfeldt accusing Navarsete of lying and both of them interrupting each other on NRK’s popular daily talk show Politisk kvarter.
Sitting on the sidelines was MP Hårek Elvenes of the Conservatives, who added to the controversy by commenting that “when you hear such a dogfight between Labour and the Center parties, I think it’s good that defense policy isn’t their responsibility. It looks like it functions much better with the current (minority coalition) government.”
The ongoing debate and political conflicts over how Norway’s defense capacity can best be improved will thus continue. At least some Labour politicians in Northern Norway were relieved that they’ll still have some army helicopters standing by. It’s also uncertain, however, whether they’ll be part of the Army’s current fleet of Bell helicopters or whether they’ll be leased in. Huitfeldt acknowledged that the compromise struck on Tuesday will lead to higher costs. Now the politicians must figure out a way to cover them.