Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg hurled unusual criticism on Friday at the country she normally calls “our biggest ally,” the US, while speaking before 700 members of the Conservative Party she leads. She’s not at all happy with the trade war US President Donald Trump has launched against China and a growing list of other countries, including the one she intends to keep leading for the next four years.
“It is a great paradox when it’s the USA that appears as the greatest threat to free trade, while communist China portrays itself as one of its foremost defenders,” Solberg told her party faithful. She was speaking at her party’s annual national meeting at Gardermoen north of Oslo, at the end of a week that’s seen government and business leaders scrambling to deal with the effects of Trump’s trade war. His administration has not exempted Norway from the US’ new punitive tolls, and his attempts to protect US markets from foreign competition have now also prompted worrisome response from the EU.
“A global trade war and increasing protectionism are the last things the world needs now,” said Solberg from the podium as cameras rolled. She reminded her audience that periods of protectionism have led to regression, conflict and even war, and she warned against such a development.
“Therefore Norway will be a promoter of ongoing free and fair world trade,” Solberg said to applause from the hundreds gathered in the large auditorium.
Solberg visited Trump at the White House just three months ago, and came home claiming that relations between Norway and the US remained firm and friendly. Her tone was different on Friday, as her foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide tries to deal with US authorities. Søreide has also criticized the US’ punitive import fees on steel and aluminum that now have spread to hundreds of other items as China has responded with fees of its own.
Solberg’s speech was interrupted by applause several times, as she laid out her Conservatives’ agenda for her second term as prime minister. She noted how much Norway has changed since the 1980s, when the Conservatives last held government power and ushered in a series of reforms aimed at shedding the strict, regulatory society created mostly by the Labour Party in the post-war years. “That was the beginning of the Conservative wave (Høyrebølgen),” she claimed, when store opening hours were deregulated, for example, so that workers could finally buy groceries after 5pm. “There were regulations that the left-wing parties defended with all their might, and which they regret today,” Solberg said.
She spoke warmly of the new reforms (of municipalities and the police, for example) that her government is pushing for, while also promoting ongoing digitalization of Norwegian society. She stressed the need for integration of refugees and immigrants in Norway, while party members and officials will also be debating defense finance, proposed “fair play” rules in the grocery sector aimed at lowering food prices and improving selection, another proposal that all communication between the public and the state be conducted online and several other issues during the weekend.
The leaders of Solberg’s newly expanded goverment’s coalition parties, Siv Jensen of the Progress Party and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party, were also due to speak at the Conservatives’ annual meeting. Solberg thanked them for “good cooperation,” adding that “the door stands open for an even broader non-socialist government,” a clear reference to Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats party. If he responds favourably, Solberg could log her greatest triumph of finally leading a coalition that would have a majority in Parliament.
She opened her party’s annual meeting on the strengths of last fall’s re-election and public opinion polls showing that even more voters support the Conservative and Progress parties now than they did in September. Solberg can also now claim the longest tenure of any Conservative party leader, after 14 years at the helm, and is widely viewed as a happy if lucky leader.
Solberg is, however, emerging from several difficult months dealing with troubles over the leader her government chose to head state statistics bureau SSB, a construction scandal at Parliament that also forced the resignation of Solberg’s choice of Olemic Thommessen as the Parliament’s president, sexual harassment charges against the leader of her party’s youth group and, just before Easter, the forced resignation of the Progress Party’s outspoken Sylvi Listhaug as justice minister after Listhaug had offended too many people once again over immigration, asylum and terrorism issues. Listhaug’s offsense nearly brought down the government itself and Solberg herself narrowly survived.
Solberg seemed to be genuinely smiling and happier earlier this week when she introduced the Progress Party’s Tor Mikkel Wara as her government’s new justice minister. However weakened she may be by the crises of recent months and how she handled them, the opposition Labour Party is even weaker and political commentators agree that Solberg is firmly positioned not only as party leader but as prime minister as well. Spring is a time for new beginnings, and Solberg ended her speech on Friday by saying “This is our time.”