Progress Party gets back to business

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After months of turbulence that almost brought down the government, Norway’s conservative Progress Party gathered over the weekend to recharge and plot strategy for upcoming local elections. The party’s former justice minister who stirred up much of the fuss even got a standing ovation.

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen addressing her party faithful at their annual national meeting over the weekend. PHOTO: Fremskrittspartiet

It was party leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, who was most keen to confirm her authority and appeal to both the moderate and farther right-wing factions of the party. She immediately lashed out at immigrants in her opening remarks, suggesting they may be “Norwegian on paper, but not in their hearts.” There are many immigrants in Norway who can prove her wrong, but Jensen’s audience applauded her audacity, not least when she called for immigration policy to continue to be “strict, not relaxed or naive.”

Jensen, who clearly enjoys the government power that the Progress Party won for the first time in 2013, also ran through a list of what the party has accomplished since. Tough immigration policy topped the list but so did tax relief that she claimed has been cut by more than NOK 24 billion. She noted that waiting times for non-emergency hospital treatment has been reduced, that there are more police on duty and that convicts no longer must wait to serve their prison time.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives (center) made a guest appearance at the Progress Party’s annual meeting, praising their government cooperation and jokingly urging party members to “find good solutions that aren’t too expensive.” At left, Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg, with party leader Siv Jensen at right. PHOTO: Fremskrittspartiet

“Record numbers of people now want to be teachers, it’s cheaper to buy a car,” Jensen went on, adding that she even thinks her party (which favours oil and gas and has political control over the Oil and Energy Ministry) has “good and constructive environmental policy.”

Sylvi Listhaug, the party’s former justice minister who had to resign after her latest batch of offensive remarks left a majority in Parliament against her, was also more than forgiven for nearly causing the collapse of Norway’s conservative government coalition. Both she and her successor, Tor Mikkel Wara, were met with standing ovations when they took the stage to address the party faithful.

“We have put behind us a time that was turbulent, perhaps especially for me,” Listhaug, who has now taken a seat in Parliament, told the crowd. “Thousand thanks for your support. Thanks to Siv, who stood firmly with me. She and the rest of our government apparatus were ready to step down when this went on.” Listhaug ultimately didn’t want to be held responsible for what likely would have caused the collapse of the entire government, led by the Conservatives’ Erna Solberg, so finally called it quits under pressure.

Scrapping sugar tax, banning call to prayers
When all the self praise and chest-thumping died down, the party went on to approve an effort to scrap a controversial tax on products with sugar including soft drinks, that their government ushered through themselves in January. It will be up for renegotiation in state budget talks, with many in the party now claiming that it hurts Norwegian industry and merely sends even more Norwegians over the border to buy cheaper candy, drinks and other items with sugar in Sweden.

The Progress Party also wants a largely symbolic ban on any mosques that call their faithful to prayer via loudspeakers. The move did spark strong internal debate, however, with many party members calling such a ban “communistic,” and warning their colleagues against banning things they simply don’t like.

The party also voted in favour of allowing single women to receive publicly funded health care assistance to become pregnant. With the Labour Party also supporting such assisted fertility programs, the measure will pass by a large margin.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund