Solberg prepares for a third term

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg summed up the first half of this year by concentrating on policy victories but also admitting to defeats for the minority conservative coalition government she leads. Solberg, who says she’s “amazed” by the weakness of her arch rival Labour Party, has also confirmed that she’s gearing up for a third term as Norway’s premier.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg met the Norwegian press in the garden of her official residence in Oslo on Tuesday, to sum up the year so far. PHOTO: Statsministers kontor

At a traditional pre-summer meeting with reporters, Solberg predictably stressed her government’s accomplishments. “This year we can take summer holiday with the knowledge that the sun is shining on the Norwegian economy,” Solberg said in her remarks delivered outdoors in the garden of the prime minister’s residence. Companies in Norway look positively to the future, Solberg added, and once again face the challenge of finding enough workers.

She launched her mid-year assessment by highlighting Norway’s low unemployment levels, so low that the country basically has full employment. She’s pleased by new labour agreements regarding pay and pensions, while her biggest disappointment was the opposition parties’ success in tightening rules for hiring in workers on a temporary basis. Her government and Parliament agreed that it was a challenge, especially for the construction industry, to find enough workers in the Oslo area, but then Parliament made it more difficult to hire on a temporary basis across a wide range of sectors without, according to Solberg, knowing what the consequences will be. Labour and other opposition politicians defend their stricter hiring rules as a means of fending off social dumping.

Solberg is already gearing up to run for a third term as Norway’s premier. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

While Norwegian media stressed all the defeats Solberg’s minority government has endured, Solberg said she was proud of reforms aimed at improving elder care and efforts to draw world attention to the seas, and the need to keep them sustainable. There’s no doubt, thugh, that she’s had huge challenges since winning re-election last September, from the loss of her Conservative Party’s president of the Parliament over his poor management of a building project to all the outcry that led to the forced resignation of Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug, which nearly brought down the government. Solberg’s government also had to swallow a new sugar tax to win the Christian Democrats’ support for the state budget, a compromise on and more opposition to sending rejected young refugees back to Afghanistan and outrage over some of the forced mergers of municipalities and counties, not least between Finnmark and Troms. The fall parliamentary session is sure to offer more challenges.

Solberg’s Conservative Party has risen in public opinion polls, though, and now ranks as larger than Labour, which has been riddled with conflict and crisis since losing last fall’s election. Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday that she’d had faith her party would rise in the polls, but said she’s “more amazed that Labour has become so weak.” She cautioned that it’s “a long time until the next election” (in 2021) but asked whether she plans to campaign for a third term as prime minister, Solberg said: “Yes, I’m planning for that now.”

She’s also stil trying to woo the Christian Democrats into joining her government, which would give all four non-socialist parties a majority in Parliament. “I believe they (the Christian Democrats, which have been falling in opinion polls) would have had more success if they were sitting in the government,” Solberg told Aftenposten. She stressed, though, that only the Christian Democrats can decide what’s best for them, and act accordingly.

Solberg’s session on Tuesday was the last of the political parties’ status reports before the July summer holiday period. Formal debate will resume in mid-August, not least during a week of political events in Arendal, before Parliament re-convenes in October.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund