Solberg defends solidarity with EU

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg all but dismisses the prospect that her government coalition with the Progress Party will collapse over disagreement on Norway joining an EU plan for managing asylum seekers and migrants. Solberg claims the Progress Party has already committed itself to the principle of European cooperation on migration, in its agreed government platform with Solberg’s Conservative Party and the third member of the coalition, the Liberal Party.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg (center) presented her government coalition’s joint declaration and platform last winter along with coalition partners Siv Jensen of the Progress Party (left) and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party. Solberg claimed on Friday that it commits them to work with the EU on the migrant crisis. PHOTO: Høyre/Cecilie Victoria Jensen

“The principle lies in Jeløya (the island outside Oslo where Solberg’s expanded coalition hammered out its platform in January),” Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday afternoon. “We are in favour of a European system (for handling migrants) and we must act in solidarity if this comes up.”

Solberg stressed that it’s too early for her coalition to discuss what was drafted at last week’s EU summit because it’s “so vague” at present. “But we will deal with it,” she told NRK. “We can’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ yet … but we will make our evaluation when a final agreement comes.”

Some leading immigration skeptics in the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), Norway’s most right-wing political party, have already been saying ‘no,’ and grabbing publicity by threatening a government crisis. Former party leader Carl I Hagen was first out with his objections to Solberg’s comments last week that she wants Norway to help the EU in its efforts to identify migrants who qualify for asylum, and ease the burden on countries like Italy, Italy, Malta and Spain where most migrants arrive. She’s believes Norway must be willing to also take in some of the migrants if necessary.

Hagen doesn’t want Norway to take in any migrants seeking protection and new lives in Europe. “I expect Frp’s leadership to put their foot down and say that it is out of the question to take in more economic migrants to Norway,” Hagen told newspaper Dagbladet earlier this week. Hagen said he was referring to migrants whom “the tyrants of kindness call ‘refugees.’”

Former Progress Party leader Carl I Hagen doesn’t want Norway to take in a single migrant from the EU. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Hagen’s outburst initially was largely overlooked, also by his successor as party leader, Siv Jensen. She has cooperated well with Solberg for the past five years and continues to serve as finance minister in Solberg’s government. Jensen has often been at odds with Hagen, who retired from the party several years ago only to miss politics and public attention so much that he made a comeback of sorts and most recently has been serving on the Oslo City Council when he’s not on holiday at a second home in Spain. He was bitterly disappointed late last year when his efforts to become a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee failed.

Members of the third party serving in Solberg’s coalition, the Liberals, responded to Hagen with the opposite view. Liberals MP Abid Raja, for example, claimed that Norway has “a moral and ethical responsibility” to help both the EU and asylum seekers needing protection. Hagen doesn’t feel Norway has any moral obligations to help the migrants at all, but he was open to supporting one aspect of the EU plan, to establish reception centers for migrants in North Africa.

Hagen went so far as to claim that if Solberg moves forward with an offer to take in some of the migrants and asylum seekers, Frp should pull out of the government coalition. “It’s not possible,” he claimed, for Frp to continue in the government “if it’s dominated by a naïve and much too kind attitude towards the wave of economic migrants who want to come to Europe to live off our welfare programs.” He was later joined by one of Frp’ former justice ministers, Per-Willy Amundsen, and one of its Members of Parliament, Carl Tybring-Gjedde, both also part of Progress’ firmly anti-immigration bloc.

Current Progress Party leader Siv Jensen took over for Hagen and the two have been at odds over the years. They’re shown here clarifying their relationship on state broadcaster NRK in 2013. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Party leader Siv Jensen remained quiet until Wednesday evening, when she still wouldn’t allow herself to be interviewed but instead published a short comment on social media in which she noted that “many have asked whether Norway should voluntarily take in more migrants who come to EU countries.” She went on to write that “the Progress Party opposes that. Norway has already contributed a lot. What we need now are asylum centers in Africa to control the situation.” She refused to respond to further questions, with an aide saying she was on holiday and had nothing to add beyond what she’d written on Facebook.

It’s worth noting that all of Progress’ vocal opponents of Solberg’s offer to take part in the EU’s plan for managing the migrant stream object only to migrants, not to verified asylum seekers. The challenge remains in separating those fleeing poverty from those fleeing persecution in their homelands, with Solberg wanting to contribute to that process as well.

High-profile Progress Party members like Hagen, Tybring-Gjedde and now Amundsen often cater to the far-right constituency of their party, and clearly want them to know that they’re ready for a fight. While Amundsen claimed he was sending “a clear signal on behalf of several members of the Progress Party’s delegation in Parliament that there’s a limit to what the party can accept,” Solberg made it clear there’s no pressing need for such concern.

It will be left to Jensen and Solberg, shown here when Jensen made a friendly guest appearance at the Conservatives’ annual national meeting this spring, to settle any differences they may have to an EU plan for migrants when it’s finally hammered out. The two have settled many other differences between their parties since they teamed up to govern in 2013. PHOTO: Høyre

“The Progress Party has a clear standpoint about being very restrictive on immigration policy,” Solberg told NRK on Friday. “I respect that, but I believe the party will best attain its policy through cooperation with the EU, and not by Norway standing alone on these issues.” The EU itself has already cracked down on migration to the degree that Norway’s own arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers have sunk to record lows for the past two years.

Asked whether she’s been surprised by the “støy” (noise) made by the Progress Party’s men, Solberg told NRK with a smile that she doesn’t view it as “noise” but rather a premature “discussion” of how Norway will ultimately respond to a more detailed EU plan, and any requests the EU may make for Norway to take in some of the roughly 600,000 migrants and asylum seekers now languishing in Italy, Malta, Greece and elsewhere.

Italy’s new right-wing, anti-immigration government launched the current EU migrant crisis when it refused to take in any more migrants. Italy also demanded that other EU countries take in their fair share of those who’ve landed in Italy simply because it’s geographically closest to the migrants’ departure points in North Africa.

Right-wingers won’t help other right-wingers
Now Italy’s new government is basically up against the EU’s other right-wing, anti-immigration governments like those in Poland and Hungary, for example, that refuse to come to aid by taking in some of Italy’s migrants. Italy isn’t getting any help from its like-minded members of Norway’s Progress Party either, leaving it to rely on other more sympathetic members of the EU like France and Germany.

In another paradox, Norway’s troubled Labour Party that’s normally at odds with Solberg’s Conservatives not only supports Solberg’s desire to help the EU but also is calling on the government to help solve the migrant and asylum crisis together with the EU. Soberg’s plan is thus assured a majority in Parliament, even without the support of its coalition partner.

Newspaper Aftenposten, meanwhile, editorialized on Thursday that the anti-immigration politicians in the Progress Party actually need the EU to succeed at gaining control over the migrant crisis. “It sounds simple to refuse to contribute to an EU agreement, not least because Norway is not a member of the EU,” Aftenposten wrote, “but just like climate change is a challenge that spreads over borders and needs cross-border solutions, so is migration. Quite literally. Norway has a proud tradition of contributing to the work to solve common challenges in Europe. That tradition must be furthered.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund