UPDATED: Prime Minister Erna Solberg showed at least some of the humility expected of her when she faced the Parliament’s disciplinary committee Monday evening. The committee, however, didn’t feel it received enough answers during its all-day hearing on problems and delays in improving security and preparedness for another terrorist attack in Norway. It now wants to hold another hearing that will be closed to the press and public.
Solberg admitted at Monday’s hearing that she had not fully and correctly informed Parliament about the status of improvements to security and preparedness. The question then became whether she was humble enough to satisfy political opponents keen to seize government power away from her at the first opportunity. Now it seems they weren’t satisfied with the answers they received from top defense and police officials and several of Solberg’s former and current ministers.
Top politicians from both the Labour and Socialist Left parties were already directing serious complaints against Solberg’s conservative minority government coalition. Solberg has managed to keep it intact and even expand it during her five years in office, but this autumn’s parliamentary session is packed with new challenges. In addition to her government’s failure to follow up on the security and preparedness improvements, and failure to inform Parliament about their actual status, Solberg has just emerged from yet another forced resignation by a Progress Party minister, while resistance to a regional reform program that involves merging counties is spreading nationwide. Solberg also faces more demands from the powerful farmers’ lobby and their political supporters in Parliament to cover their losses from the recent drought.
On Monday fully five of Solberg’s former and current ministers were called in for questioning on the security and preparedness issue before she took the stand at the end of a long day. “I see that I have been imprecise,” Solberg said during the open hearing that put the government’s flawed follow-up in securing critical buildings and infrastructure on public display. “We should have given better, clearer information earlier.” She later added that “we weren’t fully aware” of the lack of progress in boosting security.
Ine Eriksen Søreide, Solberg’s former defense minister who now serves as Norway’s foreign minister, had just noted in her own appearance before the committee that the government “could have presented a more comprehensive picture” of the actual status of security improvements. Current Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen stressed the same.
The two former justice ministers from the Progress Party, however, didn’t help much, with Per-Willy Amundsen speaking loudly and with what some called “an aggressive tone.” He refused to admit to any mistakes and claimed he would “never” do anything that would compromise security. He was sharp and defensive, while his successor Sylvi Listhaug all but shirked any responsibility on the grounds that she was so distracted by “events” that led to her resignation last spring that she lacked “capacity” to follow what was happening in the justice ministry that’s responsible for Norway’s state police. She also noted that many of the state auditor general’s charges of security deficiencies concerned the situation before she took over.
Solberg, after starting out humbly, later warmed up to her task and defended the security situation now. “What’s important is what we have done (in the past year),” Solberg told the committee. She claims her government now has a much better picture of the complexities tied to security and preparedness, and is following up in full force, with a more realistic time frame. The state’s long-delayed preparedness center is now under construction in Ski, south of Oslo, and all security goals “will be met,” Solberg claims, by 2025, albeit 10 years after the initial “unrealistic” deadline of 2015, which itself was four years after a right-wing extremist carried out his deadly attacks on July 22, 2011.
Now Solberg and other top officials face another hearing. At a time when threats of cyber attacks loom largest of all, it’s ultimately up to the Christian Democrats party to decide whether Solberg’s government will stand or fall on the security issue. The small centrist party is troubled itself but holds the critical swing vote in Parliament on any contested issue. It remains unclear whether the Christian Democrats would vote in favour of any proposal to express a lack of confidence in the current coalition, or vote to strike it down. Solberg, at any rate, is in for a long and stormy autumn.