NEWS ANALYSIS: Members of Parliament launched into a tough post-opening debate this week, with the opposition intent on bringing down Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg. She has already resolved several of the most troublesome issues facing her government this fall, however, so the debate now aimed at toppling her government coalition currently lacks a specific reason to do so, apart from the opposition parties’ sheer lust for power and position.
Solberg, clearly believing that the best defense is a good offense, has either addressed or countered the few issues that have been hotly enough contested to prompt a lack of confidence vote in her government:
*** Her agriculture minister reached a settlement with farmers that gives them more compensation for last summer’s drought damage. Even the farmers’ demanding lobbyists were “quite satisified” with the government’s offer. That defused threats by the farmer-friendly Center Party to propose its own, probably even more generous, compensation package in Parliament this fall.
*** Solberg also extracted support from the Christian Democrats, possibly for the last time, to save her government’s controversial regional reform program. The Center Party is still protesting it, but that issue is no longer as likely to cause her downfall either.
*** Last week, a carefully timed budget leak also rolled out a big boost in funding for foreign aid. That placates not only the Christian Democrats, whose leader wants the party to switch political sides and give the opposition a majority in Parliament, but also several of the other opposition parties. At the very least they’ll no longer have as much reason to complain.
*** On Wednesday Solberg also addressed the opposition’s complaints over her government’s commitment to improving security and preparedness in Norway. Backed by her defense- and justice ministers, Solberg unveiled another half-billion kroner in funding for securing specific objects and enhancing preparedness. It includes an additional NOK 188.5 million for the police, NOK 216.5 for the home guard (Heimevernet, which is of particular interest to the Center Party) and NOK 130 million for the defense department. Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara asked the state director of police what was needed to complete the “object securing” by 2020, and when the wish list was presented in August, “we said we’ll go for it,” Wara told newspaper Aftenposten. Solberg followed up by saying “we’ve made this a considerable priority and now see an end to this round” of the opposition’s complaints.
The opposition parties Labour, Center, Socialist Left (SV), Greens and Reds will thus need to find something else to prompt a no-confidence vote in Solberg, if the currently centrist Christian Democrats join them. That will be decided at an extraordinary meeting of the Christian Democrats in early November. Christian Democrats leader Knut Arild Hareide has a month to get his party to back his personal opinion that they should make an historic switch to the socialist side of Norwegian politics.
That drama continued to dominate Norwegian media this week. Hareide and his small party, with just 4.2 percent of the vote in last year’s election, have been getting more publicity than they probably ever wanted, for better or worse, because the Christian Democrats are deeply split over his proposal. While Solberg’s government program provided the basis for the opening debate in Parliament, it was Hareide’s contribution to it that drew the most interest, since his party holds the crucial swing vote on any contested issue.
Preaching a ‘radical’ position
He did not specifically mention his controversial proposal to switch sides, but he did stress the Christian Democrats’ values and claimed there should be “no doubt” that his party’s ideology is “radical.” So are its politics, he claimed, rattling off “radical campaigns” against climate change, social differences, global poverty and refugees. His message was clear, that he wants to join the more radical left side of politics at the expense of Solberg’s right-wing coalition. He thinks forming a new government coalition with the Labour and Center parties will give Norway a “warmer society,” with more funding for programs aimed at children and families.
Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre, who criticized the Solberg Government’s program as “thin” and “weak,” didn’t surprise anyone by declaring in Parliament that his party would be open to negotiations with the Christian Democrats, if they back their party leader Hareide: “If the Christian Democrats choose to cooperate with us, the Labour Party is ready to take (government) responsibility.” He personally is more than keen to become Norway’s next prime minister.
‘Defining Norway,’ at home and abroad
Støre also claimed that the upcoming autumn session in Parliament will define “what sort of Norway we will have, and what voice we will have out in the world.” The joker may well be the Socialist Left party (SV), which is much bigger than the Christian Democrats but faces exclusion from a new left-center government coalition because it’s a bit too “radical” for Hareide’s tastes.
Hareide, Støre and Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum would regardless be utterly dependent on SV’s support. SV leader Audun Lysbakken won’t say how he’d react to exclusion from a left-center government, but made it clear he has just one primary goal: to bring down Solberg’s conservative coalition. “We want the Conservatives and the Progress Party out of the government,” Lysbakken told Aftenposten. “That’s something to which we’ll contribute, regardless.”
Solberg is thus forewarned. Despite her strong offense, she’ll be on the defense as she strives to keep her government in power.