Leaders of the Christian Democrats don’t want other Norwegians to have to work on Sundays, but both they and Prime Minister Erna Solberg were working once again this past weekend themselves. Tough negotiations to form a majority non-socialist government were clearly viewed as worthy of another exception, while Solberg confirmed the talks were both “nice and constructive.”
Solberg spoke Sunday at her Conservative Party’s first central board meeting since a majority of Christian Democrats voted to seek government power with her conservative coalition instead of with the Labour and Center parties. She had also just revealed to newspaper Aftenposten that the leaders of the three parties that form her current coalition already have had several conversations with the Christian Democrats’ deputy leader, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad. He’s emerged as a key figure after his party rejected its leader Knut Arild Hareide’s recommendation that they negotiate with the Labour and Center parties instead.
Ropstad and colleagues within his deeply split party have thus been busy negotiating state budget issues with Solberg’s coalition, in the hopes of getting, for example, more funding for child welfare payments and other pet projects. The two sides are supposed to deal strictly with budget issues first, before getting into heavier policy issues for a prospective expanded coalition platform. Solberg revealed that the latter is already underway as well.
“The path is paved with negotiations, compromises and demanding discussions,” Solberg told Aftenposten. “But I can say that we’re meeting, and they are nice and constructive conversations.”
She spoke on Sunday just a day after thousands of demonstrators in cities all over Norway marched to protest any changes to the country’s abortion law. Marchers fear Solberg’s coalition may be keen enough to form a majority government that they’ll appease the Christian Democrats by going along with their desire to tighten current law. Solberg has been under enormous pressure since she said her party at least was “open” to discuss the abortion law. She has repeatedly denied women’s rights will be weakened in any way, but risks losing especially younger voters if the Conservatives cave in to the Christian Democrats.
Solberg didn’t even mention the abortion debate in her remarks on Sunday, claiming instead that the “biggest challenge” is creation of “a sustainable welfare state.” She’s still stressing necessary restructuring of Norway’s economy (to make it less reliant on oil), the need for measures to reduce Norway’s carbon emissions and securing Norway’s “good social welfare services” for years to come.
She also vowed that even if talks with the Christian Democrats succeed and they join her coalition, its new majority in Parliament won’t stifle debate. She doesn’t want to create the same situation that she contends occurred from 2005 to 2013, when a Labour Party-led left-center coalition government all but “parked” Members of Parliament and hammered out all difficult issues only amongst themselves instead. Both former Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the former leader of the Socialist Left party (SV), Kristin Halvorsen, have admitted to such themselves in their memoirs.
“It’s important for our democracy that the Parliament will still be part of influencing important decisions and remain a central arena for political debate,” Solberg told Aftenposten. “That’s very important to me. And the government itself will function as a group of colleagues.” The sheer weight of voters behind each party won’t be decisive in everything, Solberg said.
The Christian Democrats’ decision to side with the conservative coalition instead of the left-center coalition hasn’t helped it win any new voters. A public opinion poll conducted last week by research firm Opinion for the newspaper group ANB, showed they slipped and now hold just 3.8 percent of the vote. That’s down by 1.2 points from October and from the 4.2 percent of the vote the Christian Democrats actually won in last year’s election.
The latter number is all that really matters for Solberg right now, because it translates into seats in Parliament that she now stands to gain on her side of the proverbial aisle. “The country will first get a state budget, and then we will negotiate the foundation for a non-socialist majority coalition,” she told her fellow Conservative Party board members on Sunday. “In a historic perspective, that will mean a lot. Hopefully the time when the Labour Party could lose an election (like it did last year) but still win government power (like it could have earlier this autumn) is over.”