Government starts talking expansion

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UPDATED: Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her two other coalition leaders could celebrate five years of cooperation earlier this fall, and now are negotiating to stay in power for at least another three. Policy negotiations with the Christian Democrats finally began Thursday night, after more drama during the day, but no results are expected until after New Year.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Finance Minister Siv Jensen and Culture Minister Trine Skei Grande celebrated their conservative coalition govenrment’s 5th birthday earlier this autum. Talks that started Thursday night are aimed at turning the number on the cake to at least eight, if the Christian Democrats join the coalition and finally assure it of a majority in Parliament. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Just hours before the government talks began, the leader of the Christian Democrats’ delegation in Parliament unleashed harsh criticism against the very coalition his party now may join. Hans Fredrik Grøvan accused Solberg & Co of “failing to do their job” in securing key government buildings and other “objects” against terrorist attack. He claimed the faults found by state auditors are even “more serious” than in earlier audits, and he demanded that Solberg return to Parliament and publicly apologize and present a “concrete plan” for compliance with security and preparedness measures.

The Christian Democrats’ parliamentary leader, Hans Fredrik Grøvan PHOTO: Kristelig Folkeparti

Grøvan stopped short, however, of declaring a lack of confidence against Solberg’s government. While critics on the left-center side of Norwegian politics claimed he “copped out” and lacked the courage to seize the one major issue serious enough to topple the government, others noted that tactical considerations were more important. As Dagsavisen editorialized on Friday, setting off a government crisis at the same time his party is entering into talks to join the government would be like “trying to turn water into wine.”

Grøvan and his small party, which nontheless holds the critical swing vote in Parliament, thus settled for the strongest criticism they could muster without toppling the government. The Christian Democrats will now see whether they can gain new and important influence over policy by teaming up with Solberg’s Conservatives, the Progress Party and the Liberals. They agreed on a state budget for 2019 earlier this week. Now come negotiations on tougher issues, and, eventually, a new government platform reflecting the agreed policy of all four coalition parties.

Need to clear the air first
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the first meeting Thursday night was largely expected to be spent simply clearing the air after a string of conflicts over the budget itself. The Progress Party has been especially vocal with its indignation over how the Christian Democrats forced a reduction in tax-free quotas for alcoholic beverages, for example, while both the Liberal and Progress are not at all in favour of making any changes in Norway’s abortion law. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, went so far as to say she had “lost confidence” in the Christian Democrats even before negotiations began.

Political commentators, however, believe the dramatic language is largely part of pure positioning. Liberals leader Trine Skei Grande was at least smiling when she arrived at the government’s formal gathering place, Parkveien 45, for the first meeting. “It’s good that we’re beginning to speak together,” Skei told NRK. “I think its important that we sit down and talk. I want the Christian Democrats to join the government, to help move it more towards the center.”

Jensen said it was most important to rebuild confidence among the four parties, which had a formal cooperation agreement during the Solberg Government’s first term in office, from 2013-2017. Christian Democrats’ leader Knut Arild Hareide refused to renew it after last autumn’s election, opting to join the opposition in Parliament instead. He’s now expected to resign as party leader after failing in his attempt to move the Christian Democrats over to the left side of Norwegian politics and form a govenrment with the Labour and Center parties instead.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her govenment delegation indicated that while talks have begun, no formal negotiations will take place until after the Christmas and New Year holidays. “We don’t expect any results before Christmas,” Solberg told reporters just before the weekend. “We first need to venture forth with these initial sessions, and then we’ll need to go a step further.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund