Norway, as expected, formally supported the UN’s new international pact to handle migration this week, but Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide still had to defend it in Parliament, against complaints from one of her own government partners. Opposition politicians claim the Progress Party’s challenge was simply a staged promotion of its own long-standing opposition to immigration.
“Circus,” “remarkable” and “a waste of time” were among the characterizations of the Progress Party’s decision to summon its own government’s foreign minister to Parliament to explain the migration pact’s intentions and effects. Progress also proposed that Parliament actually reject the support expressed for the migration pact at a major UN gathering in Morocco earlier this week. The pact has split the conservative government coalition made up of Progress, the Conservatives and the Liberal party, and prompted Progress to formally express its dissent on an issue for the first time in five years.
The migration pact has also sparked some unusually violent demonstrations in downtown Oslo in recent weeks that ended in clashes between those objecting to it and those supporting it. After winning majority support at the meeting in Morocco, it’s expected to be adopted by the UN General Assembly later this month.
Part of the game
Søreide of the Conservatives gamely strode to the podium in Parliament on Thursday to explain why the Norwegian government thinks the pact will help the international community deal with migration and even control it. She also stressed, however, that the pact is not legally binding and that Norway’s own asylum policies and laws regarding immigration will continue “to function well.” The UN’s new “global platform” on migration, Søreide claimed, won’t change any existing Norwegian regulations.
That has already raised questions over why it’s needed at all, but the pact does aim to at least offer a framework for further developments in dealing with migration, with a goal of steering it and improving the rights of migrants and refugees. Norwegian governments have the most power over the country’s foreign policy, so no concrete approval to join the UN pact was needed in Parliament, where most parties seemed to support it anyway.
That’s what made it “remarkable” that a member of the government forced the issue to come up in Parliament nonetheless. Like opponents of the pact elsewhere, Norway’s Progress Party fears the new UN pact may ultimately allow more migration and pressure UN members to take in more migrants, thus challenging national sovereignty. Jon Engen-Helgheim, Progress’ spokesman on immigration issues, told newspaper Dagsavisen that his biggest fear is that other Norwegian parties with more liberal immigration policies will use the migration pact to welcome more immigrants as soon as the conservative government loses power.
That brought charges that Engen-Helgeheim was expressing a lack of confidence in his own foreign minister, who’s one of the government’s most respected members. Other claimed he was merely seizing an opportunity to placate his party’s most right-wing and anti-immigration voters, and make itself more attractive to the far right internationally.
Audun Lysbakken, head of the Socialist Left party (SV), accused the Progress Party of “wasting the Parliament’s time” and the government of allowing it, simply to let the Progress Party save face after its failure to block support for the migration pact. Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre had already claimed on national radio Thursday morning that the Progress Party was resorting to theatrics, while Marit Arnstad of the Center Party claimed the government was bringing its own quarrel to Parliament “and appealing to us to reconcile them.”
Søreide remained calm throughout, explaining the merits of the pact and fielding questions from other MPs. She also noted that parties in the former left-center coalition government made up of Labour, SV and the Center parties, regularly disagreed on major issues themselves and expressed dissent.