“I believe we can find good solutions,” declared Prime Minister Erna Solberg as she gathered top officials from Norway’s three other non-socialist political parties on Wednesday outside an historic inn on a wintry hillside in Hadeland. She and her coalition partners got right down to work after the New Year holiday weekend, in the hopes of forming Norway’s first conservative majority government since the 1980s.
“I’m not afraid that we won’t manage this,” Solberg added, as she gazed out over the landscape that seemed to inspire her and the others standing with her: Siv Jensen of the Progress Party, Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party and, finally, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad of the Christian Democrats. Jensen and Grande are already members of Solberg’s cabinet. They all want Ropstad and his colleagues to join them, but “not at any price” on either side.
“I know this can be demanding,” Solberg said at an afternoon press conference outside the 360-year-old Granavolden Gjæstgiveri in Hadeland, where they’ll be huddling for at least the next week or two. She noted that her Conservative Party has already been cooperating with the three other parties for the past five-and-a-half years.
Solberg referred to a “maturing process” over the years that has brought the parties together now. She also referred to the “fresh air” of Hadeland and gestured towards the road running in front of the inn that’s part of the old Kongeveien (King’s Road) to Bergen. “We have impulses from all over the country with us,” she claimed.
Ropstad also seemed inspired by the location, noting how they stood on “historic ground.” Granavolden is just across the road from two churches dating from the 1100s, prompting Ropstad to smile and say that he hoped the “Christian cultural heritage” of the venue “will help form a good foundation” for their talks over the next week or two.
He also seemed genuinely pleased by Solberg’s New Year’s address to the nation Tuesday night, in which she stressed family policies and the need for more children in Norway. “After hearing her New Year’s speech, I felt that (the Christian Democrats) had already won a lot,” Ropstad said. “It was a good speech with a lot of good family policy, which will be important for us.”
Solberg insists she hasn’t made any promises to any of the parties, though, nor has any deadline been set for formation of a new goverment platform on which they can all agree. Solberg will need to leave the talks for a few days, since she’s flying off on an official trip to India on Sunday. She’ll surely stay in close touch, though, with the negotiations for an expanded government.
As state broadcaster NRK noted, she’s closer than ever to her dream of actually forming a new conservative coalition that would have a majority in Parliament. “Everyone wants to land this project,” Solberg said. Those standing with her colleagues seemed to agree.
“There are many difficult issues,” Jensen, who has served as Norway’s finance minister since Solberg formed her first two-party coalition with Progress in 2013, “but we are prepared.” Jensen called meetings held among all four parties before Christmas “useful,” because then they could all get better acquainted with Ropstad, a deputy leader of the Christian Democrats who’s leading the negotiations instead of party leader Knut Arild Hareide. Ropstad won a power struggle of sorts last fall with Hareide, who wanted the party to cooperate with the opposition Labour and Center parties instead of Solberg’s coalition. Ropstad narrowly won the party’s approval to stick with Solberg.
Jensen noted that the pre-holiday meetings allowed the parties “to clean up in some areas,” and that in turn “formed a good starting point” for the looming negotiations. “The political hindrances haven’t become less,” Jensen said, “but our confidence (in one another) has become greater.” She repeated earlier claims that her party will need to feel it has prevailed in issues especially dealing with taxes, transportation and immigration.
Grande was also positive on Wednesday and clearly glad that the Christian Democrats were poised to join the fold. Both she and Ropstad specifically cited climate and environmental issues as an area where they want to prevail. Both favour more restrictions on the oil industry and more ambitious goals for emissions cuts, and environmental activists were on hand for Wednesday’s press conference, demonstrating noisily when it was all over.
The thorniest issue remains the Christian Democrats’ desire to tighten Norway’s abortion law, but all four party officials refused to discuss specifics or “negotiate through the media.” Ropstad said the issue is “important” for his party, “but we won’t make any ultimatum.” Nor will Jensen, she said: “It’s the overall platform that will be important, not single issues.”
That sort of talk, including Ropstad’s statement that “I have faith we will succeed,” seemed to bode well for the talks ahead. Magnus Takvam, a political commentator for NRK, said he was “reasonably certain” the talks will succeed, and that would be a “very big political victory” for Solberg. Last winter’s talks to expand her coalition, which resulted in the addition of the Liberals, took 14 days. A decision from this round thus may come in mid-January.