NEWS ANALYSIS: Prime Minister Erna Solberg was widely seen as trying to appeal to the Christian Democrats Party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) in her annual New Year’s address to the nation. It dwelled heavily on the value of children and family life, issues at the core of KrF policy as Solberg’s government launches negotiations to include KrF in its non-socialist coalition and thereby win a majority in Parliament.
Negotiations were getting underway on Wednesday. Solberg didn’t specifically mention them in the prime minister’s traditional speech broadcast on New Year’s Day, but few failed to notice her emphasis on family values, support for families with small children and efforts to encourage women in Norway to have more children, and earlier.
Solberg had already expressed her concerns to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) in December about Norway’s low birthrate. Fewer children per capita are being born in Norway than ever before, despite the country’s generous paid parental leave, welfare payments for all children regardless of a family’s economic situation, heavily subsidized day care and a host of other child-friendly programs. Solberg said she can’t understand why more women don’t have more children.
She could consult with her two government colleagues, Siv Jensen of the Progress Party and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party, both of whom are single and have no children. Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized on Wednesday that the reasons for not having children are largely personal and not always something the government can influence. “The state can offer programs that can make life with children and work as easy as possible,” Aftenposten wrote, “but there clearly are limits to how much the state can help” solve the issue of low birth rates that can threaten Norway’s welfare state.
Instead of simply catering to the Christian Democrats’ ongoing calls for even more funding for children and parents, the newspaper suggested Solberg could be better off concentrating on programs that “can secure those who already are born.” That means more employment of youth, immigrants, women and especially immigrant women who often prefer to stay home to care for their children themselves. Solberg did note that job creation and secure employment are keys towards also securing the welfare state.
In addition to outright calling on Norwegians to have more children, Solberg spoke at length about the importance of ensuring good childhoods for young Norwegians and the need for everthing from good after-school programs to psychological care. She also mentioned the need for a strong national economy and healthy environment, but only mentioned climate issues in a few lines, loosely claiming that “we will sharpen the goals so that Norway will do its share to avoid dangerous climate change.” There was no word on how, or whether the government will finally curtail oil and gas exploration and production. Norwegian governments have avoided that for years.
Solberg, who has faced harsh criticism for failing to boost Norway’s preparedness for terrorist attacks, only briefly addressed the terror threat towards the end of her remarks. She referred to the recent murders in Morocco of a young Norwegian woman and her Danish traveling companion, stressing that her government was grieving and thinking about their families during an extremely difficult time. “The terrorists shall not win,” Solberg claimed. “They will be defeated.” She further stressed the importance of securing Norway’s freedom, openness, democracy and fairness.
There was no mention all the political tension in the world at present, also among and within many of Norway’s closest allies like the US, the UK, Sweden and several countries within the EU. The prime minister characteristically exuded calm and confidence instead, just before heading into the government talks itself that are likely to determine whether her coalition will survive until the next election in 2021.