Solberg slides into a summer slump

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Prime Minister Erna Solberg made a point of noting that her traditional mid-year press conference on Thursday was her first as leader of a majority government coalition. That hasn’t made her life any easier, with all four government parties sliding in the polls and quarreling among themselves.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg wore a colourful summer dress as she addressed Norwegian reporters on Thursday in the garden of her official residence. She’s had a tough year so far, however, and all four of her government’s parties are sinking in public opinion polls. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor/Eirin Larsen

She claimed that the “cooperation climate” (if not the climate itself) within her government was “very good.” She at least managed to once again hold her coalition together this month when her main partner, the Progress Party, demanded changes in road toll funding programs. No changes were made, at least not so far, but the government didn’t grind to a halt when Parliament did last week.

“At the same time, we must acknowledge that there have been issues that have created difficulties amongst ourselves,” Solberg stated in her lengthy prepared remarks to reporters gathered in the garden of her official residence. The difficulties range from attempts at abortion reform and oil exploration and production to the bompenger (road toll) uproar and hunting wolves.

Promoting the positive
Solberg preferred to emphasize Norway’s strong economy, yet another decline in unemployment, progress made on integration efforts and efforts to sustain the welfare state. “When we now take our summer holiday, we can do so in the knowledge that things are going well in our country,” she said. “I’m proud that as summer begins, I can say that Norwegian companies are reporting the highest growth rates since 2012, that unemployment is lower than at this time last year and that new jobs are being created.”

She also stressed that not all the growth is fueled by the oil industry, or that “parts of Norway are lying in the shadow of oil.” She pointed to growth in several branches and not least in outlying districts. “Forestry, fisheries and seafood, tourism and the marine supply industry along the coast are all doing well,” she said. “This is important for the future, when the petroleum business will have less impact.”

It’s a Norwegian tradition for prime ministers to host pre-summer and pre-Christmas press conferences for the Norwegian press corps. This year was no exception, with Prime Minister Erna Solberg also helping herself to the fresh strawberries on offer as she mingled with reporters before speaking. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Eirin Larsen

After highlighting new government initiatives aimed as small businesses, which she’s been visiting this month, though, she acknowledged the “tough negotiations” between her government and several small centrist parties whose support she needed to form a majority government in January.

“The discussions are of course just as tough now, even though they go on within the government,” Solberg said. “But this is honest and natural tug-of-war among four parties that have a lot in common but are also different.”

She could console herself by noting that things could be much worse, with her British counterpart Theresa May, whom Solberg welcomed to Oslo just last fall,  forced to resign over the Brexit crisis. Solberg also pointed to “fragmentering and polarization” in Europe, and how “new populist parties” have taken over for the traditional governing parties in Italy. Things are also tough in neighbouring Sweden and Denmark, where governments have been hard to form.

Football distraction
Solberg also noted “strong public engagement” in issues ranging from the climate to road tolls, two conflict areas most likely to continue creating the biggest challenges for her government. While Solberg claims her government has “done a lot” to promote electric vehicle and ferry use and public transport, her rejection of school climate strikers’ demands to stop more oil exploration and production has infuriated young Norwegians who already have scheduled a new strike right after school starts in August.

Meanwhile, Solberg was clearly looking forward to at least a bit of summer holiday herself, as she referred to “late breakfasts, swimming, grilling and maybe a good book.” She also hailed the performance of the Norwegian women’s national football team at the Women’s World Cup in France.

“We’re proud of you,” she said, predicting that “all of Norway” would be following their first match after making it into the quarter finals, against England. Solberg had to miss their opening match earlier this month, to ward off a government crisis at home. Now it can be a welcome distraction as she continues to face both the traditional opposition parties in Parliament along with opposition within her own government.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund