Quarreling spikes as election looms

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NEWS ANALYSIS: With less than a week to go before important local elections are held all over Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg doesn’t only need to campaign against all of the country’s left-center opposition parties. She’s also had to spend much of this week dealing with more highly public quarreling within her conservative coalition, and revealing some climate-unfriendly policies in the process.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, leader of Norway’s Conservative Party, has had to spend time this week trying to keep her goverment coalition partners in line as they all campaign in the run-up to local elections on Monday. Their various parties’ views on issues can be very different than those presented by the government as a whole. PHOTO: Høyre

So much for the political ceasefire Solberg thought she’d reached within her coalition last week over road tolls: Solberg’s compromise on road tolls has not only raised questions over its consequences. Now her partners are also presenting very different views on immigration, asylum policy, protection of the Barents Sea and reaction to all the tens of thousands of striking school students who were literally screaming in the streets on Friday over how the government is failing to cut carbon emissions.

The two government parties most at odds right now are Progress and the Liberals. While Progress scolded the striking students and thinks they should stay in school, the Liberals praised the youngsters’ climate concern and engagement. They took to the streets in Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansand, Tromsø, Skien, Finse, Fredrikstad, Tønsberg and Svalbard, with around 7,000 out yelling in front of the Parliament in Oslo alone. Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party joined in, while Solberg was noticeably absent. “Where is Erna?” shouted the young strikers in unison.

‘No protection for the Barents Sea’
She and Elvestuen later clashed after he told newspaper Dagbladet over the weekend that the Barents Sea, which Norway has controversially opened for oil exploration and production, must receive some form of permanent protection. He also claimed that a defined border 50 kilometers away from the polar ice edge must be moved farther south.

“We have no plan to protect the Barents Sea,” Solberg retorted in an interview with newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) while she was campaigning in Tromsø on Monday. She made it clear that Elvestuen was only speaking on behalf of his Liberal Party’s position, and not on behalf of the government.

The only thing that will stop further oil exploration and/or production, she added, will be a lack of any oil and gas discoveries, or if discoveries prove to be unprofitable. “The government will follow professional advice and we haven’t received that yet,” Solberg told DN, referring to proposed management plans for both the Barents and the seas around Lofoten that are expected next year.

“Our starting point is not to limit oil activity,” Solberg told DN, in what appeared to be an effort to calm any oil company concerns that the Norwegian government may restrict their search for new sources of oil and gas. “We hope we reach the goals of the (UN’s) Paris Agreement, and then the ice edge won’t move so far north,” Solberg said, adding that her government will only set borders for Arctic oil activity on the basis of the actual ice edge.

‘Drill, baby, drill?’
Solberg also denied that rising climate concerns among Norwegians will lead to any political halt to oil activity. “If we find more oil, we will extract it,” Solberg told DN, repeating that any limits on oil activity in the Arctic would be based on markets, not climate concerns.

“Climate change must be fought through technology and alternative solutions, not by opting against use of our resources,” Solberg said. She insisted that oil activity must be carried out in an environmentally safe manner: “It’s not like I’m ‘drill, baby, drill,'” she said, but she clearly wants Norway’s oil industry to keep pumping money into the country’s economy for as long as possible.

Solberg also felt compelled to scold two of her other government ministers, Siv Jensen and Sylvi Listhaug of the Progress Party, after they made campaign statements this week that Norway is subject to “sneaking Islamification” and that “Norway won’t take in boat refugees.” Solberg claimed such statements do not reflect her government’s policies.

“All the parties can carry out their election campaigns, with their views on issues,” Solberg told reporters, “but that’s not necessarily the government’s policy.” She also claimed that Norway was “actively working” with other European countries “to find a solution for boat refugees” trying to sail from North Africa to Southern Europe.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund