Flags were flying as the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) opened its 164th session on Wednesday. The new session may be so turbulent and acrimonious, however, that its president found it necessary to remind politicians that they’re supposed to treat one another with respect.
“We risk becoming a danger to democracy ourselves if we don’t manage to show both one another and those we represent that our political work is characterized by respect,” Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen said in her remarks at the highly ceremonial opening. As Stortingspresident, Trøen ranks second only to the monarch in Norway, and he was also there, as always, for the highly traditional ceremony.
The respect she called for applies “to the confidence shown us by the voters, and to the fact that “also our political opponents represent opinions that have won a rightful place in this room through election,” Trøen said. “We know that we are followed closely by voters who also at the next election must be able to cast their ballot in the faith, not just hope, that also those next to be elected will use their time and efforts on what’s important, to find solutions to the issues that burn in folks’ everyday lives.”
Trøen mentioned issues such as “good health services when they’re needed, the climate and environment” and maintenance of “a safe society with hope for the future and opportunities for all.” She added that children and youth who don’t have the right to vote “are also following us closely. In a clear reference to the recent school strikes for the climate, Trøen noted that “they have used the power that lies in the right to raise your voice, yes even roar, for what they’re burning for. They and others like them shall also be taken seriously and treated with respect, whether we share their views or not.”
Initial debate over the platform and political status report presented by Norway’s conservative government coalition, which has been fraught with conflicts itself, begins on Thursday and continues through Friday. The politicking begins in earnest on Monday, when Finance Minister Siv Jensen of the Progress Party will present the government’s state budget proposal for next year. Since the coalition led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg finally has a majority in Parliament for the first time since she took office in 2013, the budget is expected to be approved, provided her coalition doesn’t collapse in the meantime.
The climate crisis, the future of Norway’s oil industry, migrants, new defense plans and the fate of fur farmers, wolves and children born to Norwegian widows of IS warriors and terrorists in Syria are among hot topics of debate this fall. As long as Solberg can keep her government together, their opinions and “solutions” should prevail.
New public opinion polls, however, now show that the left-center parties have a clear majority in Parliament and that’s filled the Center, Socialist Left and even the embattled Labour parties with confidence. “These are fantastic numbers for us,” crowed Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, leader of the Center Party, after a poll conducted by research firm Norstat for newspaper Aftenposten and state broadcaster NRK showed Center with 18.6 percent of the vote. That’s nearly double the party’s 10.6 percent at the last parliamentary election in 2017 and a solid jump just since the local elections last month.
The Greens Party, which has been on a roll in recent months, grabbed 7.8 percent, nearly on par with Jensen’s Progress Party at just 8.6 percent. Progress continues to dive in the polls from the 15.2 percent it claimed in the last election, while the Greens seem the most confident of them all. Greens leader Une Bastholm told Aftenposten on Wednesday that it’s “absolutely” a goal to become bigger than Progress.
It all means that the government is going to also face very tough battles and criticism this fall from the resurgent opposition in Parliament, also over the government’s ongoing drive towards consolidation of public services and governing entities. So confident are the new left-center leaders of the huge new Viken region, which will combine the current fylker (counties) of Østfold, Akershus and Buskerud from January 1, that they’re already claiming they’ll reverse the merger if they win government power in 2021. The Center Party-led rulers in the new Innland region that will combine Hedmark and Oppland counties said they’ll do the same.
Solberg thus faces a rocky road ahead. She was customarily calm when confronted with the challenges to her leadership: “Now we’ll have the formal debate in Parliament, then we’ll present out budget and show that we have lots of good policies,” Solberg told Aftenposten.