Erna on defense in traditional debate

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg has had to fend off a steady stream of criticism over her government’s agenda for the coming year. Opposition leaders claim she’s run out of new ideas, while many of her reforms are already starting to unravel.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg had to respond to lots of criticism this week, here from Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre in Parliament on Friday. PHOTO: Stortinget

“There’s never much new in the trontale,” retorted Solberg, referring to the “speech from the throne” that King Harald read aloud at the opening of Parliament earlier this week. It outlines the government’s platform and plans for the new session, and was the subject of the formal, traditional trontale debate in Parliament both Thursday and Friday.

Solberg stressed to news bureau NTB right after the opening of Parliament that Norway’s version of the US president’s “State of the Union” address rather was aimed at expressing “continuity” regarding her government coalition’s platform presented in January, when she finally managed to assemble a majority in Parliament after five years of rule.

“The job ahead is to carry out these things” already agreed, she said, like restructuring an economy that will be more sustainable and less reliant on the country’s oil industry, maintaining the welfare state, dealing with the uncertainty of Brexit and the US’ trade war with China and creating new jobs. Arguments continue over how to do that, but Solberg predictably prefers to focus on the positive.

Solberg predictably stressed Norway’s strengths while defending her agenda in Parliament on Friday, and has moved climate issues higher up the agenda. PHOTO: Stortinget

“Norway is in good shape,” she said at the opening of her speaking time in Parliament on Friday. She noted how more people have found jobs, most families’ household economies are good and her government got the country through the oil price collapse. She stressed the need “to continue with policies that stimulate growth and investment in the private sector.”

She also claimed that her government has set the strictest goals for reduction of carbon emissions ever and noted that “oil activity will no longer be the same engine for growth in the Norwegian economy” as it has been. “Changes in Norway’s biggest business (oil)” can hit the Norwegian economy hard, she acknowledged, “and that’s one of the reasons we steadily need more new, green jobs in the years ahead” to maintain the welfare state.

Solberg signaled that she’s well aware of how difficult change and restructuring will be, how protests have arisen in other countries and not least in Norway over bompenger (road tolls). That’s where she’s still meeting the most opposition on the left and the right, with left-wing parties both supporting and opposing road tolls, for example, and her own government partners disagreeing on them as well. Everyone, she insists, should make sure that Norway avoids the deep divisions seen elsewhere.

Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre was on the offensive in Parliament this week, and has promised to be tougher in opposition. PHOTO: Stortinget

That won’t be easy, especially since recent local government elections left Solberg’s Conservative Party out of power in Norway’s biggest cities. Newspaper Klassekampen reported this week how the government parties were left “with crumbs” at the local level, retaining power in only three of Norway’s 20 largest municipalities: Bærum, Asker and Sandefjord.

Bjørnar Moxnes, leader of Norway’s most far-left Reds party, told NTB this week that he doesn’t think Solberg’s government has taken into account the election results, as they continue with reform, consolidation and even transport programs that suggests they’re “not listening to the people’s verdict.” New left-center leaders in the huge new region called Viken (a result of a pending merger of Østfold, Akershus and Buskerud counties) announced upon convening this week that they’ll work to undo the consolidation if a left-center majority ousts Solberg’s government in the 2021 elections. New majorities ruling in Troms and Finnmark did the same, and now Hedmark and Oppland counties want to disband their merger as the new Innland region from January 1st. Vestland leaders want to return to break up the merge of Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane, too.

Moxnes, meanwhile, doesn’t like road tolls either, claiming they put too much burden on lower-income commuters. He is, however, calling for “a new environmentally friendly Industrial Revolution” in Norway that seemed to be similar to what Solberg wants, too.

‘Low ambitions’
The head of the opposition in Parliament, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, branded the government’s agenda as “ritualistic and characterized by low ambitions.” He and other party leaders also repeatedly referred to the many recent conflicts within Solberg’s coalition. Their internal disagreements can hinder any real progress on climate issues, he said.

Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Social Left party, also slammed Solberg’s coalition as “paralyzed and empty of ideas.” He told NTB, however, that he was encouraged that Solberg has moved climate higher up the agenda and also recognizes what he and Labour have complained about for the past few years: That social and economic differences among Norwegians are becoming more distinct. The rich have become richer at the expense of others.

Solberg’s finance minister, Siv Jensen, is due to present the state budget on Monday and then the debate will really take off.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund