Opposition finds lots to complain about

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NEWS ANALYSIS: The conservative government’s state budget “fails to solve the big challenges,” it “lets down the next generation” and shows that the government “isn’t listening to what folks are saying.” There was all kinds of buzz in the corridors of Parliament on Monday over the new state budget proposal for next year.

This was the scene inside Parliament’s main corridor (called vandrehallen) as politicians and journalists reacted to the government’s state budget proposal. There were lots of complaints. PHOTO: Stortinget

It didn’t take long for members of the opposition in Parliament to criticize the budget presented by Finance Minister Siv Jensen on Monday morning. Even though economists gave the budget high marks for aiming to keep the economy strong, rival politicians don’t like how the government is choosing to spend all the hundreds of billions at its disposal.

“Social differences in Norway are increasing and we need to cut carbon emissions, but aren’t restructuring the economy well enough,” claimed the leader of the opposition and the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre. “We’re not getting enough people into the workforce. These are three major challenges that this budget barely touches upon.”

That’s strong criticism at a time when Norway’s economy and job creation remain strong and unemployment is low. Labour, meanwhile, didn’t do much to lower emissions during its eight years in power from 2005 until Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives beat them in the 2013 election. Støre’s former boss, Jens Stoltenberg, famously flopped with his much-hyped “moon-landing” project that involved an ambitious carbon capture and storage facility at the former Statoil’s (now Equinor’s) plant at Mongstad. It never got off the ground, mostly because Statoil objected to its high costs.

Opposition and Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre criticized the government for failing to adequately address the need to cut carbon emissions in Norway, but his own party didn’t do any better when it led the government. PHOTO: Stortinget

Nor did the former Labour-led government rein in the oil industry even though Stoltenberg promised as early as 2009 that Norway “would take its share of emissions cuts at home.” Instead they’ve only continued to increase, the oil industry continued to dominate the economy as never before, and top executives and financiers became wealthy indeed along with many others. “Social differences” expanded during Labour’s government period as the rich got richer indeed.

Labour also used a lot of oil money in its budgets, up to 4 percent of the size of the Oil Fund, and former Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left party was viewed as having a dream job at a time when Europe was in financial crisis. Now Støre and Labour’s new finance policy spokesperson, Hadia Tajik, are criticizing Siv Jensen for the same thing.

“We are in a situation many others envy us for,” Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as politicians and journalists milled around in the Parliament’s main corridor after Jensen’s budget presentation, “but I think the budget confirms that we’re not grasping opportunities.” It remains unclear what opportunities he and his main potential government partner, the Center Party, would grasp since they’re not keen on reining in the oil industry either.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg defended her budget, here against criticism from Socialist Left party leader Audun Lysbakken PHOTO: Stortinget

The Center Party’s leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, meanwhile, repeated his frequent claims that Solberg’s and Jensen’s government continues to promote centralization of public services and consolidation of local governments, neither of which are popular in outlying districts. Vedum complained, for example, that the government now wants to make the state responsible for collecting all taxes, replacing local tax collectors.

“Honestly,” retorted Solberg, “do you really think folks are concerned about having a tax collection office close by? I don’t think so. I think folks are most keen on making sure tax collection is competent and efficient.” She also clarified an item in the budget that tax collection would be consolidated in towns like Otta, Nordfjordeid and Tynset, not where the state government is based in Oslo. Jobs would in fact be transfered from the Oslo metropolitan area to smaller towns elsewhere around the country, something that Vedum and his party generally champion.

Hadia Tajik, a Member of Parliament and former government minister for Labour, complained that the new budget is a “betrayal” of the next generation because it doesn’t cut enough carbon emissions. “Unfortunately the main picture from the government’s recent budgets is that it lets down the next generation,” Tajik told NRK. “This is a government that clearly thinks it has time to wait with the major decisions that need to be made to bring carbon emissions down.” Since Labour backs the oil industry, however, it remained unclear how she and Labour would cut emissions any faster. One of its own former ministers, Karl-Eirik Schjøtt Pedersen, has recently been leading the oil industry’s main lobbying organization and was part of forming the claim that production of Norwegian oil and gas is much more “clean” than oil and gas produced in other countries.

Several environmental and humanitarian organizations were also expressing disappointment with the new state budget proposal, claiming that it “lacks vision,” should contribute more towards helping the world’s refugees and should take better care of wildlife, to name a few complaints. Magnus Takvam, a veteran political commentator for NRK, called the debate and complaints “predictable.” He predicted that debate through the autumn will continue to dwell on climate measures and centralization.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund