Vegetarian food in the schools and higher road tolls loom in the Norwegian capital, after the Greens Party could and did demand more power within Oslo’s new city government. The coalition made up of the Greens, Labour and the Socialist Left (SV) parties remains the same, but Labour lost some of its dominance.
“Green politics must be red (in Norway, the colour of left-wing parties) in order to succeed, and red politics must be green in order to last,” claimed Raymond Johansen, the Labour Party veteran who has led Oslo’s city government for the past four years. He’ll still lead the incumbent coalition, but he’s had to make lots of concessions to the Greens after they won nearly as much as Labour’s 18 percent of the vote in last month’s municipal elections.
Johansen, for example, had to give up Labour’s political control of the city’s mighty finance department, which has been largely responsible for implementing Oslo’s controversial property tax that Labour campaigned for in 2015. The city government’s new politician in charge of finance will be Einar Wilhelmsen of the Greens, who’s most recently been working for the environmental organization Zero that promotes zero emissions. The 45-year-old Wilhelmsen has earlier worked as a deputy leader in finance under Labour’s Robert Steen, who has headed finance since 2015 but will now assume control of the city department in charge of health, elder care and resident services.
The Greens’ high-profile and often provocative politician Lan Marie Nguyen Berg will remain as the equivalent of a city minister in charge of the environment and transport. Berg has so far managed to fend off criticism that’s led to investigations of thousands of labour violations in city agencies under her control. Several other city agencies are under probe as well.
Berg, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans to step up measures aimed at forcing people out of their cars and on to bicycle, bus, tram or other public transport seats instead. She’s keen to remove even more street parking, close more streets entirely, lower speed limits and even further raise controversial road tolls, all in an effort to meet the Greens’ goal of making Oslo the first emissions-free city in the world. Oslo’s ruling coalition has also stated that it won’t back the E18 West Corridor and E6 Oslo East highway improvement projects.
Berg trumpeted a looming 20 percent reduction in individual ticket prices for public transport, but there will be no price reduction in the monthly passes used by most commuters. Instead, Berg vows to roll out another 100 kilometers of new bike lanes i Oslo by 2023, which already have been replacing street parking all over the city.
SV, meanwhile, hung on to the mayor’s office, which will continue to be led SV veteran Marianne Borgen. The mayor’s post is largely ceremonial in Oslo, with Johansen as city government leader having much more political power, but it’s a high-visibility post for which the 68-year-old Borgen won reappointment for the next four years.
The city coalition government’s new platform for the next four years, presented after four weeks of negotiations among Labour, the Greens and SV, is full of more benefits for families with small children, many of whom will now be eligible for free activities and supervision after the city’s relatively short school days. One-year-olds in seven of Oslo’s less-affluent districts will also be eligible for at least half-days of free day care. Labour won its campaign to offer free food at school for children up to the fourth grade, while the Greens could claim that it won’t include meat. Food served in city-financed nursing homes will also be vegetarian, Berg boasted.
SV won its campaign for a so-called “third housing market” in Oslo, aimed at providing around 1,000 subsidized residences that people with low- or moderate incomes would be able to buy. SV has long promoted various climate- and environmentally friendly policies and programs as well, backing the new welfare programs for school children along with the Greens’ desire to plant 100,000 more trees in Oslo by 2030 and shut down the cruise terminals around Akershus. Large cruiseships have lost popularity in Oslo because of their carbon emissions and the thousands of tourists they unleash into the city upon arrival.
Higher taxes likely
The government’s programs will be costly, prompting several commentators to note that taxes will have to rise to pay for it all. “The city government’s platform is an expensive affair, and depends on Oslo’s tax revenues remaining high,” wrote Andreas Slettholm in newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. Others hailed a “greener” Norwegian capital, not least since the state government continues to promote ongoing oil exploration and production and other projects that mean Norway won’t meet its national climate goals for 2020, and probably not for 2030 either.
Some commentators were already predicting that given the Greens’ gains nationwide in the last election, Oslo’s new government coalition may serve as a model for a new left-green state government coalition after the next parliamentary election in 2021. “The steering model in the capital can form a base for red-green cooperation at the national level,” editorialized newspaper Dagsavisen. It would be most likely formed, however, by Labour and the district-friendly Center Party, which is barely represented in Oslo and has claimed it will not govern with the Greens since the political distance between them is too wide.
“In our opinion it’s not so wide that it couldn’t narrow if that’s necessary to form a majority state government,” wrote Dagsavisen. “It would be good for the Center Party to become greener itself.”