New coalition meets swift opposition

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Even as Prime Minister Erna Solberg was thanking her former Progress Party partners after forming a new government on Friday, they were already striking back with critical remarks. Solberg’s new team was also blasted by other opposition parties in Parliament, as reaction to her new minotiry coalition streamed in.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, at Friday’s press conference after she overhauled and “renewed” her government coalition with more than a dozen ministerial changes. PHOTO: Regjeringen

“Before I begin to go through all the new ministerial posts, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Siv, Sylvi, Ingvil, Terje, Jøran, Harald Tom and Jon Georg for their contributions as minister in service for Norway,” Solberg said at a press conference after unveiling her new conservative government coalition. She consistently referred to everyone on a first-name basis, also her former ministers Jensen, Listhaug, Tybring-Gjedde, Søviknes, Kallmyr, Nesvik and Dale respectively.

Solberg noted how several of them had been “part of the team since 2013.” She hailed them for “taking responsibility in demanding times,” and noted how Progress “showed itself to be a party capable of governing” and “contributing with good solutions for most folks.”

Progress spent 40 years as mostly a protest party in Parliament, until finally winning government power through a coalition with Solberg’s Conservatives. She hopes Progress, which withdrew from Solberg’s coalition earlier this week over various political differences, will now continue to cooperate with her from Parliament.

‘Don’t count on it’
Solberg’s former partner and finance minister, Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, was not impressed. She particularly didn’t like how her party’s former transport minister post was given to Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats, who almost toppled the government in late 2018 when he tried to get his party to switch from Norway’s non-socialist side of politics to the left-wing side led by Labour.

SivJensen (left) and Solberg ruled together for six-and-a-half years and Solberg wants to keep cooperating. Jensen, whose Progress Party left Solberg’s government, is critical and not promising anything. PHOTO: Høyre

Jensen wrote on Progress’ website Friday how Hareide “wanted to set in (Labour leader) Jonas Gahr Støre as prime minister. Naming him as transport minister now is no invitation to cooperate.” She acknowledged that she recently branded Solberg’s government as “grey and boring.” Now, she writes that “making it redder (the colour used by socialist parties in Norway), is no improvement.”

Solberg’s new coalition lost its majority in Parliament when Progess withdrew, and now must depend on support from either it or other parties in opposition. Jensen, her provocative deputy leader Sylvi Listhaug and others in Progress have been making it clear that it will only support positions on issues that it agrees with. “If they want a majority with Progress, they’ll have to negotiate with us,” Jensen repeated on Friday.

Jensen is also unhappy with the ministerial appointment of the Liberals’ Abid Raja, because of a history of sharp conflicts over immigration policy.

‘Beating a dead horse’
She wasn’t alone in lashing out at the new government on Friday, even before new ministers were in their new offices. The Socialist Left party (SV) blasted Solberg’s decision to replace Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie, who’s been embroiled in the scandal over state welfare agency NAV,  even though it has backed proposals for a lack of confidence in her. Now SV is criticizing the government over Hauglie’s departure before the scandal is resolved. Both SV and Labour vowed that the government won’t be allowed to escape either criticism over or responsibility for the NAV scandal.

SV leader equated Solberg’s government overhaul to “beating a dead horse,” while the Reds Party claimed it was “still a blue-grey government for the rich and powerful.” Reds leader Bjørnar Moxnes, who has also called for Hauglie’s resignation, called it “little comfort” that “Hauglie is now out and Hareide in, because the main goals are still the same.”

SV, the Reds and the Greens all challenged the government to prove they’ll be “greener,” as Solberg promised on Friday. Une Bastholm of the Greens said she especially hoped the new oil, climate and transport ministers “will overturn the climate-unfriendly populism of Progress.”

Solberg, meanwhile, said she just “looked forward to good cooperation,” insisting that many of the parties in parliament “have a lot in common on many important issues.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For an official rundown of all the government ministerial changes in English, click here (external link to the government’s own website).

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund