Government seeks emergency powers

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Vowing that they won’t be abused or exploited, Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced on Wednesday that her government is pursuing its legal right to invoke emergency powers. That will allow her ministers to set aside laws as needed in their efforts to control the Corona virus and its devastating effect on the country and, not least, its economy.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg has been emerging in recent weeks as what Norwegians call a landsmoder, a sort of highly respected “national mother” to lead the nation during the Corona virus crisis. Solberg, known for remaining calm in the most stressful situations, is nonetheless being put to the test as Norway’s economy sags and tens of thousands of people are suddenly out of work. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Eirin Larsen

With the price of oil falling another 11 percent on Wednesday, to just over USD 25  a barrel late in the day, the ill effects of Corona just keep getting worse. More than 100,000 Norwegians had applied for unemployment benefits by Wednesday afternoon, with the entire country stuck in a state of shutdown.

Norwegian law provides for the government to seize authority to deal with a crisis (krisefullmakter) without going to Parliament. The authority is justified as a means of making sure that society can function as long as a crisis lasts. Solberg is convinced that the current Corona crisis justifies invoking such authority.

“This is an extraordinary situation, and we need to be able to act quickly,” Solberg said at the government’s now-daily afternoon press conference. “We therefore want to invoke the law that gives us the opportunity to make exemptions from (other) applicable laws, with the exception of anything related to the constitution or human rights.”

She thanked all the other parties in Parliament for their “broad cooperation” in her government’s work in recent days to enable the emergency powers. She said she expects approval for her request when it’s presented to Parliament on Thursday.

Solberg firmly believes that the new crisis authority will make the government better able to meet the challenges presented by the Corona crisis. Among other things, the government will be able to make quick changes in regulations to be sure Norwegians don’t lose welfare benefits, for example, or that the courts can maintain their critical function even if they can’t convene in person.

“This is meant to make sure everything functions,” Solberg said, “not to give us new powers over our society.” Any changes in or overturning of various laws that are made will apply for just six months and expire on December 31 at the latest. The Parliament will also be alerted to all changes made, and if a third of the Members of Parliament disagree with a change or believe the government has gone too far, they can step in and stop what the government is doing.

Prime Minister Solberg was flanked by Health Minister Bent Høie (at right) and Justice Minister Monica Mæland, joining in via video link because she’s been in quarantine at home herself. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Eirin Larsen

“There are control points in Parliament,” Solberg said, a result of intense negotiations with Parliament over the past few days. “It’s not as though we can just approve new regulations and the Parliament has no say.”

Justice Minister Monica Mæland, taking part in the press conference via video link since she’s at home in quarantine until Thursday, also claimed that “this will only be used when necessary and defensible. We’re asking for the equivalent of a power of attorney. It won’t be exploited or abused.”

The leader of the opposition in Parliament, Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party, supported Solberg’s initiative. “This is a crisis,” Støre told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He said it was most important that workers’ rights are secured, and that Parliament is kept well-informed.

Both King Harald V, recently released from Corona quarantine himself, and Crown Prince Haakon were present at another extraordinary Council of State with Solberg’s government on Wednesday. It was also approved there that Norway’s airlines can be exempted from competition law for the next three months, enabling them to cooperate on routes and operations to ensure airline service at a time when many flights have been grounded.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund