Parliament reined in the government

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The Norwegian Parliament refused to entirely go along with the government’s request for emergency powers during the Corona virus crisis. In an unusual session held on Saturday, opposition parties “took control over crisis management” but all nine parties in both Parliament and the government agreed in the end.

Parliament President Tone Trøen (in black dress) presented the extraordinary Corona law compromise at yet another unusual press conference, with reporters seated at the prescribed distance from one another. The leaders of all nine parties in Parliament agreed on how the government could be granted emergency powers while preserving democratic principles. PHOTO: Stortinget

The government was granted the emergency powers it sought last week, in order to push through Corona containment measures, but only for one month instead of six.

The Parliament also pushed through an amendment that only a third of its members (MPs) will be able to overturn changes in regulations that raise concerns.

Instead of having the equivalent of full “power of attorney,” the government will now also need to have the Parliament’s support. Prime Minister Erna Solberg will have expanded powers, but measures introduced under such powers must be based on a need to move quickly.

The emergency expanded powers will be in effect for just a month, and must be renewed if the government feels they’re still needed.

Unanimous support
There ultimately was unanimous support from all the parties to give the government expanded power, after leaders of the Center, Socialist Left and Reds parties all felt that their concerns had “been heard.” Concerns and suggestions for improvements to the government’s plans had primarily arisen from external legal experts, though, including law professors Hans Petter Graver, Eivind Smith, Eirik Holmøyvik and Terje Einarsen, the leader of the Norwegian Bar Association, the leader of the national judge’s association and human rights experts.

Graver, for example, had expressed concerns that the government would be granted too much power under its initial request. He and others all quickly called for the emergency powers to be tightened and made more precise, and Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre took on the job of collecting all the input and seeking a consensus.

Jonas Gahr Støre, leader of the Labour Party and the opposition in Parliament, won praise for his ability to bring the Parliament and the government together. PHOTO: Stortinget

Støre won rare praise for hammering out the agreement, and for his ability to bring all the leaders of the parties in Parliament together. The government, in turn, contributed towards the agreement by readily conceding to go along with the opposition parties’ demands for limitations.

All agreed that the overall goal was to be able to adjust, in a speedy manner, existing laws and regulations to better address the current Corona-induced health and economic crisis. Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized that not only had the Parliament done an “impressive” job of coming together in a crisis, it had managed to preserve and protect Norway’s democracy.

Finding ‘solutions that function’
Even Solberg herself claimed to be pleased and insisted her government had not suffered a defeat. “No, I view this as a good cooperation project between the government and Parliament, to work out something that can be practiced,” Solberg told reporters after the weekend session, the latest in a string of extraordinary events in recent weeks.

“We have obtained solutions that will function,” Solberg stressed. “What the Parliament has achieved is practical for us.” Her justice minister, Monica Mæland, agreed, and had no problem with the shortened period of expanded power or the need to renew it.

As many as 60 Norwegian laws may need to be changed, from those governing the stock market trading to others applying to elementary schools, as the government introduces new measures to deal with the problems constantly cropping up because of the virus that’s still spreading among the population and disrupting daily life.

“This (the request for expanded powers) wasn’t any attempt at a state coup,” Solberg said. “This is an attempt to get everyday life to function.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund