NEWS ANALYSIS: Internal policy disagreements plague both sides of Norwegian politics, meaning post-election conflicts loom no matter who wins on September 13. The bloc that emerges victorious will quickly face major challenges agreeing on a prospective government platform, while a new poll shows that the prime minister candidates will be historically weak.
Political commentators continue to analyze Monday night’s first major debate that involved the leaders of all nine parties represented in the Norwegian Parliament. Several were glad that climate policy dominated the debate, and emerged as the most important issue in the upcoming election. “For some (including all four of Norway’s biggest parties) it was extremely uncomfortable,” editorialized newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday, noting how neither the Conservatives, Labour, Progress nor the Center parties want to go along with the UN Secretary General’s call to halt oil and gas exploration.
“For others,” added Dagsavisen, “the climate crisis is the way to power.” That applies to the much smaller but rapidly growing Socialist Left, Reds and Greens parties plus the Liberal Party (Venstre), which has finally risen a bit in the polls.
More than climate can lead to stormy discussions
Climate policy, however, is far from the only issue dividing parties that will need to settle on a government platform. On the left-center side, the Socialist Left party (SV) not only wants to halt more oil exploration and impose many other strict emissions-cutting measures, putting it at odds with both Labour and Center. SV also wants Norway to welcome far more immigrants and asylum seekers than Center and Labour. SV also wants to boost various welfare payments, raise more taxes, protect more wolves along with other wildlife and the nature, and remove fees from after-school programs.
The two other parties on the left side of Norwegian politics, the Reds and the Greens, share most of SV’s views, and are thus likely to throw their weight behind such measures even though the Reds don’t want to be part of any government coalition. Labour and Center will, at any rate, likely need the support of SV, the Greens and/or the Reds in order to pass legislation.
There are other policy conflicts between Labour and Center alone. Labour supports EU membership and, not least, Norway’s existing trade treaty with the EU. Center firmly opposed EU membership and wants to “improve” the treaty known as the EØS/EEA agreement. Labour and SV want to do away with the state commission that decides whether women can have abortions after the first trimester. Center wants to retain it. Labour and SV also want to repeal kontantstøtte, which provides cash payments to households that opt against sending their young children to day care centers. Center wants to retain it.
Right side divided, too
There are also lots of policy differences within the right-side of Norwegian politics. They’re greatest on oil policy, with both the Conservatives and Progress firmly supporting the oil industry and rejecting any attempt to halt ongoing oil exploration. Both the Liberals and Christian Democrats (KrF) want to at least slow the pace of granting new oil exporation licenses, but once again, differences run deeper.
They’re perhaps deepest on immigration policy. Both the Liberals and KrF want to soften Norway’s strict limits on immigration and acceptance of asylum seekers, while the Conservatives want to retain them and Progress wants to make it even more difficult to move or flee to Norway. Immigration numbers are record low at present, not least because of Corona-related restrictions and travel and entry to Norway, but that hasn’t stopped Listhaug from tapping into some Norwegians’ so-called fremmedfrykt (fear of foreigners). As political commentator Hege Ulstein put it on Wednesday, Progress leader Sylvi Listhaug “wants to talk about immigration at every opportunity, no matter what the question is, and is the closest you can get to a climate-doubter in Norwegian top politics.”
Progress is also strongly opposed to the Conservatives’ recent proposal for a huge increase in carbon taxes, at a time when most all other parties support the premise that polluters should pay most. Progress also opposes any hikes in fees that would affect motorists and is skeptical of most all fees or taxes aimed at protecting the environment.
Progress in general wants to lower or even remove fees and taxes on everything from alcohol and imported food to personal fortunes and property, while both KrF and the Liberals actually support some of the opposition Center Party’s protectionist policy. Both Høyre and Progress want to reform laws that limit farmers’ freedom to decide over their own property while the otherwise farmer-friendly Center Party wants to protect farm land from commercial development. The parties on the right also quarrel over proposed cuts in subsidy and tariff protection for agriculture, and over proposed cuts in foreign aid.
On many issues, Center and Progress agree, prompting Progress’ Listhaug to claim at Monday’s debate that Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum “should be standing over here on our side, together with us” instead of being on the left side of Norwegian politics.
It all makes for confusing prospects for cooperation, and perhaps some strange bedfellows indeed when issues ultimately come up for debate in Parliament. The Liberals have already hinted that they may vote with the Greens, the Reds and SV on some climate policy issues, while Center may team up with Progress on others.
A new public opinion poll conducted by research firm Norstat for state broadcaster NRK and newspaper Aftenposten, meanwhile, continues to indicate that in the end, Labour, Center and SV will form a new left-center government and Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre will become Norway’s new prime minister. Aftenposten’s political editor Kjetil B Alstadheim warned, however, that Støre will be historically weak given the new poll showing Labour with just 22.1 percent of the vote. That’s almost even with the Conservatives’ 21.9 percent. Center was only around five points behind, at 17.1 percent, while Progress fell to just 8.6 percent of the vote.
The smaller parties keep gaining ground, giving them a potentially louder voice in prospective government negotiations. As the election campaign proceeds, one forecast by Labour’s deputy leader Bjørnar Skjæran may well prevail: “It will be a very close vote.”