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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Støre seeks peace, also at home

NEWS ANALYSIS: Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre spent last weekend in Switzerland with fellow goverment leaders from all over the world, at the Summit on Peace in Ukraine. This week he could finally enjoy more peace on the domestic front as well, winning support for his government’s revised state budget and seeing his Labour Party jump in the latest public opinion polls.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was among the 90 national leaders taking part over the weekend at the Summit on Peace in Ukraine. It was held in Switzerland with the goal, Støre said, of securing peace on Ukrainian terms, and boosting both “security and stability on our continent.” PHOTO: Keystone/EDA/POOL/Urs Flueeler

Støre could wake up Tuesday morning to some of the best news he’s had in months: His party rose 2.4 points in the June poll conducted by research firm Norstat for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and newspaper Aftenposten. It was the biggest rise by any of the 10 parties represented in Parliament, and it finally pushed Labour back over the psychologically important 20 percent-mark, to 22 percent.

The Conservatives ranked largest, at 25 percent, and they still have a majority with their potential government partners, but it was a longed-for boost for Støre. He’s also been trying to celebrate 10 years as leader of the Norwegian Labour Party after Jens Stoltenberg took over NATO chief, but it wasn’t easy. His government’s revised state budget remained stalled in Parliament and his government partner, the Center Party is in a slump. It fell again in the same poll results released on Tuesday, claiming just 4.5 percent of voter support.

Kari Elisabeth Kaski of SV (left) won acceptance for changes to the Labour-Center government’s revised state budget that finally gave it the support it needed in Parliament. Kaski, Tuva Moflag of Labour (center) and Ole André Myhrvold of the Center Party could thus announce their budget agreement on Monday.  PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

But then the Socialist Left Party (SV) came to terms with Labour and Center and guaranteed support in Parliament for their budget, after winning more funding for higher child welfare payments, expanded dental care for young adults and new housing policy that can make it easier for students and young Norwegians to find homes. SV also pushed through historic funding levels (NOK 35 billion) for offshore wind projects, which can help electrify offshore oil and gas installations and cut their carbon emissions. It remained unclear how much money the oil companies themselves will have to come up with, and there was some criticism over whether it will amount to more aid on top of controversial tax breaks during the Corona crisis, but it can cut the need for more electricity from land and ease complaints about that.

It all added up to winds finally blowing in the right direction for Støre, who’s otherwise languished in the polls and has seemed unable to build public enthusiasm either for his government or himself. On Tuesday, though, he held a traditional mid-year press conference before the summer holidays, at which he claimed that the vast majority of Norwegians can look forward to better times ahead after the past few years of rising interest rates, wages that didn’t keep up with inflation and record high electricity rates.

The prime minister holding a press conference back home in Oslo on Tuesday, before the summer holidays begin. PHOTO. Statsministerens kontor

“I’m happy to tell workers, families, students, retirees and all of Norway that folks will be better off this year,” Støre said. He claimed that both the central bank and state economists now believe Norwegians will enjoy “real wage growth,” both this year and in the years to come. He noted how inflation has declined for the fifth month in a row, and he thinks that will bring a decline in interest rates as well.

After seeing his once-dominant party fall to as low as 16 percent in the polls and lose young voters in Oslo, this week’s rebound was a relief for Støre. He claimed he’ll be able to secure a competent government if the left-center parties win re-election next year and he opened the door for SV to join in. After losing a string of ministers to various conflicts of interest and scandals, he believes he now has a strong government that will continue to lead the country amidst war in Europe and the Middle East. His government already has won strong, unanimous support for a huge increase in defense spending and military buildup.

“Ukraine’s fight is an historic fight for survival, but also for Europe’s future,” Støre said at the press conference. Public support for Ukraine also remains strong in Norway.

Foreign relations and diplomacy have always been the areas where Store shines, and that came through during the weekend as well. While sometimes ridiculed at home on domestic policy, he’s a respected figure internationally and has the financial clout of Norway’s Oil Fund behind him. It ranks as the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, fueled by oil revenues saved over the past few decades. It has allowed Norway to be one of Ukraine’s biggest financial backers, with both military and humanitarian aid.

Støre leading opening discussions at the peace summit in Switzerland on the return of children, other Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war who’ve been illegally deported to Russia. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Støre led talks at the summit aimed at securing the return of Ukrainians who’ve been deported to Russia since Russian forces invaded the country in February 2022. “This is all about the fate of thousands of people, affected families and friends,” Støre said. “A lot of important things have happened in this area, but very much more remains to be resolved. Norway will do what we can to contribute.”

Norway has also felt especially affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because the country also shares a border with Russia. “We have a neighbour that has, in a major way, attacked another neighbour,” Støre said, noting that fellow Nordic countries like Finland plus Estonia and many others keep asking the same question: “What do we do?” The answer has been to “unite around the principles of humanitarian law and the UN Charter.”

He stressed throughout the summit that it must be up to Ukraine to define when and how any future peace pact can take effect. “Our support for Ukraine is firm,” Støre said. “We support Ukraine’s demands and its premises for a fair and lasting peace.”

Støre had also met with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky just two weeks ago, at a Nordic summit in Stockholm, at which even more financial aid and military support was formalized. Additional aid was announced to help rebuild Ukraine’s electricity systems, especially for the hospitals of Kharkiv. PHOTO: Regeringskansliet

Those attending the summit, to which Russia was not invited, stressed that any threats against Ukraine’s nuclear power plants were unacceptable, that global food security demands safe transport of agricultural products from Ukraine, and that all prisoners of war much be exchanged, along with the return of deported children and civilians. They also agreed that they’d had “fruitful and constructuve conversations” on the framework for full, fair and lasting peace in Ukraine, based on the rule of law and the UN pact.

“The fighting continues in Ukraine, and we are far from a peace agreement,” Støre said, “but we are a step closer to what can be peace in the future. It means a lot when so many countries (the 90 attending the summit) support this framework and agree on the path ahead.” All involved, he said, are already “starting on the road towards the next summit” that Zelensky has envisioned.

He also stressed that they shared the same goal. “We must find ways of supporting one another and using our various strengths and possibilities to contribute,” Store added.”Our support for Ukraine is permanent.” Berglund



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