Norway’s conservative parties yet to agree on government partnership

The leaders of Norway’s four conservative parties, who must work together to ensure a parliamentary majority during Erna Solberg’s second term as PM, were unable to come to agreement after a meeting on Thursday.

Norway’s conservative parties yet to agree on government partnership
Party leaders (from left) Siv Jensen, Erna Solberg, Trine Skei Grande and Knut Aril Hareide at the Prime Minister’s residence. Photo: Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix

The two-hour meeting, which took place at the Prime Minister’s residence, did not bring any definite solution to the problem – particularly that of the role to be played by the Christian Democrats, who have stated they will not govern with the populist Progress Party, the furthest right of the four.

As well as Solberg, Progress leader Siv Jensen, the Liberals’ Trine Skei Grande and Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats (KrF) were present at the meeting.

“We have had good political discussions, and we agreed to meet again next week. That means that we have not reached any final decisions,” Hareide told NRK.

The KrF leader is scheduled to meet with the national leadership of his party on Friday.

“I would like to bring the party leadership into this discussion, so it is natural for me to have a meeting with them. The signals I received from the meeting tonight will be taken into that [party leadership] meeting,” he told NRK on Thursday.

Hareide has stated on several occasions that he neither wishes to go into a coalition government nor provide parliamentary support for a government that includes the Progress Party – an issue that was raised during Thursday’s meeting.

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“It is natural for this type of question to be raised. But regardless of what happens, there is reason for us to have a political discussion,” Hareide said.

The parties will now meet again next week, with leading members as well as party heads present, writes NRK.

Prior to the meeting, Liberal leader Grande told the broadcaster that she had not yet given up hope of establishing a government with all four parties.

She repeated that sentiment following the meeting.

“I have not given up hope yet. We are not in any kind of rush to reach our goal, so we will sit down and continue discussions,” Grande said.

Jensen called the prospect of a government without KrF “unrealistic”, but added that she believed a support party-system in which not all parties were involved in the coalition was also a viable option.

“We are open to sitting down with the Liberals and KrF and finding a solution with them,” Jensen said.

Although the four parties are still divided on the form the government will take, they all continue to back Solberg as prime minister.

“We have spoken about where the various parties stand and the challenges facing Norway,” the PM told NRK following the meeting.

“We have time on our side. The current government will stay in place until we have a new government or a new type of partnership. We must collaborate on a new budget in parliament and will find good solutions,” she said.

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Was Norway ill prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic?

A report from a Norwegian commission appointed to assess the country’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic has concluded that while the government handled the situation well, it was poorly prepared for the crisis.

Was Norway ill prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic?
Photo by Eirik Skarstein on Unsplash

The 450-page report was submitted to Prime Minister Erna Solberg by medical professor Stener Kvinnsland, who led the review.

The commission found that, generally, Norway had handled the pandemic well compared to the rest of Europe. That was in part due to citizens taking infection control measures on board.

“After a year of pandemic, Norway is among the countries in Europe with the lowest mortality and lowest economic impact. The authorities could not have succeeded if the population had not supported the infection control measures;” the report states.

However, the commission’s report also outlined that Norway did not properly prepare itself for the pandemic.

“The authorities knew that a pandemic was the most likely national crisis to have the most negative consequences. Nevertheless, they were not prepared when the extensive and serious Covid-19 pandemic came,” it said.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg said during an interview with the commission, conducted as part of its work, that the government did not have an infection control strategy of its own.

“We had a ‘we have to deal with a difficult situation’ strategy. We had to do everything we could to gain control and get the infection down. It was really only at the end of March (2020) that we found the more long-term strategy,” she told the commission.

Low stocks of personal protective equipment were another source of criticism in the report.

“The government knew that it would in all probability be difficult to obtain infection control equipment in the event of a pandemic. Nevertheless, the warehouses were almost empty,” Kvinnsland said at a press conference.

Norwegian health authorities were praised for the swiftness with which they implemented infection control measures. But the commission said that the decision should have been formally made by the government, rather than the Norwegian Directorate of Health.

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The implementation of restrictions in March 2020 was critiqued for failing to ensure that “infection control measures were in line with the constitution and human rights.”

One-fifth of municipalities in Norway lacked a functioning plan in the event of a pandemic according to the report, and the government did not provide enough support to municipalities.

“We believe that government paid too little attention to the municipalities. The municipalities were given much larger tasks than they could have prepared for,” Kvinnsland said.

The report was also critical of Norway’s lack of a plan for dealing with imported infections in autumn 2020.

“The government lacked a plan to deal with imported infections when there was a new wave of infections in Europe in the autumn of 2020,” the report found.

“When the government eased infection control measures towards the summer of 2020, they made many assessments individually. The government did not consider the sum of the reliefs and it had no plan to deal with increasing cross-border infection,” it added.

The report also concluded that Norway allowed itself to be too easily lobbied by business when deciding to ease border restrictions last summer.

The division of roles in handling aspects of the pandemic was scrutinised in the report. Here, the division of responsibilities between the Ministry of Health and Care Services, The Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health were unclear.

The prime minister has asked the commission to continue its work.

“We are not done with the pandemic yet. Therefore, it is natural that the commission submits a final report. There will also be topics where the learning points can only be drawn later,” Solberg said.