Opposition leader says PM ‘does not understand’ debate as fallout from Norway political crisis continues

Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre and Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Wednesday exchanged views in parliament over the debate that led to the resignation of former justice minister Sylvi Listhaug.

Opposition leader says PM 'does not understand' debate as fallout from Norway political crisis continues
Jonas Gahr Støre questions Erna Solberg during parliamentary questions. Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB scanpix

Støre claimed that Solberg “had not understood what the debate is about” and that the controversial Facebook post that saw Listhaug depart her post was “not just unfounded, but dangerous”, NRK reports.

Listhaug resigned as Norway's Minister of Justice on Tuesday morning following a motion of no confidence against her by opposition parties.

The resignation was the culmination of political and public outcry over an image and message posted by Listhaug on Facebook on March 9th in criticism of Labour's opposition to a proposal to strip Norwegian citizenship from individuals considered a security threat without a court order.

In the controversial social media post, which contained a photo of al-Shabaab militants, she accused Labour of considering that “the rights of terrorists are more important than the security of the nation”.

Labour members were the main victims of the deadliest attacks on Norwegian soil since the Second World War when, on July 22nd, 2011, Anders Breivik killed 77 people in twin attacks: one targeting then Labour prime minister Jens Stoltenberg's office in Oslo and another against a Labour youth camp on the island of Utøya.

Although the former justice minister’s resignation averted a potential government collapse, the debate continued on Wednesday.

During parliamentary questions on Wednesday morning, Støre challenged Solberg on what she thought was the essence of the outcry that has dominated Norwegian political discourse over the last two weeks.

“We are once again left with a warning from the prime minister to conduct a professional and decent debate, but this is about something else. The reason I say this is dangerous is because I know people who are now hiding and are scared,” Støre said.

“The prime minister must say ‘yes, this is dangerous’. We have to recognise that statements like [Listhaug’s] are dangerous, otherwise we have not learned anything. We must learn the significance of what is kindled by dangerous opinions,” Støre said.

The Labour leader denies attributing specific opinions to Listhaug – something the outgoing minister appeared to suggest in her resignation statements.

But Støre criticised Solberg for only calling for reasonable and decent debate, rather than directly criticising Listhaug’s claim that Labour was more concerned about the rights of terrorists than of the Norwegian population.

“Does Solberg not understand that this use of words and imagery is dangerous and designed to kindle dangerous opinions?”, Støre said.

Solberg responded that she had already rejected the original statement made by Listhaug.

“I rejected it a long time ago. I gave a very clear message as long ago as Sunday that I felt the [Facebook] post was over the line of what I see as decent behaviour,” Solberg said.

The PM added that Støre was attributing to Listhaug an agenda she did not have.

“The post should not have been published, but Støre is suggesting between the lines that Sylvi Listhaug intended to agitate opinions like these. That is incorrect, and he should not be attributing this to her,” she said.

Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Socialist Left party, said during the parliamentary questions that he also felt that Solberg had not understood the core issue of the discussion relating to the social media controversy.

Lysbakken called for the prime minister to clearly state the danger of using “the language of extremists”, rather than say that many people had been hurt by Listhaug’s words or refer to what her intentions were.

“I completely agree that it is dangerous to use the language of extremists,” Solberg returned.

The PM encouraged all politicians to avoid adding to conspiracy theories.

“I have no issue with saying that we must take care that our language does not ignite any conspiracy theories,” she said.



Norway summons US embassy top official over spying claims

Norway said Thursday it had summoned the US embassy's top official in Oslo to lodge an official protest following a report that Washington had spied on Norwegian and other European leaders.

Norway summons US embassy top official over spying claims
Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg gestures as she speaks at the official NATO outreach event, 'Nato Engages' in central London. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The meeting was held between the Ministry of Defence and the US embassy’s top official. 

“The defence ministry held a meeting with the US embassy in Oslo today where we made it clear that spying on allies is unacceptable and unnecessary,” Norway’s Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said on Twitter.

The ministry said the US charge d’affaires — Richard Riley, according to the embassy’s website — was the person who attended the meeting with a senior Norwegian official.

The US embassy is currently without an ambassador.

A tweet from Norway’s Ministry of Defence. Source Twitter @Forsvarsdep

In an investigative report on Sunday, Danish public broadcaster DR revealed together with several other European media outlets that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish underwater internet cables from 2012 to 2014 to spy on top politicians in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France

The NSA was able to access text messages, telephone calls and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services — including those of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-opposition leader Peer Steinbrück, DR said.

READ MORE: Europe demands answers after US-Danish spying claims

 “I’m pleased that the Americans clearly said that they changed their practices in 2014 when it comes to the monitoring of allies, and that they want to cooperate with us and others to chart what happened,” Norwegian news agency NTB quoted Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg as saying.

“We summoned the US embassy in Oslo today to follow up on this,” she added.

 According to NTB, Solberg also held talks on Thursday with her Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen.

“I reiterated that we consider espionage against close friends and allies unacceptable and unnecessary,” she said.

US eavesdropping on European leaders is, however, not new.

In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed thousands of classified documents exposing the vast US surveillance put in place after the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

Among other things, the documents showed the US government was spying on its own citizens and carrying out widespread tapping worldwide, including of Merkel’s mobile phone.

However, if the Danish-US spying is confirmed, it went on during and after the 2013 Snowden affair.

In 2014, following the Snowden scandal, a secret internal working group at FE began looking into whether the NSA had used a Danish-US spying collaboration — called XKeyscore — to spy on Denmark’s allies, DR said.