The votes have been counted, and the dust is starting to settle in Norway as the curtains close on eight years of centre-right rule led by Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party. Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre will likely be Norway’s next prime minister, signalling a shift from right-of-centre to centre-left politics.
The writing had been on the wall for Solberg and her coalition partners for a while, and the ousted PM herself admitted last night at an election event that the Conservative Party would have needed a miracle to stay in power.
Her confession at the event, where she also thanked supporters and said she was proud of what her government achieved in office, came shortly after she reportedly conceded defeat to Støre and rang him to congratulate him on the night’s results.
But what will this new government mean for Norway? Will it be a seismic shift or more of the same?
Støre has set his sights on reducing inequality in Norway and, among other things, the Labour leader has promised to cut taxes for those on middle-to-low incomes and raise them for those who earn more than 750,000 kroner per year.
However, residents shouldn’t be expecting a massive change to the status quo, according to Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at financial institution at DNB Markets.
“There will be some tax increases, for example, and there will be a different set of priorities, but the total size of the public budget will not be substantially different from if the current government were to remain in place,” Haugland explained to Reuters.
What Støre will be able to change, chop and achieve will depend on how much he can fund his policies without dipping into Norway’s oil fund too much.
“It will be an exciting exercise to stay within the national budget without increasing the use of oil money,” Elisabeth Holvik, chief economist at Sparebank 1, told financial news site Dagens Næringsliv.
The biggest changes to life in Norway might not come from what has been, historically, Norway’s biggest party. Instead, the significant changes may be pushed forward by the smaller parties expected to join Labour in government.
Of the three parties expected to be in government, the Socialist Left Party is the most committed to cleaning up Norway’s oil industry, cutting taxes for those on low incomes and increasing taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals. This contrasts with Støre’s more measured approach to those key policy areas.
On the other hand, the Eurosceptic agrarian Centre Party has said it wants out of the European Economic Area or EEA, and wants to continue oil drilling while only aiming to make the country’s oil sector climate neutral by 2040.
This presents itself as a massive challenge for Støre, who has a delicate balancing act to maintain during what will surely be incredibly thorny negotiations to navigate with two coalition partners who have promised that they wouldn’t be pushovers in talks and are threatening to pull his centre-left policies in different directions.
Magnus Takvam, a political commentator with public broadcaster NRK, also said this will be a massive test for Støre.
“Now he faces his biggest challenge so far as a political leader: To unite the three red-green parties into a joint government declaration and cooperation,” Takvam wrote for NRK after it became clear Støre would secure an election victory.
How this coalition will change Norway will depend heavily on how well Støre can get the three parties to sing from the same hymn sheet.
Environmental parties fall flat in ‘climate election’
The election in Norway was dubbed by various media outlets both in the country and internationally as the ‘climate election’. The initial results indicate that the election failed to live up to this billing.
This is because the parties with the policies most focused on cutting the carbon emissions of Norway, Western Europe’s largest oil producer, underperformed compared to the polls.
Compared to public broadcaster NRK’s pre-election poll, the Green Party, Liberal Party, and Socialist Left Party underperformed by between 0.4 and 1.4 percentage points when it came to election night.
While this may not seem significant at first glance, it had a major impact on the Green Party, who lost out on valuable levelling seats due to falling below the four percent election threshold in Norway.
The influence and power the Greens could have wielded in parliament were greatly diminished by missing out on the levelling seats.
Lars Nehru Sand, a political commentator with NRK, argued that the environmentalist party fell flat in the election for three reasons.
“The Greens failed to break the threshold for three reasons. They can best be described as attraction, rhetoric, and tactics, with the party directly responsible for the last two.
The Greens are failing to attract new voters and members because with the climate more of a key policy area for voters than in the past, the Greens fail to stand out as more mainstream parties begin to adopt environmental pledges, according to Sand.
The analyst also argued that the party’s rhetoric and messaging could be as much of a weakness to its cause as it is a strength.
And finally, its ultimatum to end all oil exploration by 2035 meant it failed to make the party an appealing option to voters and coalition partners alike.
Anders Todal Jenssen, a professor of political science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, offered NRK an alternative view as to why the climate election failed to live up to its billing.
He argued that 2021 was far from Norway’s first environmental election.
“When you hear young people talk about environmental policy, you get the impression of something that happened in the last year. But the first major environmental election in Norway was in 1973, and then we had a major environmental election in 1989,” he said.
“It is a story that has repeated itself, and it means that many voters now know the arguments from the environmental side and the counterarguments to them very well. And then it does not get the same explosive power as when many people think it is a completely new issue,” he explained to NRK.
Both of these explanations indicate that while elections centred around environmental issues are nothing new in Norway, parties aren’t yet able to get voters to pull the plug on the oil sector, which directly employ’s 160,000 people and makes up around 14 percent of the country’s GDP.