Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Confused Norway Coming?

Valg 2005 -

On September 12th, Norway will elect a new Storting. The election campaign is likely to get going more seriously around the coming weekend.

If the present opinion polls are to be relied upon there is a certain probability that Jens Stoltenberg from the Workers Party Ap will take over as Prime Minister from Kjell Magne Bondevik from the Christian People’s Party.

Then, Norway would move from a coalition of the centre-right to a coalition of the centre-left.

It’s difficult to see that there are many grounds for dissatisfaction in Norway. The economy is one of the star performers in the OECD, and the high oil prices aren’t making things worse.

The centre-right government, with conservative Höyre having most of the cabinet positions, has been doing rather well over the past few years, although one could perhaps detect a certain sign of governing fatigue primarily in the Prime Ministers party.

The governing coalition has also had some difficulties keeping the challenge from the rightist populist Progress Party at bay. It looks like it will be doing rather well in the election.

If there will be a centre-left majority in the Storting, it will be a rather diverse one, and a Stoltenberg government will be a coalition between his Ap, the Socialist Left Party SV and the profoundly misnamed Centre Party Sp.

On economic policy, these parties can probably agree on higher expenditures, higher taxes and more of public monopolies. It’s not what Norway needs, but that’s another issue. But on foreign and European affairs, they are profoundly divided.

Both the SV and the Sp are against not only membership of the European Union – that issue will remain off the agenda – but also the present European Economic Area agreement as well as the agreement under which Norway will contribute to one of the so called battle groups being set up by the European Union. It is not difficult to foresee that this will risk creating problems for the government, as well as making Norway a somewhat less predictable international partner.

The Centre Party in particular has a profoundly xenophobic approach to everything outside the borders of Norway. For them, even the World Trade Organisation is something that must be rejected outright.

In addition, SV remains opposed to Norway’s longstanding membership of NATO, although they are most unlikely to press that issue.

This should contrast with an Ap that has always been a champion of Norway in NATO, and has a leadership that genuinely believes that the country should become a member of the European Union. They will have to govern with very strange bedfellows on these issues.

And foreign affairs are not unimportant for Norway. From having been an important member of NATO during the cold decades of the 70’s and 80’s, they have ended up in semi-isolated backwater after having again rejected EU membership in 1994. Norway needs to assert itself constantly in order not to be too marginalized on the international stage, and this requires a foreign policy that has the capability of being active on numerous different stages.

Given its handicap, Norway has not been doing badly in these respects in the last few years.

But a government deeply confused and divided over fundamental questions of foreign affairs will certainly not be an asset for the future.