For the first time after two decades Norway again has a majority government. The last government supported by a majority in Parliament was that of the conservative Prime Minister Kare Willoch, who governed from 1983 to 1985. The new government, led by the Social-Democrat Jens Stoltenberg, is the very first coalition of red (i.e. Socialists) and green (i.e. Environmentalists). Though the parties of the right won more votes than the parties of the left in last September’s elections, the left got more seats than the right.
Today Stoltenberg presented his new cabinet to King Harald V. The new cabinet consists of 19 ministers, ten men and nine women. Among the women is Helen Bjørnøy, an ordained minister who recently lost her bid to be the new (Lutheran) Bishop of Oslo. Instead, the minister will now be a minister. Bjørnøy, a member of the far-left Socialist Left Party, is Norway’s new minister of the Environment.
The new coalition is a first for a number of reasons. It is the first time that the Workers’ Party (Ap) governs with coalition partners. So far it had always governed on its own, mostly as a minority government. It is also the first time that the Center Party (Sp) governs with parties to its left. So far it had only been part of conservative coalitions. It is the first time that the Socialist Left Party (SV) is part of a coalition at all. The extreme left party broke away from the Workers’ Party over foreign issues and has never before been in government in Norway.
The new coalition is a mixed bag. The Center Party, which used to be called Farmers’ Party, is the traditional party of the rural areas and Norway’s outlying provinces, while the mostly urban SV feels very strongly about preserving the environment. Both parties have been quarrelling for years over whether Norway should reintroduce wolf packs or whether sheep farmers have the right to shoot any wolves that come their way. The minister who is also a minister will now have to minister to both shepherds and wolves.
The SV also disagrees with the Workers’ Party over the exploitation of oil fields near the Lofoten Isles in the Northern Ice Sea. The SV wants to close the oil fields down, while the Workers’ Party wants to keep them open in order to protect the jobs of workers there. The new minister of Oil and Energy is a member of the Center Party.
Regarding public finances the far-left SV demands more public spending, even if this were to cause a budget deficit. Norway has huge oil reserves, but rather than exploit these, which is perceived to be bad for the environment, the SV would prefer to borrow. The fact that SV leader Kristin Halvorsen has become minister of Finance is a bad omen.
Finally there is the row over foreign politics. The Socialist Left Party (SV) and the Center Party (Sp) want America to withdraw from Iraq, while Stoltenberg’s Workers’ Party has traditionally opted for an Atlanticist position and will probably continue to do so in the future. The new Foreign Minister is a Workers’ Party heavyweight. The SV and the Sp are also opposed to Norway joining the European Union, while the Ap is an outspoken proponent of Norwegian membership of the EU. The Center Party has even demanded that Norway leave the European Economic Area (EEA) and the SV wants Oslo to renounce the Schengen Treaty. The latter is unlikely ever to happen. It would mean that Norway would have to reintroduce border controls along the border with Sweden… though perhaps these could also be used to keep the wolves out.