Norway: the Progress party in government for the first time

Thea Hellenes Ekre
15 Novembre 2013

The general election has recently taken place in Norway. A centre-right coalition won the majority. Not until now, over three weeks later, the parties reached a solution on the government constellation. The result is making a big mark in Norwegian and European political history: the Progress party is one of the two parties to establish a government.

Siv Jensen, leader du FrP | Crédits -- Sara Johannessen/Scanpix
Siv Jensen, leader du FrP | Crédits -- Sara Johannessen/Scanpix
The general election took place on September 9. A centre-right coalition, consisting of the Liberal, the Christian-democratic, the Conservative and the Progress party, won 95 seats in the parliament, 11 more than they needed to win a majority. This year’s election was singular in several ways. Firstly, Norway will have a woman as a Prime Minister for the second time in its history - paradoxically in a country that is ranked as one of the most equalized countries in the world. Secondly, the last time a Prime Minister was elected from the conservative party was in 1990. Thirdly, the Progress Party is for the first time since its creation in 1973 participating in the government.

The four parties have been in secret discussions on the government constellation. For the first time in Norwegian history the government will be “dark blue” – a minority coalition consisting of the conservative and the Progress party. Intensive coalition talks are now taking place in Norway, and the country is curious to know how the government will look like.

Is the Progress party a right-wing Populist Party?

There have been several debates lately if and to what extent the Progress party is a right-wing populist party. If the answer is yes, there is an exceptional situation in Norway. This is however a question that is hard to answer. The Norwegian Progress Party is difficult to place on the political spectrum. Some international newspapers call it a right-wing populist and anti-immigration party. Europe has seen an emergence in these kinds of parties during the last couple of years, after the financial crisis and its consequences. When you hear the words “right wing party”, you probably think of more known parties like the Italian Lega Nord, the French Front National or the newly established Greek Golden Dawn.

Some would claim that the Norwegian Progress party is a similar party; some would say they are not- it depends on who you ask. “It is completely normal that foreign countries perceive the Progress Party as populist”, the socialist Minister of Development tweeted after the debate had started. Indeed, it is a party that has a very strict immigration policy. In a report that leaked before the election, the party claims that immigration is a threat to the Norwegian culture and welfare. However, it is hard to compare them to the parties mentioned above. In the same way, the Norwegian conservative party is less conservative than its sister-parties further South in Europe.

During the campaign, the liberal and Christian-democratic parties advocated for a government consisting of them and the Conservative party. After several weeks of discussions, the two centre-based parties have now come to the conclusion that they cannot form a coalition with the Progress party. This is mainly because of the extreme and radical stand on some of the party’s political cases. Although they won’t form a government together, the four parties have come to an agreement that many claims is unique. The two parties standing outside the government got through some of their most important policy areas, such as preventing oil drilling in some vulnerable areas of Norway.

Who votes Progress?

Many people ask how this kind of party could get such a big support (16% of the votes) in a country like Norway. This is a wealthy country, with an unemployment rate at less than 4%. The far-right parties mentioned above are developing in countries hit by the financial crisis and with a high unemployment rate. Studies show that people’s disposition to vote far-right parties are bigger in times of crisis. Norway has not experienced this. In the 2005 election, previous to the crisis, the Progress party got as much as 22%. Why does this party have so many voters? For eight years, a centre-left, social-democratic dominated coalition has been in office in Norway. Some vote differently because they “want a change”. As for the regular Progress party voters, immigration policy is the most important area.

Many of their voters mean that there is an unfair use of their tax money on “immigrants that are taking advantage of the system”. Further, they are opponents of the high tax rates and would like a government that uses a lot more of the country’s “oil fund”, which is a national fund for long-term investment of Norway’s oil revenues. Notwithstanding, it is important to mention that the Progress party and the new government need a majority in the parliament to get approval of their policy. Regardless of how this government will eventually look like, this election will mark the Norwegian political history; a country that is used to stable governments with a low level of conflict.

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