The Labor Party returns to power in Norway

The Norwegian Labor Party returned to power last month leading a coalition government with the rural-based Center Party. The minority government ends an eight-year reign of the Conservative Party, which has governed most of the time in coalition with the far-right Progress Party.

The Labor return was not the product of popular enthusiasm for its support for US-led military aggression, attacks on immigrants and discipline in public spending. Its share of the vote has fallen compared to its electoral defeat in 2017. The Social Democrats won just 26.3 percent of the vote, losing 1.1 percentage points and one MP compared to the 49 elected in 2017 It was one of Labor’s worst election results since the 1920s, barely exceeding the 24.3 percent of the party’s vote. in his devastating electoral defeat of 2001.

Its ability to form government was due both to even greater losses for the conservatives and the far-right Progress, and modest gains for the center. The Conservatives, led by outgoing Prime Minister Erna Solberg, won just 20.5% of the vote, a decline of 4.7 percentage points. This translated into a loss of nine MPs, leaving the Conservatives with 36. The center, meanwhile, emerged with 28 MPs, up nine from the previous legislature. Gains were also made by the socialist left, which has its origins in a merger of disgruntled Labor and Communist Party “lefts” in the early 1970s and served as a coalition partner with Labor between 2005 and 2013 , and the former Maoist Red Party, which for the first time crossed the 4% mark to form a parliamentary group.

The new Norwegian Prime Minister is Jonas Gahr Støre, who was Foreign Minister in the last Labor government of Jens Stoltenberg. He initially sought to form a majority government with the socialist center and left, but the latter withdrew from talks citing lack of progress in ending Norway’s dependence on oil.

Støre in February 2016 (Credit: Creative Commons)

The new government appears poised to continue the Solberg government’s response to the pandemic, which has consisted of lifting almost all public health measures in recent months. Norway has been successful in limiting infections and deaths relatively well in the early stages of the pandemic, recording 919 deaths and around 200,000 infections to date. This compares to neighboring Sweden, which has twice the population but has recorded 1.75 million cases and over 15,000 deaths due to its pursuit of an explicit policy of “herd immunity.”

Støre is a close ally of Stoltenberg, who took the helm of the NATO military alliance after resigning in 2013. Since then, Stoltenberg has been a strong supporter of US-led military aggression throughout. Eastern Europe against Russia and the Middle East. East. The NATO Secretary General has also joined in the intensification of diplomatic, economic and military pressure from the Biden administration against China.

Norway, which shares an Arctic border with Russia, is an important ally and a military base of operations for US imperialism. In April, Oslo concluded a new complementary defense cooperation agreement with Washington. Building on decades of military collaboration since the founding of NATO in 1949, the agreement allows the US military to build facilities at three Norwegian air bases and a naval port to “enhance cooperation between the two forces. armed forces ”. It provides for US military personnel to be provided with “unimpeded access and use of these facilities and areas.”

Of particular importance will be the US bases at Evenes Military Air Base and Ramsund Naval Base in the far north of Norway. Conservative Government Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said: “To ensure that Norway and our Allies can operate together in a crisis situation under difficult conditions, we must be able to organize exercises and train regularly here in Norway.

The unions fully support this agreement.

In addition to supporting US military aggression, the new government will enforce the strict public spending controls imposed by the previous right-wing government. While no expense was spared during the coronavirus pandemic to support big business, the Conservative government imposed tough spending limits when it tabled the 2022 budget just days before Støre became prime minister.

These limit government spending in the budget each year for the Norwegian Oil Fund, one of the world’s largest wealth investment funds with a valuation of around $ 1.3 trillion. In 2017, the Solberg government reduced the annual spending limit from 4% of the total fund value to 3%. This ceiling has been suspended for the 2020 and 2021 budgets, to finance significant subsidies to businesses. For the 2021 budget, the previous government used 3.6% of the total value of the oil fund. This figure has been reduced to 2.6% for 2022.

Created in the early 1990s to invest Norway’s oil profits, the fund served to strengthen the position of the Norwegian bourgeoisie abroad and keep public spending under national control. Kyrre Aamdal, Senior Economist for DNB Markets, said: “The total use of oil money (the non-oil structural deficit) is unlikely to be changed that much by a new government.

As the pandemic spread globally in early 2020, the Norwegian economy suffered what has been described as its worst peacetime economic shock. Unemployment has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The government responded with two state-backed loan guarantees worth up to SEK 100 billion for businesses. This package included 50 billion crowns of investment in the bond market to support large companies. This massive bailout of the business elite and wealthy Norwegians has accelerated the growth of social inequalities, which have steadily grown over the past four decades.

Often presented as an example of equality and social harmony in the liberal and “left” international press, Norway is torn by a deep social abyss. A 2018 Statistics Norway report noted that the richest 10 percent of Norwegians own 60 percent of the country’s wealth. The richest 1% control 21% of total wealth. In comments on the website in 2020, Statistics Norway researcher Rolf Aaberge compared levels of wealth inequality in the country to those found in Britain and France. “The value of great fortunes is underestimated,” he noted, because “we use values ​​that are declared to the tax authorities, while the actual market value, for example, of commercial real estate or properties. unlisted shares can actually be much higher. The same goes for goods abroad.

According to Aaberge’s estimates, the richest 1 percent earn 20 percent of all income. The richest 0.01 percent earn 6 percent of total income.

A 2018 report from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health noted the gap between the life expectancy of the richest and the poorest in society. In Oslo, life expectancy varies up to eight years between rich and poor neighborhoods. The life expectancy of the most educated is five or six years longer than that of the less educated.

Labor and the socialist left sought to exploit growing social inequalities during the election campaign. But their criticisms rang hollow given their record in power. Under the first Stoltenberg government in the late 1990s, Labor launched the privatization of oil companies, telecommunications and railways. When Stoltenberg, who presented himself as Norwegian Tony Blair, returned to power in 2005 with support from the center and the socialist left, his government adopted the anti-immigrant policies of the far-right Progress Party and imposed a fiscal discipline in public services following the 2008 global financial crisis

The integration of Progress into the mainstream of Norwegian politics and the adherence by all major parties to its racist and disparaging view of immigrants have played a significant role in strengthening far-right and outright fascist forces. . The most terrible expression of this process came in July 2011, when fascist mass killer Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a Labor Party youth camp on the island of Utoeya and in the government district. from Oslo.

The austerity foundations that characterized Solberg’s two terms, which marked the first time the far-right, tax-cutting Progress Party officially entered a Norwegian government, was also laid by Stoltenberg and the Labor.

About Edward Fries

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