On September 11 the Norwegians are going to the polls to elect a new parliament for the next four years. The country is governed by the most right-wing parliament since WW2, yet none right-wing administration has ever managed to get re-elected. This year’s polls show the parties in a close race.
The Norwegian electoral system is based on a parliamentary majority, elected on a proportional, multiparty system. The present government is a coalition of the Conservatives (Høyre/H) and the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet/FRP), with parliamentary support from the Liberals (Venstre/V) and the Christian People’s Party (Kristelig Folkeparti/KRF). The administration that has governed Norway for the past four years is the most right-wing government since WW2. The right wing populists, the Progress Party, are part of the government for the first time in history. Although FRP is more moderate than most of their European counterparts, the party is still the centre of much controversy. They profile themselves as anti-Islam, anti–immigration and EU sceptics, reflecting trends on the continent.
The case of the FRP is interesting in a broader sense since the party has been in office for four years. Many observers had expected the anti-establishment party would lose most of its support when they became a junior partner in a coalition government. However, FRP has managed to sustain their appeal to the voters, largely because their parliamentarians have acted in opposition to their own government. This practice has created a lot of controversies, but it’s been popular among their supporters.
Over the past weeks, opinion polls have been shifting constantly, predicting a close election. Never before has a right-wing government been re-elected in Norway. This year’s election polls have, however, been closer than originally predicted.
The two biggest parties, Labour (Det Norske Arbeiderparti/AP) and the Conservatives, have lost around 3-8 % of their voters to smaller parties. AP’s loss of appeal may reflect a broader European trend, where the social democrats lost voters to competing protest parties although the trend is more moderate in Norway.
This year’s campaigns have mostly focused on taxes, job market regulation, urban vs. rural areas, climate change and immigration, while foreign policy issues have taken a backseat in the campaign. Yet, some issues that may be of interest to a European audience.
Norway is not a part of the European Union (EU), but it is bound to the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA), Schengen and other agreements. Although the Conservatives and AP are pro EU, smaller parties on both sides of the political spectrum are sceptical towards European integration. Some of the EU-sceptic parties on the left want to renegotiate the EEA agreement. Due to Brexit, this has gained increased attention in the Norwegian debate. It is, however, unlikely that there will be any renegotiation of the EEA agreement, as the bigger parties support the deal. It is also unlikely that Norway would move towards membership of the Union, as the majority of Norwegians would not support these efforts.
Concerning Russia, the current government is following the lead of the EU. Norway is taking part in the sanctions and froze much of its political contact with the Russians. While the economic sanctions enjoy broad political support (apart from FRP), the lack of political dialogue is more controversial. AP wants to create space for dialogue and cooperation with Russia. Therefore it can be expected, that Norway will pursue a more independent and active role with Russia, if the election leads to a change in government.
Norway is a small consensus-driven country and while the election will have very limited impact on the rest of Europe, it is worthwhile observing the reflection of European political trends in this small nation. However, it needs to be mentioned that even if the current campaign and election is unique in Norwegian history, compared to its European neighbours, it can be considered rather moderate. This can be subscribed to a well off, growing economy and low unemployment rates, indicating general low dissatisfaction of the Norwegians.