France is currently attracting the foreign press attentions for their presidential election coming up in a few weeks, followed by parliamentary elections in June. But there are many, many elections happening in Europe this year, and I would like to take an article to talk about one that means a lot to me personally and one that will have a distinct impact on the international politics of Northern Europe for the next four years — the parliamentary elections in Norway.
The parliament in Norway is called Stortinget, literally translated as ‘the big thing’ (‘thing’ here meaning the ancient Norse gathering place). It’s been unicameral as of 2009. It has 169 seats available, and elections are conducted on a party-list proportional representational system. There are currently eight parties represented in the Storting, although (as we’ll see later) that could be bumped up to nine in September. Let me walk you through them, from left to right:
Socialist Left Party. The Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstrepartiet, SV for short) is currently the most leftwards party represented in parliament. It came out of an electoral coalition of various ‘left’ groups that materialized into a party in 1975. Categorizing it has always been a little challenging. It calls itself ‘democratic socialist’, an already dubious descriptor, and promotes the strengthening of the welfare state and more public ownership of common utilities and services that have been privatized by the Conservatives and even Labour. On international affairs it easily falls into the non-interventionist camp compared to Labour, but internally the party is deeply divided on certain aspects of that issue. On the intensely controversial subject of immigration, the party is also nominally in support of more immigrants, but internal divisions have caused their support by immigrants to drop. The party’s professed stance and actions on feminism are also sometimes in conflict.
Labour Party. The Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, or Ap) is the third-oldest and most dominant party in Norway, and has influenced every aspect of modern Norwegian society. It has been the largest party in Norway in terms of membership since 1927. Of the 112 years that Norway has existed as an independent nation, Labour has been in government for roughly 66 of them, or almost 59% of the time. However, with Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen and the modernization of Norway into a model Nordic welfare state also came fierce anticommunism; the Kråkerøy speech of 1949, in which PM Gerhardsen lambasted the communist members of Labour as well as the Norwegian Communist Party, cemented the position of Norway firmly in the Western camp. Labour spearheaded the ouster of communist Labour members and the razing of the Communist Party, which had helped set the stage for Labour’s rise back in the 1920s and 1930s. It has always firmly supported Norway’s NATO membership and backed Norway’s entry into the European Union on two referenda, both of which failed. It went along with the neoliberal tide of the 1990s and has largely stayed there with few changes; it falls into the same category as a lot of other ‘center-left’ parties in Europe. The moderate-to-right wing of the party currently has the leadership.
Centre Party. The Centre Party (Senterpartiet, or Sp) is a curiosity. Their political position is Nordic agrarianism and was founded as the Farmers’ Party. They traditionally have allied themselves with center-right coalitions (although they supported the first stable Labour cabinet, Nygaardsvold I, in the 1930s), but they joined the Red-Green Alliance in 2005 and are projected to rejoin should Labour take back the government this year (as we’ll talk about later). As their name suggests, they lie at Norway’s political center, and their base of support is in the lower echelons of government — only Labour has more mayors, and relative to party size Centre has more mayors than any other. Despite the decline of the rural portion of the population, Centre still maintains strong support in smaller municipalities. They constitute the ‘green’ part of the Red-Green Alliance, for ‘green’ in Nordic politics refers to the agrarian center, and not necessarily the environmental left, as it does in the United States. They have taken a strong protectionist and Eurosceptic stance historically.
Green Party. The Green Party ( Miljøpartiet De Grønne, or MDG) is another interesting case. Despite being labeled ‘center-left’, it is frequently placed directly in the middle when showing polling or Storting allotments, since it patently refuses to join either Red- or Blue-backed coalitions, denominating those as the ‘fossil block’. It has a singular MP, making them the smallest party represented in the Storting, and who only was elected in 2013. They were formed in 1988 with the German Greens as a stated model, and are like any other Green Party.
Liberal Party. We now reach the Blue Block, which consists of the center-right to right-wing parties. The Liberal Party (Venstre, or V; literally means ‘left’, as in the direction) is the oldest party in Norway, but has largely become irrelevant in the postwar era; the last Liberal PM was Johan Mowinckel, who was replaced in 1935. They typically get a respectable number of Storting seats and join center-right coalitions, although they have a socially liberal stance that puts them at odds with other coalition members, favoring relaxed immigration, multiculturalism as opposed to assimilation, and environmentalism.
Christian Democratic Party. The Christian Democratic Party ( Kristelig Folkeparti, or KrF; ‘Christian People’s Party’) is, in some ways, the flip of the Liberals, taking a socially conservative but economically liberal stance. They are opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion, even though it downplays those issues in general elections. They have had their years, namely in the 1970s and late 1990s, but have taken a series of electoral hits recently. They currently have 10 Storting seats. They also typically take a Eurosceptic stance.
Conservative Party. The Conservatives (Høyre, or H; literally means ‘right’, as in the direction) are historically the main opposition party to Labour, heading the opposition in Labour governments and leading the government in center-right coalitions. From a social standpoint, they usually take a more mainstream view, supporting same-sex marriage and gay adoption rights. From an economic standpoint, they’re kind of all over the place. They’re the only party in the Storting that calls for reductions in public spending. They profess a free-market economic stance, complete with tax cuts and deficit reductions, but also the continued maintenance of the Norwegian welfare state. They are largely represented as the party of the rich, which is where the party had its roots, and has been portrayed by Norway’s typically left-slanted media as the voice of rich and powerful interests in parliament. They are soft Eurocentric, meaning that the party nominally supports EU membership but regards it as a minor issue, taking into consideration Norway’s previous referenda on the topic.
Progress Party. Progress (Fremskrittspartiet, or Frp) is the big rebellious name in Norwegian politics, the closest thing that Norway has to a far-right party. Isolated for years on the national level because of its reckless and right-wing economic stance and more fervent anti-immigration views, the party’s increasing popularity eventually forced new Conservative PM Erna Solberg to coerce them into a government coalition. They’re more of a libertarian party than an outright right-wing populist party, although they do support tougher immigration, assimilation, and law-and-order measures. They also have recently established themselves as a respectable force on the national level, usually getting less than the Conservatives, but more than the Christian Democrats. They officially adopted a Eurosceptic stance in 2016.
And an honorable mention:
Red Party. The Reds (Rødt, or R) are the closest thing Norway has to a functional Communist Party, and are doing quite well for themselves after only 12 years of existence. Their official ideology is ‘revolutionary socialism’, and they also adopt Marxism as a basis, although there are Trotskyist, Marxist-Leninist, and other socialist factions. They are the leading party of Norway’s left beyond the Socialist Left Party. They strongly support the Norwegian welfare state and want to take it further, nationalizing industry and capping income off at 1.5m NOKs per annum (about $212,000). They also are the only major Norwegian party that openly calls for self-determination for the Sámi people. They are currently the largest party per vote share that is not represented in the Storting, although as we will see later on, that may change.
Alright, so those are the players. What are the issues?
Immigration. This is an interesting issue in Norway. Because there isn’t a far-right populist party in the Storting akin to the Swedish Democrats or Danish People’s Party, anti-immigrant xenophobia hasn’t yet manifested itself in government like it has in Sweden or Hungary. Progress is currently the only party advocating for a drastic reduction in immigrants. But to say that racism isn’t at a virulent extreme is not to say that it doesn’t exist, because it most certainly does. Racist violence is a problem, and there are a lot of racists in Norway. The deadly terrorist attacks in 2011 were racially-motivated. And although the large cities and most Norwegians are okay with current immigration levels or even increases (even though those numbers are trending downwards), Progress’s hard anti-immigration stance will appeal to certain sections of the Norwegian voting public.
International Relations. In Norway, the relationship between a party’s political ideology and their willingness to engage with other nations in international organizations depends on said ideology. The right, especially Progress, tends towards Atlanticism. NATO has always been popular with every party in the Storting, with the exception of the Reds. However, those relations will be tested in the near future with a reckless and dangerous Republican government across the ocean.
Energy and Healthcare. Renewable energy and the future of Norway’s famed healthcare system are also on the table. Petroleum exchanges currently occupy 25% of Norway’s GDP, and the country is also the largest producer of it outside the Middle East; that being said, the nation and its government know that it’s not going to last forever, and have already taken some steps in that direction. Likewise, healthcare is also an issue. Norwegians over the age of 16 now pay a 2040 NOK deductible to be on the national health insurance plan, although emergency services are still free.
Now, the Polls
There have been many polls conducted this year so far, and they each show one overarching trend: the Red-Green Tide is coming in, and according to some, it’s coming in fast. Let’s break each poll down.
The Current Makeup (September 9, 2013)
SV: 7 seats Ap: 55 seats Sp: 10 seats MDG: 1 seat V: 9 seats KrF: 10 seats
H: 48 seats FrP: 29 seats
Red Block: 41.6% Blue Block: 54% (popular vote)
2013 saw a major shift in power balance. This was the first Høyre-led government in almost a quarter-century, and the first government where Progress was a coalition member. Labour remained the largest party in the Storting, a distinction it’s maintained for almost 90 years, but the inclusion of Progress’s newly-found gains into the Blue Block gave the edge to form a government. Høyre and Progress currently form the government, with promises of support from the Liberals and Christian Democrats (so even though the Liberals and KrF are not officially part of the government, they support and vote for government policy in the Storting).
Sentio/Dagens Næringsliv (March 23, 2017)
R: 2 seats (+2) SV: 8 seats (+1) Ap: 63 seats (+8) Sp: 22 seats (+12)
MDG: 2 seats (+1) V: 3 seats (-6) KrF: 9 seats (-1) H: 41 seats (-7)
FrP: 19 seats (-10)
Red Block: 53.4% Blue Block: 42.4% (popular vote)
This poll, conducted by the paper Dagens Næringsliv, is the most drastic of any conducted within the last month in terms of popular vote shift, in this case, a near polar reversal, with the Reds gaining their first-ever seats in parliament, Centre pulling in their best parliamentary gains in 24 years (indeed, every poll has Centre doing extraordinarily well), and Progress taking the largest hit in terms of percentage of seats (almost half) of any party with over 10 MPs. DN is on the Norwegian right. A strong block to the left of Labour might help keep Labour’s neoliberal tendencies in check; then again, the animosity between the Socialist Left and Rødt might hamper that check.
Norstat/NRK (April 4, 2017)
R: 1 seat (+1) SV: 9 seats (+2) Ap: 62 seats (+7) Sp: 20 seats (+10)
MDG: 1 seat (-) V: 2 seats (-7) KrF: 9 seats (-1) H: 43 seats (-5)
FrP: 22 seats (-7)
Red Block: 50.9% Blue Block: 44.8% (popular vote)
The first poll for the month of April reads like a crash back to reality. More modest gains and losses all around result in a more pessimistic view of how September could go. The Red Block’s seat total is not too different from the one above, but the reduced popular vote, barely hitting a simple majority, will hamper the new government’s willingness to reverse Conservative policies and agendas. However, the Socialist coalition’s total interestingly remains the same as from above; maybe this result would give Rødt and the Socialist Left a little more clout within the Red Block.
Kantar TNS/TV2 (April 6, 2017)
R: 1 seat (+1) SV: 9 seats (+2) Ap: 54 seats (-1) Sp: 30 seats (+20)
MDG: 1 seat (-) V: 2 seats (-7) KrF: 3 seats (-7) H: 46 seats (-2)
FrP: 23 seats (-6)
Red Block: 51.1% Blue Block: 43.4% (popular vote)
Ah, yes. This poll. Centre’s revenge. The projected 30 seats that this poll gives to Sp would be the highest the party has had since 1993 (32 seats), and the second-most that the party has had at one time, ever. This poll projects a mass defection of moderate Labour and centre-right voters to Centre, judged by the fact that Labour loses a seat (whereas in most, if not all, other polls they gain a bunch). The Liberals and the Christian Democrats also take large hits (although Venstre takes large hits across the board), and the waffling of these two parties between the centre and the right might lead to Liberal and KrF defections to Centre. If the elections play out like this, Centre, which would now be the third-largest party in the Storting, will have drastically increased power and influence over a Red Block cabinet and policies. The Socialist coalition’s number remain the same, which might put tensions between the Block’s left-wing and centrist members.
Respons/Aftenposten, BT, Adressa Poll (April 6, 2017)
R: 1 seat (+1) SV: 10 seats (+3) Ap: 56 seats (+1) Sp: 21 seats (+11)
MDG: 1 seat (-) V: 2 seats (-7) KrF: 11 seats (+1) H: 43 seats (-5)
FrP: 24 seats (-5)
Red Block: 49.7% Blue Block: 46.1% (popular vote)
This poll is a disaster waiting to happen. Nothing really good will come out of an election like this.
For one, the Red Block may or may not be able to materialize the requisite seats to form a government. Even though the poll projects that they would, that’s also including a large Socialist faction (a good eighth of the block) that’s going to have some demands that Centre, and maybe even Labour, will be unwilling to compromise on. If Rødt or even SV sits out of the coalition, Labour might try and rope in the Liberals or even the surprisingly-sized Christian Democrats, which would shift the platform significantly to the right. This would be a harbinger of 2021, when the inevitably neoliberal positions of a Labour-Centre-Liberal-Christian Democrat(?) government fail to alleviate the growing concerns of working Norwegians.
For two, if the Red Block remains intact, they’ll have a government but one operating out of a plurality of the popular vote, which puts them in an even more precarious situation policy-wise. This essentially puts the Red-Green-Yellow(?) coalition platform either squarely in the centre or even the centre-right.
Norfakta/Nationen, Klassekampen Poll (April 10, 2017)
R: 2 seats (+2) SV: 2 seats (-5) Ap: 64 seats (+9) Sp: 21 seats (+11)
MDG: 1 seat (-) V: 2 seats (-7) KrF: 2 seats (-8) H: 47 seats (-1)
FrP: 28 seats (-1)
Red Block: 49.4% Blue Block: 45.5% (popular vote)
This situation could also pose quite a few problems if it happens, and it very well could; internal disputes amongst the Socialist Left and the Christian Democrats could see defections to Rødt/Labour and Centre, respectively. Because of the weakened state of the Socialist group (4 seats combined, the smallest seen thus far) and the eye-catching new size of Centre, this election result could also see the Liberals and KrF invited to form a government to gain a little more edge over the Blue Block. The popular vote plurality would, again, hinder a Labour government’s policies towards the center anyways.
InFact/VG Poll (April 13, 2017)
R: 2 seats (+2) SV: 9 seats (+2) Ap: 58 seats (+3) Sp: 25 seats (+15)
MDG: 1 seat (-) V: 3 seats (-6) KrF: 11 seats (+1) H: 36 seats (-12)
FrP: 24 seats (-5)
Red Block: 52.6% Blue Block: 41.9% (popular vote)
The most recent poll to come out prior to the publishing of this article is noteworthy for the shellacking that Høyre receives in comparison to the other polls (historically, it’s actually rather common for the Conservatives to fluctuate drastically every other election cycle or so). Centre, under this scenario, would become the third-largest party in the Storting, which it hasn’t been for 20 years. The other interesting thing about this poll is that even though every member of the Red Block gains seats, the only member of the Blue Block to gain seats is the Christian Democrats, who are considered one of this year’s potential big losers.
One: Centre stands to do extraordinarily well. One of the few consistencies throughout these polls is the surge of support for the Centre Party, which isn’t incredibly surprising. Centre’s economically center-left platform and willingness to work with the Red Block after decades of only participating in non-socialist governments, combined with moderate social views and Euroscepticism, is a program many would find appealing right about now as disdain for the EU, inside and out, is seemingly at an all-time high.
Two: the center-right is in the midst of collapse. The other consistency throughout every poll was the large loss in seats for the Liberal Party, although historically this isn’t surprising; Venstre has hovered at or near the bottom of the parliamentary table for decades, even falling out of the Storting entirely in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What is less predictable, however, is what will happen to the Christian Democrats. The party, currently in the middle of a feud between the conservative and liberal factions, either stands to lose a bunch of seats, remain at where they are, or gain a seat or two; nobody really knows. Nobody really knows to which side the KrF will lend its support come October, when it’s time to form a government; logic says that they will probably take the opposition should the Red Block win out, but who really knows for sure these days?
Three: there’s still five months to go, but as of now the Blue Block’s experiment with forming a government is over. All signs point to a Red government come October, but there’s still five months for things to get even more interesting than they already are. And the different forms that government could take — with a larger Socialist faction, a larger Centrist faction, or both — will decide where Norway will go during the next four years.
This article will most likely be first in a series on this topic. The elections are on September 11.