Norway’s left-leaning parties begin talks to form a government

By Jon Henley
Jonas Gahr Støre answers questions from reporters
Norway’s Labour party leader, Jonas Gahr Støre, answers questions from reporters outside his home in Oslo on Tuesday. Photograph: Terje Bendiksby/AP

Norway’s left-leaning opposition parties have begun talks to form a new coalition government after winning a landslide victory in elections dominated by the climate crisis and the future of the country’s huge oil and gas industry.

The Labour party leader, Jonas Gahr Støre, is hoping to persuade the agrarian Centre party and left-wing Socialist Left to join a government that would have 89 MPs, four more than needed for an absolute majority in the 169-seat parliament.

But the three potential allies disagree on issues ranging from energy policy to private ownership and EU relations, with the main bone of contention likely to be the speed of any transition away from fossil fuels in western Europe’s largest producer.

“I believe it’s worth attempting to form a majority government,” Støre, 61, said on Tuesday after his party’s convincing win over the Conservative-led coalition headed by the prime minister, Erna Solberg, that has ruled Norway for the past eight years.

“What’s on the table for me now is to sit down and listen, and have relaxed conversations. Yes there are differences, but we have to find solutions. We have a majority, and more unites us than separates us. We must work for the big issues.”

Solberg said her government’s work was now “finished for this time around”. She said she wanted to congratulate Støre, who “now seems to have a clear majority for a change of government”.

Both the Conservatives and Labour advocate a gradual withdrawal from oil and gas, which account for 14% of Norway’s GDP and 40% of exports, provide 160,000 direct jobs and have helped the country to build a €1.2tn (£1tn) sovereign wealth fund.

They argue that oil firms need time to adapt their engineering prowess to pursue green technologies. “I believe that calling time on our oil and gas industry is the wrong industrial policy and the wrong climate policy,” Støre said.

The result, which means all five Nordic countries will soon be run by left-wing governments, should avoid the need for Støre, a former foreign minister, to enlist the support of the Marxist Red party or the Greens, who fared less well than expected.

But he is by no means certain to achieve his goal of a three-party coalition. The Centre party has long said it is unwilling to enter government with the Socialist Left, which itself has pledged not to cooperate unless its priorities are met.

“It’s simple maths,” said the party’s leader, Audun Lysbakken. “There will be no majority on the red-green side without the Socialist Left. This means everyone must respect each other, including our red lines on inequality and climate.”

Analysts have said a potential compromise could perhaps be found by avoiding setting deadlines for an end to future exploration and production but excluding some particularly sensitive waters from drilling, especially in the Arctic.

The Greens, who failed to cross a key 4% vote threshold that would have given them extra seats and more leverage, said they would support a left-wing government only if it vowed to end exploration immediately and halt production by 2035.

Labour has promised an industrial policy to funnel support to new green industries, such as wind power and carbon capture and storage, but has consistently rejected all ultimatums, saying the green transition is now happening and should not be forced.

Anders Todal Jenssen, a political science professor, told the public broadcaster NRK that Solberg’s administration was likely to resign on Friday but would remain in power in a caretaker capacity until the new government was formed.

“Coalition formation could take several weeks,” Jenssen said, “perhaps even until Christmas. There are very big differences on several major policy questions, and a great many potential pitfalls.”

The process could get particularly difficult if the Centre party stands by its refusal to cooperate with the Socialist Left at any price, Jenssen said, adding that in such a case there was an outside chance that Støre would try a minority government.


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