After the elections in September 2013, the centre-left coalition that has governed Norway for eight years handed over the responsibility to a coalition of the Conservatives and The Progress Party (FrP). They don’t have a majority alone, but are supported in parliament by the centrist Liberal and Christian Democrats.
In this government change, international media has paid most attention to the inclusion of the Progress Party, stressing a “right-wing” party’s success accompanied with Breivik photos. In media coverage, FrP was painted as being on par with right-wing populist parties in Europe, like Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Austria’s Freedom Party or even radical nationalists like Hungary’s right-wing Jobbik party. Many newspapers including The Independent emphasized the ”links” to the right-wing terrorist Behring Breivik, who massacred 77 young people, most of them members of Labour Youth.
The coverage, with its share of hyperbole, led to a lot of questions about the 40-year-old political party of Norway. To shed light on these questions, we talked to Member of Parliament, Spokesman on Foreign Affairs for the Progress Party, Kristian Norheim.
In the international media, Norway’s election result was presented with emphasis on Breivik’s party’s victory implying FrP. How was your reaction to this?
To begin with, both I and my party members got upset with FrP’s distorted portrayal by the international media. In the news reports, it was described as right wing and xenophobic party. To be frank, we got more upset than angry with this approach.
We attribute this to lack of knowledge about Norwegian politics. Even if all of them do not necessarily like FrP, Norwegian academicians and journalist would note that my party is not a right wing extremist party as depicted in the international media.
We have a hundred page policy paper, only 3 of which is dedicated to immigration issue. So we believe there is a lot of misunderstanding. We are trying to correct this wrong image, yet it is difficult when people are not interested in the reality and they are attracted to more tabloid expressions such as Breivik’s party.
Was not Breivik a member of Progress Party?
It is true that Behring Breivik was a former member of Progress Party youth branch. But if you know the Norwegian political life, you can find thousands of people who are actively or passively involved in the political parties at certain times of their lives. It is a tradition in Norway. From the records, we see that he was a passive member and left the party because he could not find an ideological friend in the party.
When I read some of the descriptions about FrP, I personally get scared of my party. If those descriptions were true, I would never be a member of the party. But it is not.
You mentioned immigration makes only 3 pages in your hundred-page action plan. Yet, most of the time media coverage about FrP is almost all about immigration discussion and polemics around those issues, is it your deliberate choice to be mentioned this way or do you feel discriminated by the media?
I cannot control the media. Immigration is a clearly important issue for us, but road building, taxes and economy are equally important. It is flawed image of us, if we are seen as a party focusing on solely immigration. You can find parties in Europe whose only focus is immigration such as Sweden Democrats or Danish People’s Party.
Mentioning right wing parties, your party is sometimes compared to parties such as American Tea Party? Do you ideologically and politically feel close to these parties in any way? If we need to compare FrP with a party in Europe or USA, what would be the correct equivalence?
I refuse to be compared with any populist, patriotic or nationalist party such as FN in France, Jobbik in Hungary, The Golden Down in Greece, and Dutch Geert Wilders’s PVV. These parties are different from Progress Party. FrP is a party advocating liberal ideology. Low taxes and less government intervention are our basic ideology. So, liberal conservatism is a better category to include Progress Party.
You will only find one FrP in Europe but if you need to compare it with some parties, Liberals in Denmark or VVD in Netherlands are good examples which are politically close to FrP.
But we sometimes hear similar arguments by those parties on immigration in Norway.
First of all you cannot find any party advocating free migration and control-free borders. Almost all parties from all ideological scales agree there needs to be regulations on immigration. So FrP is only raising its voice in this debate in Norway.
Journalist Øyvind Strømmen has been working on right-wing extremism and he expresses that Frp serves as a buffer zone against the extremist and radical forces in right wing circles, even if he ideologically does not support Frp at all.
Norheim believes all kinds of extremism should be fought against.
Some argue that your party focus on only challenges stemming from religious extremism and does not address right-wing extremism adequately. What do you think?
It is important not to mix a religion with its radical interpretation, against which struggle should be done. But, battle against extremism of all kinds is very important. A few days ago, when we discussed the European relations at the Parliement, I stood up and made a speech warning against the rise of right wing extremism in Europe and the challenging consequences of the presence of the parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece. I have studied and lived in Greece and I am very upset when I witness the uprising of the right wing movements in the country. These kinds of political movements are illiberal in essence, threatening people’s freedom.
When Frp is named, most of us only have ideas about your immigration policy, but very few knows about the political stance of FRP in many other areas. How would you describe FrP’s grass root ideological stance and policy priorities in for example health and economy?
Last year we celebrated our 40th year. We started as a protest movement against the high tax and government intervention in business. This foundational principles are still predominant policy priorities for us. In economy, we support a classical free market ideology.
As for health policy, we believe a free market in this area helps to ensure an efficient health system. All the parties in Norway agree that operation of the health system should be supported by the government. What we disagree is limitation of more choices. People should be able to choose their hospitals and elderly home. That means introduction of private alternatives which are again financed by the government.
How about foreign policy?
There is a more or less a traditional consensus on Norway’s idealist foreign policy among all parties. We, as FrP, stand up for a foreign policy based on both realism and idealism. That means we should stand up for human rights at the same time for national interests of Norway. When it comes to development policy which is an important part of Norwegian foreign policy, Norway provides almost one percent of its GNI in aid annually. The view of FrP is to have a more result-based aid policy. We should introduce free market reform thinking in this area. That means we want a more free economy in the world. We want to contribute with the promotion of businesses, and invest in developing countries through oil fund.
One of our old slogans is “trade not aid”. It is not absolutely a correct ideal. We also support trade. The main view of the Frp is to promote trade as a development tool. Not aid money but capitalism and market economy are the best tools getting people out of poverty.
Norway has an active role in conflicts in the Middle East. Do you have any political priority in the region?
We are very glad that Norway is to have a more balanced and unbiased approach to Middle East unlike the former government. FrP is a true friend of Israel and we are proud of it. But it does not mean that we are enemy of Palestine. We understand Israel’s right to defend itself at the same time we support a two-state solution. That should be the goal. All sides must recognize the two-state solutions.
What does FrP expect to change in Norway in the following four years as a government party?
In the state budget, we have done a few things and this is just a start. Abolishing heritage tax was an important step. We also reduced some taxes. These were just a start for our long term intention for a positive change in Norway. We are in a coalition, the voters know that you cannot win every areas and you have to compromise. Double taxations and road taxes for example were areas we wanted to remove but we had to accept other parties’ stance in these issues. Still, we have our party leader as Finance Minister and have also important ministerial posts such as oil and transportation. So we cannot hide behind these excuses all the time, we are part of the government now.
When we closely look at the election results, you lost 12 seats and 6,6 percentage point vote in this election compared with the previous one. How do you explain this?
It was not our best elections, we admit. At the same time, we had a poorer performance in local elections and if you look from that side we increased the support level. But we are reaching to more and more broad part of the population. There was a poll showing we are the second largest party among the immigrant voters and we are the first Youth party branch having a president with non-western background.
If you could name a bad thing about your party, what would it be?
The worst thing about FrP was not being able to take responsibility in a government so far and it was in opposition all the time. But now It is good for both us and the voters. They can vote out us, if they do not like our performance.
If you summarize FrP with three key words, what would they be?
Liberal, outspoken, self-ruling.
About Kristian Norheim
Kristian Norheim (born 19 April 1976) is a member of parliement and foreign policy spokesman for the Progress Party (FrP).
Norheim was born in Porsgrunn. He was leader of the Youth of the Progress Party in Telemark from 1993 to 1994, but left the party in 1994 following the 1994 Progress Party national convention and joined the libertarian Free Democrats, of which he was leader from 1999 to 2000. From 1995 to 1999, he sat in the municipal council in Siljan for the Conservative Party. He has since gone back to the Progress Party, where he is an advisor for its parliamentary group. Before the 2013 election Norheim was responsible for international issues as group secretary, and covered this field as advisor to party leader Siv Jensen.
In the 2013 general election he was elected as first deputy to the Parliament of Norway from Telemark. As regular representative Bård Hoksrud was named in Solberg’s Cabinet, Norheim took his seat as a regular representative. He is a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.
The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet or Framskrittspartiet, FrP) is a political party in Norway which identifies as conservative liberal. The media and academics have on some occasions described it as right-wing populist or conservative. In early 2013 it was the second-largest party in the Norwegian Parliament, with 41 seats. In coalition with the Conservative Party it won the 2013 election and helped form a new government, although the Progress Party itself lost seats and is now the third largest party party.
Founded by Anders Lange in 1973 largely as an anti-tax movement, the party highly values individual rights and supports the downsizing of bureaucracy and an increased market economy; however, it also supports an increased use of the uniquely Norwegian Oil Fund to invest in infrastructure. The party in addition seeks a more restrictive immigration policy and tougher integration and law and order measures. Long-time chairman Carl I. Hagen was from 1978 to 2006 the leader and centre of the party, and in many ways personally controlled the ideology and policies of the party. The current leader of the Progress Party is Siv Jensen, who was the party’s candidate for Prime Minister in the 2009 parliamentary election.
In the 1997 parliamentary election the party became the second largest political party in Norway for the first time, a position it also held following the elections in 2005 and 2009. The other parties in parliament have historically refused any formal governmental cooperation with the Progress Party. However, after a long period of work to unite the right wing in Norway, the Progress Party joined the Progress/Conservative coalition and as of October 16, 2013 is one of two parties in government in Norway, together with the Conservative party.