In the past few weeks, foreign media outlets have incorrectly characterised the Progress Party as a populist right-wing party: citing the membership of Norway’s terrorist (I will not gratify him by mentioning his name here), as evidence of its right-wing nationalist ideology. I will not delve into the logical fallacy of judging the political manifesto of an entire organisation based on the membership of a single individual: particularly, when not a single politician within the Progress Party has ever publically supported that terrorist. Thus far, the international scapegoating of the Progress Party has reached a point where even the Labour-run Foreign Ministry is publicly defending it as a legitimate social democratic party abroad.
Although the Progress Party held previous policies coloured by racial undertones, as demonstrated by its campaign combating the ‘sneak Islamification’ of Norway, it is not militant, ultranationalist, anti-immigrant, or conservative. While immigration is a priority, their four listed policy measures are: healthcare and elderly care, economy, safety (in terms of more police) and freedom (from state intervention). The Swedish populist party (Sverigedemokratarna) has “immigration” on its top list over its policies. The BNP on its website states under its main preoccupations: “the immigration invasion of our country, the threat to our security posed by Islamism and the danger of the European Union to our sovereignty.” The UKIP party also has a section for immigration on its website under its main policies, as well as a section explaining its opposition to same sex marriage. Don’t get me started on the Republicans or the Jobbik Party either. The Progress Party in Norway is to the left of all of the above mentioned parties. They claim that in order for integration to occur: “immigrants must learn the Norwegian language and participate in Norwegian society. There needs to be requirements of integration in order to gain permanent residence and later citizenship.” Indeed the party proposes more stringent requirements on immigrants, but does not propose ending immigration or throwing out legal immigrants.
The Progress Party is not a party which should be compared to the nationalist right wing populist parties in Europe. It is nothing like National Front in France, which opposes capitalism and globalisation and suggested shipping 3 million ‘non-Europeans’ out of France. Criticised for being racist the Progress Party has indeed come with unsavoury comments about Islam and immigrants. It wants to restrict immigration from non-Western countries because it claims that this type of immigration is costly, citing Norway’s Statistical Central Agency’s Report on Immigration (http://www.ssb.no/a/publikasjoner/pdf/rapp_201215/rapp_201215.pdf) which concluded that every non-Western immigrant costs Norway 4,1 million kroner, the most of all immigrant groups. This is not the place to ridicule the idiocy of Norway’s national Statistical Agency (any 5-year-old with a brain would be able to reason that a Somali millionaire who pays his taxes in Norway will contribute more than an unemployed German immigrant) but this demonstrates that the party’s views can be justified by readily available information provided by the Norwegian state.
Furthermore, The Progress party was originally founded as an anti-bureaucracy and tax relief party. The female party leader Siv Jensen has declared Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher as her idols. The party aims to use more of Norway’s oil wealth to fulfil its central policy aims: improved infrastructure (Norway has the worst infrastructure in Western Europe), the elderly (in Norway twice as many people in old people home’s are forced to share rooms compared to prisoners), police, and schools. They accept homosexual marriages and their right to adopt children. They want more state run railway systems. They want to cut Co2 emissions and admit to climate change. They want to separate Church and State (Norway is still part of the exclusive club of nations having a state religion, other members being; Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan). They also want to disband Norway’s wine monopoly (Norway being again one of the few nations where alcohol can only be sold by the state). Indeed in this way the Progress Party is indeed Progressive. It is challenging age-long Norwegian traditions and in the international scene would be placed among liberal conservative parties.
That said, I am very sceptical of the intentions of certain politicians within the Progress Party in many questions on immigration, especially the leader for the Progress Party in Oslo, Christian Tybring-Gjedde, arguably Norway’s most profiled xenophobe and bigot. Last week the Party leadership publicly apologised for using the term “sneak-islamification” and regretted its use four years ago. However, Tybring-Gjedde has in the past weeks refused to apologise for its use and claims that Norwegian culture and ethnicity is severely threatened by immigration. This is a view many voters and local politicians hold, but not the central party leadership who is increasingly frustrated at the statements of their biggest racist. This has made Frank Aarebrot, one of Norway’s most profiled political scientists, suggest that the Progress Party might be headed for a future split. Such a split could be between the liberalist lines of the party along the lines of its leadership, and the predominantly anti-immigrant politicians like Tybring-Gjedde. Luckily however, it is the party leader and her second in command who run the coalition talks and not Tybring-Gjedde, who has purposely not been included in the new government.
Why would Democrat Barry White, the American ambassador to Norway, choose to follow the Norwegian elections from the Progress Party’s headquarters? Is it because he is a right-wing anti-immigrant populist? No, it is because the Progress Party is the closest Norwegian equivalent to an American political party. It is far to the left of the Republicans, and arguably closer to the Democrats on most issues. Surprisingly, in a country with a dark anti-Semitic past, it is also a strong advocate of Israel. Furthermore, the party took a stance against the Swiss decision to ban minarets.
Thus, one can see that the Progress Party is very different from European anti-immigrant populist parties. The Progress Party has reduced many of their previous radical stances, particularly in regards to immigration and climate change, as they inch closer towards governance. This year’s election has also significantly weakened the party: reducing their vote by 22.7% to 16.1%. They will most likely enter a coalition led by Høyre’s, Conservative Party with its 26.9%, and the two centre parties: the Liberal and the Christian party. The latter have increased immigration into Norway. Luckily, politics is a game of power and the Progressives need its future coalition partners as much as the others need it. By all estimates, Norway will have a four party coalition with pro-immigration centre parties. Without the two centre parties, the coalition would doubtfully be able to pass any radical anti-immigration legislation even with the approval of the Conservative Party. The Progress Party will have to focus on other issues closer to its electorate’s heart than stopping highly educated immigrants from non-Western nations crossing the Norwegian border.
As of an agreement published 30 of September, the Progress Party will enter into a minority government led by Høyre, The Conservative Party. Of the 7 Ministers the Progress Party hold in the new government, 6 of them come from the moderate wing of the party. The coalition has also signed a large document with the two centre parties, the Liberal Party and the Christian party, dealing with key policy issues, in order to get their support in Parliament. In the agreement between the parties, the four parties signed a four page document related specifically to immigration. The new government agrees that “Immigration is a source of diversity, new impulses and cultural exchange.” The document also states that “Norway will fulfil its international obligations to help asylum seekers” and that “everyone has the same rights and duties in Norway, independent of their ethnicity.” It also pledges to create “more relaxed regulations for highly qualified employed immigrants.” This is not the immigration policy of an extreme right-wing populist party, and definitely not the political manifesto of Norway’s terrorist. The new government will still be following positively Scandinavian policies.