Tag Archives: oslo

Tsunis nomination draws scorn from Norwegians

tsunis

Not only does George Tsunis not speak Norwegian, he’s never even set foot in Norway.USflagnorway

Yet, even as he stumbled through an embarrassingly poor performance at a hearing on Thursday before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tsunis is set to become the next US ambassador to Oslo.

As US senator John McCain asked Tsunis about the ‘anti-immigration’ Framskrittspartiet (Progress Party), which is the junior member in Norway’s center-right governing coalition, the future ambassador stumbled with his answer or, as Norway’s newspapers phrased it, tråkket i salaten (trampled through the salad bowl).  

“You get some fringe elements that have a microphone and spew their hatred,” he said in the pre-appointment hearing. “And I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them.”
McCain interrupted him, pointing out that as part of the coalition, the party was hardly being denounced.
“I stand corrected,”  Tsunis said after a pause.  “I would like to leave my answer at… it’s a very,very open society and the overwhelming amount of Norwegians and the overwhelming amount of people in parliament don’t feel the same way.”

Good grief.  This came after Tsunis referred to Norway’s ‘president’ — of course, there’s no such office because Norway is a constitutional monarchy.  By way of background, Tsunis is an attorney and a businessman from Long Island.  He founded Chartwell Hotels, which operates properties for InterContinental Hotels and other hotel chains.  Though he supported McCain, a Republican, in the 2008 US presidential election, he bundled nearly $1 million in contributions for US president Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the subsequent 2012 presidential election, and he personally donated $267,244 to the Democratic Party in 2012 and $278,531 in 2010.  Tsunis is an active member of the Greek-American community and the Greek Orthodox Church, which begs why anyone in the Obama administration would send him… to Norway.

McCain, not thrilled with the response, thanked Tsunis and the ‘incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.’  But perhaps McCain should leave aside the snark himself — Norwegians might also take issue with his characterization of the Progress Party solely as an anti-immigration party.  In fact, the party has its genesis in the anti-tax movement of the 1970s.  It’s certainly in favor of tougher immigration restrictions, and it’s probably Norway’s most controversial major party.  But it’s not nearly as xenophobic as some of Europe’s other parties (e.g., Marine Le Pen’s Front national in France), and it represents something greater in Norway as a party of rupture.

Other mainstream center-left and center-right parties largely support Norway’s social welfare state, just as they support the relatively fiscal conservative steps to limit spending from Norway’s oil largesse.  The Progress Party wants to break away radically from the state-heavy welfare model, and it wants to spend more of Norway’s oil fund today.

That’s why Erna Solberg, the leader of Høyre (the ‘Right,’ or more commonly, the Conservative Party) is Norway’s prime minister today instead of Progress Party leader Siv Jensen.  Solberg pulled the Conservative Party toward a more moderate policy path that’s essentially the center-right analog to the long-governing Arbeiderpartiet (Labour Party), which lost the September 2013 elections after two terms in power under former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg.

It doesn’t seem like it would be so incredibly hard for the Obama administration to bring even someone woefully uniformed about Norway’s political, cultural and economic basics up to speed — even Tsunis!  That the Obama administration chose not to do so is perhaps the most egregious oversight of all. 

The previous ambassador to Norway, Barry White, who served from 2009 to 2013, had at least some basis in international affairs as the longtime managing partner of Foley Hoag LLP, and as the chair of Lex Mundi, a global association of international, independent law firms.  His predecessor, Benson Whitney, served from 2005 to 2009 under former president George W. Bush.  A native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, Whitney came from the US state with the greatest number of Norwegian-Americans by far.  As then-president of the Minnesota Venture Capital Association, he could argue that his experience in venture capital and investments would bode well to serve as a representative to the country with the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.

It’s not just Tsunis. The Obama administration’s nominee to serve as the ambassador to Hungary, by the way? Colleen Bradley Bell, a television producer and — you guessed it — philanthropist and top Obama campaign donor.  At a time when Hungary faces some of the most troubling accusations of democratic backsliding within the European Union, and with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán set to win another majority under a new (troubling) electoral system in April, the United States is sending the producer of television daytime soap opera ‘The Bold and the Beautiful.’

 

I wrote last June that the nomination of James Costos, a Hollywood executive and Obama donor with no Spanish language skills and no apparent ties to Spain, to become the US ambassador of Spain was a prime example of why the current practice of sending wealthy donors (instead of career diplomats from the US state department) is so flawed: Continue reading Tsunis nomination draws scorn from Norwegians

Despite the success of pro-EU parties in Norway, don’t expect EU membership anytime soon

EUnoray

One of the odder results of this week’s Norwegian election is that while it boosted the numbers of seats for the two parties that are most in favor of membership in the European Union, Norway is today less likely than ever to seek EU membership.European_Unionnorway

Together, the center-left Arbeiderpartiet (Labour Party) and the center-right Høyre (the Conservative Party) will hold 103 seats as the largest and second-largest parties, respectively, in the Storting, Norway’s 169-member parliament — that’s a larger number of cumulative seats than the two pro-European parties have won since the 1985 election.

But EU membership is firmly not on the agenda of Norway’s likely new prime minister, Erna Solberg, just like it wasn’t on the agenda of outgoing  prime minister Jens Stoltenberg during his eight years in government.

One of the obvious reasons is that EU membership is massively unpopular among Norwegians — an August poll found that 70% oppose membership to just 19% who support it.

Proponents of EU membership argue that because Norway is part of Europe’s internal market, it is already subject to many of the European Union’s rules. (Norway is also a member of the Schengen free-travel zone that has largely eliminated national border controls within Europe)  But until Norway is a member of the European Union, it has absolutely no input on the content of those rules.  Stoltenberg (pictured above left with European Council president Herman Van Rompuy) has called the result ‘fax diplomacy,’ with Norwegian legislators forced to wait for instructions from Brussels in the form of the latest directive.

Since 1994, when Norwegians narrowly rejected EU membership in a referendum, Norway has been a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), an agreement among the EU countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein that allows Norway and the other non-EU countries access to the European single market.

Opponents argue that Norway, with just 5 million people, would have a negligible input in a union that now encompasses 28 countries and nearly 508 million people.  They also argue that with one of Europe’s wealthiest economies, Norway would be forced to contribute part of its oil largesse to shore up the shakier economies of southern and eastern Europe.  There are also sovereignty considerations for a country that didn’t win its independence from Sweden until 1905 — and then suffered German occupation from 1940 to 1945.  Though Norwegians also often cite the desire to keep their rich north Atlantic fisheries free of EU competition, Norway already has a special arrangement with the European Union on fisheries and agriculture, and it’s likely that it would continue to have a special arrangement as an EU member, in the same way that the United Kingdom has opted out of both the eurozone and the Schengen area and has negotiated its own EU budget rebate.

Though Solberg herself is from Norway’s western coast, her party’s base is comprised largely of business-friendly elites in Oslo and Norway’s other urban centers, where support for EU membership runs highest.  But that enthusiasm doesn’t always flow down to voters who support Solberg, and it certainly doesn’t extend to Norway’s other right-wing parties.  Continue reading Despite the success of pro-EU parties in Norway, don’t expect EU membership anytime soon

Solberg set to lead broad center-right coalition in Norway after today’s election

ernawins

Erna Solberg, the longtime leader of Norway’s Conservative Party, will become Norway’s next prime minister after results from today’s Norwegian parliamentary election showed all four of Norway’s center-right parties winning enough seats to form an absolute majority in Norway’s Storting (parliament).norway

Prime minister Jen Stoltenberg has conceded defeat, and will resign shortly after presenting Norway’s next budget in mid-October.

The result’s a lot more complicated than that — for starters, Stoltenberg’s party, the center-left Arbeiderpartiet (Labour Party) actually won more votes than Solberg’s party, the center-right Høyre (literally the ‘Right’) — so much so that Labour will have around 55 seats to just 48 for the Conservatives.  It’s not an unexpected result because while polls earlier this summer showed the Conservatives leading Labour, support for Labour has increased as Norwegians focused on the campaign.  Moreover, Labour has emerged in every election since 1924 with more support and seats than Norway’s various opposition parties, and its long pedigree as the natural party of government means that it has a deeper wellspring of support among the Norwegian electorate.

Here’s the breakdown of voter support with nearly all the votes counted:

norway results

Here’s the projected allocation of seat in Norway’s new parliament:

storting

But that wasn’t enough to pull off a victory for two reasons.  First, Labour’s support — around 30.9% — is smaller than the 35.4% it won in the September 2009 election, natural enough for a party that’s been in power for eight years and is seeking a third consecutive term.  Secondly, the two small parties that comprise the ‘red-green’ coalition that Stoltenberg heads, Sosialistisk Venstreparti (Socialist Left Party) and the Senterpartiet (Centre Party), did incredibly poorly, so the ‘red-green’ coalition is projected to win just a cumulative 72 seats in the 169-member Storting.

Meanwhile, Solberg’s Conservatives cannot govern by themselves, but must form an alliance among the four major center-right parties that will join parliament.  That includes the Kristelig Folkeparti (Christian Democratic Party), a moderately conservative party that led Norway’s last center-right government under prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik between 1997 and 2000 and again from 2001 to 2005, and it includes Venstre (literally, ‘the Left,’ but commonly known as the Liberal Party).  All three parties worked together in government between 2001 and 2005 and all three parties generally accept the fait accompli of the Norwegian social welfare state and Labour’s rules to stash much of Norway’s annual budget surplus in the country’s massive oil wealth fund.  The Conservatives, in particular, have spent the election arguing for slight changes to the status quo, such as lower business taxes and tweaks to Norway’s health care system, after a major rebranding exercise to grow beyond their base of Oslo business interests.

But the coalition must also include the more controversial Framskrittspartiet (Progress Party).  Most reports highlight that the party is relatively populist and anti-immigrant, and that it was the party of Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik, who was responsible for the deadliest killings in Norway’s history in twin attacks in 2011.  That’s all true, but the party’s roots are in the anti-tax movement of the 1970s, and its goal is a massive rupture from the status quo — it would claw back many of Norway’s social benefits, drastically reduce the role of government in Norwegian life, but it would also push to spend more of the Norwegian oil surplus (or return it in the form of lower taxes).   Continue reading Solberg set to lead broad center-right coalition in Norway after today’s election

Four reasons why cab-driving Stoltenberg has a chance at winning Norway’s election

stoltenberg

Though he’s making headlines this week for his stunt as a barely-disguised cab driver cruising the streets of Oslo to get a sense of the frustrations of Norwegian voters less than a month before Norway’s parliamentary elections, prime minister Jens Stoltenberg has long seemed destined to lose the September 9 vote. norway

Stoltenberg, who leads the Arbeiderpartiet (Labour Party) and has served as Norway’s prime minister since 2005, is running for a third consecutive term, and poll shave consistently shown his party running behind the Høyre (literally the ‘Right,’ or Conservative Party), and Norway has braced throughout the year for the likelihood that its voters will elect a center-right government.  It’s not unprecedented for Norway to have a right-leaning government — most recently, the Conservatives were part of a governing coalition led by Kjell Magne Bondevik and the Kristelig Folkeparti (Christian People’s Party) from 2001 to 2005.  But if polls today are correct, the Conservative Party will actually win more votes than the long-dominant Labour Party, and therefore hold more seats in the Storting, Norway’s parliament, and that hasn’t happened in a Norwegian election since 1924.

But the polls are narrowing — the Conservative Party still leads the Labor Party, and taken together, the broad center-right parties expected to form Norway’s next government hold a double-digit lead over the broad center-left parties that currently comprise Stoltenberg’s governing coalition.  One recent poll from TNS Gallup over the weekend showed the Conservatives with just 31.6% to 30.1% for Labour, much narrower than the five-point lead the Conservatives held only in July.  Here’s the latest August poll-of-polls data:

poll august norway

As I wrote earlier this summer, Erna Solberg, the leader of the Conservative Party since 2004, became the frontrunner in next month’s elections by rebranding the Conservatives as an acceptably moderate alternative to Labour.  In many ways, Solberg’s Conservatives today share more in common with Labour than with their largest presumptive coalition partner, the more populist, far-right Framskrittspartiet (Progress Party), a party.  But there’s still more or less a month to go before voting begins, and many Norwegians are still focused on their summer holidays than on the late-summer campaign.  That means there’s more than enough time for Labour to make up the difference before September 9.

While that doesn’t necessarily mean that Labour will return to government, it does mean that Labour has a shot at retaining its place as the largest parliamentary party in Norway and, in a best-case scenario, could potentially form a new, broader coalition, perhaps even with the Conservatives, to keep the Progress Party out of government.

Here are four reasons why that outcome isn’t as farfetched as it seems:

Continue reading Four reasons why cab-driving Stoltenberg has a chance at winning Norway