The Progress Party of Norway seems set to reach a significant milestone at its national congress in May when it comes to the party's policy on the European Union.
8th March 2017
To this day the Progress Party has in fact not had a policy whether the country should join the EU or not. The party has simply had the policy that the Norwegian people should decide whether to join the bloc or not.
However, this seems about to change fundamentally in May. A Progress Party committee, tasked with drafting the party's foreign policy for the national congress, has suggested adopting the policy of rejecting EU membership. Furthermore the committee has also suggested reviewing the EEA Agreement which Norway has been a member of for almost a quarter of a century.
The leader of the Progress Party, Siv Jensen, said at a party meeting last Saturday according to the Norwegian daily Nationen that she had voted for Norway to join the EU back in 1994 when the country last voted in a referendum on whether to join the bloc or not and rejected membership. However, she said that should there be a referendum today she would say no.
This is also a milestone in the sense that this will be the first time a Norwegian centre-right political party will reject EU membership. The traditional centre-right party in Norway, the Conservative Party (Høyre), is the party most in favour of joining the EU. The fundamental reason for this is quite simple. It has to do with the fact that Norway is in many ways a very socialist country.
The centre-right political parties have traditionally considered EU membership as a way to make Norway somewhat less socialist. However, this viewpoint is in fact based on the outdated notion that the EU is simply about economic cooperation and trade. As Jensen recognised in her speech last Saturday that is simply not the reality anymore as others have realised before.
The leader of the Progress Party said the EU wasn't about trade and less regulations anymore (when was that?) but more regulations which were furthermore beyond the power of the nation states. The trade and peace project, she said, had become a bureaucratic project. This is of course something which happened a long time ago and has since then moved fast in that direction.
Things have developed differently in Iceland. There the traditionally largest political party is the conservative and eurosceptic Independence Party while in Norway the traditionally largest party has been the Labour Party. Unlike in Norway centre-right voters in Iceland believe EU membership would among other things move the country further to the left making it more social democratic.
The milestone, which seems about to be reached by the Progress Party, is also important for those who reject EU membership since to this day there has in fact never been any organised opposition to joining the bloc on the centre-right in Norway. The cross-political eurosceptic organisation Nei til EU is almost entirely made up of people on the centre-left of Norwegian politics.
Whether the Progress Party actually will alter its policy on the EU or not in May remains to be seen. But even if it doesn't happen this time it is probably just a question of when. The party has to this day referred to the will of the people. For the last twelve years every single opinion poll published in Norway has had a vast majority against EU membership or around 70-80 percent.
However, if the Progress Party will adopt a policy rejecting EU membership that will without doubt put much pressure on Høyre as the opposition to joining the bloc is widespread on the Norwegian centre-right just as most everywhere else in the country. Even though Høyre remains in favour of EU membership the majority of the party's voters are not and have not been for a long time. With a new policy the Progress Party would become an alternative for eurosceptic Høyre voters.
Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson is an Icelandic historian. He holds a master's degree in international relations with focus on European, defence and security studies. Twitter: @Hjortur_J