Norway's energetic politics
FORGET all the talk about the stolidity, the aloofness, of the Norwegian people. When it comes to politics, Norwegians are almost Mediterranean in their fervor over causes. That may not be surprising in a land of often inhospitable though magnificent terrain - where personal survival has required rugged independence. Moreover, modern Norway is a new nation, dating back to 1905.
This week Norway is once again locked in internal political turmoil. At immediate issue is the nation's budget for fiscal year 1987. The Labor Party government of Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland wants to see a $33 billion austerity budget approved by the Storting (parliament), in a vote that could come today. The vote is expected to be very close, but, barring last-minute hurdles, in the government's favor.
However this week's vote turns out, the budget battle is only the tip of the iceberg. Far deeper political battles are being waged in Norway. These issues will continue to be fought out in the weeks and months ahead. Their resolution will have profound meaning for this country, which, thanks to oil revenues in the past decade, has become one of the most affluent nations in Europe.
Two fundamental issues are at stake:
Can Norway diversify its economy? That means moving more to high-technology manufacturing, as Norway has already done to an extent, and as neighboring Sweden has done so well.
Can Norway find ways to curb its costly welfare state, now that state-generated oil revenues are falling? Norway, as part of ``middle-road Scandinavia,'' has been a trailblazer in developing cradle-to-grave welfare programs. The Conservative political coalition that had led Norway until its collapse last May had sought to trim the welfare state.
The political task facing Mrs. Brundtland - a Harvard-educated physician - is tough. Both the Labor Party (which has dominated Norway's politics since the 1930s) and the Conservative coalition have about equal strength in the Storting. But national elections cannot be held until 1989. Thus, Brundtland must hang on to her fragile coalition while pushing an austerity program that may be remembered with disdain by voters in 1989.
All that said, Norwegians can be expected to surmount their present political turmoil - and with the same enthusiasm they bring to cross-country skiing.