Norway Government Crisis Brews Over ISIS Prisoner Return

Mikael Holter

(Bloomberg) -- Norway’s government risks splitting after a coalition partner threatened to pull its support over the repatriation of a woman who joined Islamic State in Syria.

The anti-immigration Progress Party threatened to abandon the Conservative-led administration in the next few weeks if a number of demands aren’t met. Such a move would deprive Prime Minister Erna Solberg of her majority in parliament, and possibly even topple the government.

“We’ve had enough,” Finance Minister and Progress leader Siv Jensen told reporters on Wednesday evening, after meeting with lawmakers and party executives. “We will define some very clear demands to Prime Minister Erna Solberg and the Conservative Party. It will be up to her to take them seriously or not.”

Jensen’s threat follows a government decision to repatriate a Norwegian woman charged with joining a terrorist organization. The woman has two children, one of whom is critically ill. The Progress Party was only willing to bring back the children. The situation echoes similar debates in other European countries over how to handle nationals caught fighting for ISIS.

It’s not the first time that a conflict has erupted between Norway’s government parties, which hold different views on key issues such as immigration, climate change and the Nordic country’s vast oil industry.

The coalition has ruled with the support of the centrist Liberals and Christian Democrats since 2013, before the two parties joined the government in 2018 and 2019, providing Solberg with a majority.

Since the 2017 election, the four parties have lost much of their popular support, with the average of national polls in January compiled by pollofpolls.no indicating they will lose power in 2021 when Norwegians next vote. The Progress Party is down to about 10%, compared to 15% in the 2017 election.

Progress has been forced into a compromise on key issues for too long and the party now needs “clear wins” in government policy, Jensen told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. The party will probably present a list of demands to Solberg in the course of the day, but the list won’t be made public and Jensen declined to provide details.

Jensen also declined to say whether the government could continue to hold power without her party if it quit. The Conservative Party leads the coalition with 45 seats in Parliament, Progress has 27 and the Liberals and Christian Democrats eight each, giving the government a slim majority in the 169-strong assembly.

(Updates with comments from Progress leader and finance minister Jensen from third paragraph)

--With assistance from Jonas Cho Walsgard.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mikael Holter in Oslo at mholter2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tasneem Hanfi Brögger at tbrogger@bloomberg.net

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