Norway’s left-leaning opposition has ousted the country’s Conservative-led government in parliamentary elections, exit polls have predicted, but the exact shape of the “Red-Green” coalition set to run the Nordic country is far from clear.
The Labour leader, Jonas Gahr Støre, is on course to be the next prime minister after the centre-left party won a projected 48 seats in Norway’s 169-seat parliament, with his preferred three-party coalition on course for a slim majority of 88 MPs.
However, Støre’s potential alliance with the agrarian Centre party, on 26 seats, and the Socialist Left, with 13, is divided over whether or not to also enlist the support of smaller leftwing parties including the communist Red party and the Greens.
Whatever formation emerges would require the future prime minister to convince his potential leftwing partners to compromise on a wide array of policies ranging from oil and private ownership to Norway’s relations with the EU.
“We will take plenty of time to talk to the other parties, and we have respect for the fact that this has not been decided until it has been decided,” Støre, 61, a former Norwegian foreign minister, said on his way to Labour’s election party on Monday.
Negotiations could have a major impact on fossil fuel production in western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer, with the Socialist Left opposing further exploration and the Greens, on course for seven MPs, demanding a halt to production by 2035.
Climate change and economic inequality dominated the election campaign after the publication last month of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s stark warning that global heating is dangerously close to spiralling out of control.
Outgoing prime minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives won a projected 37 seats, eight down on 2017, with their coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, and the anti-immigrant Progress party, which left government in 2019, also shedding MPs.
Støre, who said he had a “good feeling” as he voted at a central Oslo school on Sunday, has rejected the Green party’s ultimatum and expressed reluctance to enter government with the Red party, projected to have eight MPs.
Both the Conservative party and Labour advocate a gradual withdrawal from oil and gas, which account for 14% of Norway’s GDP and 40% of exports, provide 160,000 direct jobs and have helped the country build up a €1.2tn (£1tn) sovereign wealth fund.
They argue that oil firms need time to adapt their engineering prowess to pursue green technologies. “I believe that calling time on our oil and gas industry is the wrong industrial policy and the wrong climate policy,” Støre said after voting.
“The demand for oil is on a downward path. We don’t need to decree it, but instead [use the revenues] to build bridges to future activities,” Labour’s energy spokesman, Espen Barth Eide, told Agence-France Presse.
Observers have said potential coalition divisions over the question could result in a compromise that would entail excluding some waters for future oil exploration, particularly in the Arctic.
Another possible bone of contention in a left-leaning coalition is Europe, with Norway’s membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), strongly favoured by Labour but opposed by the Eurosceptic Centre party, the Socialist Left and the Reds.
Støre has said his government would focus on cutting the country’s CO2 emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, but rejects any ultimatum on energy policy.