Your leadership style and parliamentary base will mean a lot to daily life in government. Also, personal chemistry probably comes into play.
This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are the responsibility of the writer.
The demanding polls ended with the Left Socialist Party that did not reach the government. Tough negotiations with the Center Party meant complicated political compromises. Then a personal loner that meant someone’s ministry dreams exploded.
However, now it is the really difficult thing for Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor Party) to get started: everyday life in government.
Real spheres for decision making
Together with colleagues from the University of Oslo, I have examined the working methods of recent Norwegian coalition governments. It is based on surveys from 2015, 2018 and 2020 of former secretaries of state and political advisers, as well as more than 50 interviews with ministers and ministers.
Our conclusion is that the parliamentary basis of government is very important for everyday life in government. But the prime minister’s leadership style is also crucial.
In the Norwegian system, disagreements often escalate to the government level, as many issues are not cleared up by bureaucrats or between secretaries of state. Unlike many other countries, the weekly intergovernmental conferences in Norway are therefore real decision-making venues, although it is not always easy to reach an agreement.
The challenges of the subcommittee
Much has been said and written about the so-called subcommittee in the second government of Jens Stoltenberg (Labor Party). Difficult political issues were raised in the subcommittee that found no solution at intergovernmental conferences. There, Prime Minister Stoltenberg and party leaders Kristin Halvorsen (SV) and Åslaug Haga (Sp) struck tough compromises.
The subcommittee became a blank win-loss arena. Tightening immigration policy could be accepted, for example, provided that the contribution of Norwegian forces in Afghanistan is reduced.
Such a process quickly recalls Otto von Bismarck’s remarks that no one really wants to know how sausages and politics are made.
The extensive role of the subcommittee made the decision-making process in the Stoltenberg 2 government time-consuming.
However, the system was not a Stoltenberg invention. The subcommittee has been part of the Norwegian coalition governments since the government of Willoch II (1983). Also in the Bondevik governments, the subcommittee was an important stage to resolve conflicts in which the government college did not reach an agreement.
Horse trade and engagements
From the beginning, Prime Minister Stoltenberg had the ambition to clarify matters in government. However, the subcommittee quickly became a body where many sensitive cases and problem cases of a certain size were terminated.
The extensive role of the subcommittee made the decision-making process in the Stoltenberg 2 government time-consuming. Hardly any decisions were made and the system almost collapsed.
However, the appointment of Karl Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen as the new Chief of Staff in 2006 contributed to the gradual relief of the subcommittee. In this division of labor, the subcommittee became the stage to find political compromises and do business that were not possible in the governmental collective.
Støre receives a double challenge
An absolutely crucial reason why the subcommittee became so important was that the Stoltenberg 2 government had a majority.
With the majority, the decisive battles take place within the government. In that case, you don’t need to keep negotiating. Although it must be said that there were several high-profile incidents where the government had not consulted parliamentary groups thoroughly enough and thus encountered public opposition from its own representatives.
It requires reaching an agreement with more than 20 people at the government table. In coalitions, there will always be a need for inner circles, a need that is therefore further reinforced in a majority coalition.
But it won’t necessarily be easy in a minority government.
Now that the Støre government must seek a majority in the Storting, there will be a double bargaining situation. It can be demanding.
First you have to reach an internal agreement, then find alliance partners in what has been called the slalom method. Securing a majority in various constellations is a good Norwegian tradition for Norwegian minority governments, both in various cases and from one state budget to another.
The importance of leadership style
At the same time, decisions in government can slide quite smoothly, more independently of the parliamentary base of government. It’s also a lot about leadership style.
After strong criticism of the use of the subcommittee in Stoltenberg 2, Erna Solberg (H) wanted to use Government College to a greater extent as a decision-making arena. Although he also needed inner circles.
According to our interviewees, the cases of the Stoltenberg government could “live and live” in the government apparatus before they were decided. It is said that the clarification processes in the Solberg government were better and those at the top were better in making decisions. While some government leaders want to spend time in painstaking processes to find consensus if there is disagreement, others want to conclude faster.
Initial enthusiasm may fade or faltering collaboration may grow strongly
Leadership style can also be tied to what plays and marks allow. Much has also been written about Solberg’s parliamentarism: a quiet acceptance or deliberate resignation when self-brands and important party positions were broadcast, while fragile compromises in government went unanswered.
In a coalition government, there will always be a balance between the government project and the collegiate on the one hand and the marked needs of the ministers and parties on the other. Recent coalitions have shown that this balance can vary quite a bit.
Learning over time
Leadership style and parliamentary base become important for daily life in government. Also, personal chemistry probably comes into play. The relationship between party leaders (and what has been said in the heat of the election campaign) determines how relationships become internal and how cooperation is achieved in everyday life.
Finally, in a government, you also learn over time. The initial enthusiasm may fade or the faltering collaboration may grow in force. Each prime minister chooses his path and the way he works in government grows over time.
As head of government, Støre must find his way, create unity in government, and ensure a way of working that enables decision-making. It can be an exciting and demanding everyday life.