With the victory of this 61-year-old Oslo-born millionaire, Norway is no longer the only Nordic country with a conservative government. Now all nations in the region will have social democratic governments.
It is the first time in more than 60 years that the left governs the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), admired both for their economic indicators and for their broad social well-being.
Norwegian Labor Party members, including leader Jonas Gahr Støre (in a red tie), celebrate the exit polls for the parliamentary elections in Oslo on Monday (13) — Photo: Javad Parsa/NTB /AFP
For decades they have registered high levels of per capita wealth, low inequality and are now the top five countries (along with Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands) where people are happiest, according to the United Nations Global Happiness Index published this year .
And also today they seem to share a love of social democracy.
For Haldor Byrkjeflot, professor of sociology at the University of Oslo and specialist in Nordic countries, this new “left hegemony” is a consequence of the resurgence in the popularity of the so-called “Nordic model” in the region.
“Almost all parties support the Nordic model, but it cannot be denied that the Social Democrats were fundamental (to the development) of the model,” Byrkjeflot told BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish service.
The expert highlights that with the Covid-19 crisis, there is much more emphasis on reducing inequality that has been growing since the beginning of the pandemic. This is one of the reasons that drove the left’s return.
The Nordic model emerged in response to the crisis of the early 1930s, under the leadership of Social Democratic governments, but began to gain strength during the great economic and social depression left by World War II.
The model revolves around a large welfare state that promotes social mobility and a multilevel collective bargaining system. It can be said that its main feature is social collaboration.
“The Nordic model is based on cooperation between unions, employers and the state,” explains Haldor Byrkjeflot.
According to the Norwegian sociologist, the joint work between these three forces explains the good indicators of equality in Nordic societies.
Some, such as former Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, would like to point out that the Nordic model does not mean that countries in the region are socialist.
“I know that some people in the United States associate the Nordic model with some kind of socialism. Denmark is far from a socialist economy. Denmark is a market economy,” he said in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2015.
For many experts, it is more appropriate to describe the Nordic countries as social democracies.
Johan Strang, a professor at the Center for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki, points out that for decades Europe and the Western world have “benefited and been hurt by the pros and cons” of neoliberalism.
“Social benefits have been reduced, some welfare services have been privatized, public properties have been sold,” the Finnish academic told BBC News Mundo.
“The turn to the left is probably a reaction to all this and a form of criticism of the policies that right-wing governments have implemented.”
The particulars vary by country.
In Finland, privatizations are criticized and many are calling for reforms in the mixed health system (private and public), while in neighboring Sweden discontent persists with the scarcity and high price of housing, as well as segregation in schools, where the richest they are better able to choose their children’s schools.
View of Helsinki, capital of Finland; country has one of the highest GDPs per capita and is ‘the happiest in the world’ — Photo: Ints Kalnins/Reuters
“And in Norway, people on the outskirts of cities complain that they have been abandoned by right-wing governments,” notes Strang.
Going back to your roots
After eight years under a Conservative government, the Norwegian left returned to power promising a tax cut for low- and middle-income families.
In addition, the left has pledged to end the privatization of public services, give more money to hospitals and force the richest to pay more taxes.
And with that agenda the victory was overwhelming: the Labor Party and its two left-wing allies won 100 of the 169 seats in parliament.
The campaign aimed at “ordinary people” paid off.
Oslo, capital of Norway, in undated photo — Photo: Nancy Bundt/www.visitnorway.com
The election results show that the idea of a government representing “the common people” once again seduces the Norsemen.
Strang estimates that although the Nordic model has been “neoliberalized” in recent decades, it seems to be going back to its origins. “But it’s too early to say that,” he clarifies.
pragmatism and flexibility
With a more politically homogeneous Nordic region, one might think that countries are moving in the same direction.
But experts agree that this is difficult to predict.
“It helps that the countries have social-democratic governments, but from a historical point of view, left-wing politicians in the region tend to have strong personalities, who are shocked and they end up not getting along very well,” recalls Strang, from the University of Helsinki.
This was the case for Social Democrats Paavo Lipponen and Göran Persson, who led Finland and Sweden respectively in the early 2000s. The differences between the two leaders were great and they made no effort to hide them.
Left parties in Nordic democracies are also notable for their pragmatism and flexibility: they adapt their policies over time and according to their needs.
While Social Democrats in Denmark have turned against immigration, in Sweden and Norway they take a “more humanistic” approach, recalls Byrkjeflot of the University of Oslo.
Norway tops the Good Countries Index — Photo: John O’Nolan/Unsplash
A long social democratic era?
Currently, the Nordic political system, as in the whole of Europe, is in crisis and the issue of immigration management and the treatment of migrants raises great debates.
Traditional parties have difficulty winning over the electorate, and at the same time, small parties — some of them with a more “extreme” ideology of the right or left — are doing better than usual.
Although the Norwegian Labor Party won in the last elections, it is thanks to other smaller leftist parties, environmentalists and socialists, that it will manage to form a government.
Many wonder how long the social democratic hegemony in the Nordic countries will last.
It could all be over very soon. On September 25, Iceland will hold its next legislative elections.
Polls predict that nine parties will win at least one of 63 seats in Alþingi (the Icelandic Parliament), so the picture will be very mixed.
And to govern, a majority — right or left — will have to form a coalition.
“It cannot be taken for granted that we have a long social democratic era going on,” said Haldor Byrkjeflot. “But those who had predicted the end of Social Democracy were wrong.”