The Progress Party (Bokmål: Fremskrittspartiet, Nynorsk: Framstegspartiet, commonly abbreviated as FrP) is a right-wing libertarian political party in Norway. The party values are focused on civil liberties, individualism, and limited government. It is the country's third largest political party and a part of the centre-right government coalition. Its leader, Siv Jensen, currently serves as Norway's Minister of Finance.
Its policies support market liberalism, law and order, and downsizing the bureaucracy and the public sector. It self-identifies as a economic liberal party which competes with the socialist left to represent the workers of Norway. The party advocates increased spending of Norway's Oil Fund on investments in infrastructure and advocates for the elimination of Norway's current budgetary rules which set a limit on such spending. The party also seeks a more restrictive immigration policy and improved integration. In foreign policy it is Atlanticist and pro-globalization. The party has officially opposed Norwegian membership in the European Union since 2016, after having been neutral on the issue before. The Progress Party is generally described as focusing on the free market and decentralization. It is sometimes controversially described as populist.
The party was founded by Anders Lange in 1973 as an anti-tax protest movement. The party's development was greatly influenced by Carl I. Hagen, the party's long standing leader between 1978 and 2006. Despite the electoral success, the party was initially isolated in the Norwegian Parliament. This situation gradually changed, and after the 2013 parliamentary election, the party concluded a government coalition agreement with the Conservative Party. The party holds seven out of the nineteen ministerial posts in the Norwegian government.
The Progress Party was founded at a meeting at the movie theater Saga Kino in Oslo on 8 April 1973, attended by around 1,345 persons. An address speech was held by Anders Lange, after whom the party was named Anders Lange's Party for a Strong Reduction in Taxes, Duties and Public Intervention, commonly known as Anders Lange's Party, and abbreviated ALP. Lange had some political experience from the interwar era Fatherland League, and was part of the Norwegian resistance movement during the Second World War. Since the end of the war, he had worked as an independent right-wing political editor and public speaker. Lange held his first public speech as chairman of ALP at Youngstorget in Oslo on 16 May the same year. ALP was to a large extent inspired by the Danish Progress Party, which was founded by Mogens Glistrup. Glistrup also spoke at the event, which gathered around 4,000 attendees.
Originally, Anders Lange wanted the party to be an anti-tax protest movement rather than a common political party. The party had a brief political platform on a single sheet of paper that on one side listed ten things the party was "tired of", and on the other side ten things that they were in favour of. The protest was directed against what Lange claimed to be an unacceptable high level of taxes and subsidies. In the 1973 parliamentary election, the party won 5 percent of the vote and gained four seats in the Norwegian parliament. The main reasons for the success has later been seen by scholars as a mixture of tax protests, the charisma of Anders Lange, the role of television, the aftermath of the 1972 EC membership referendum and the political development in Denmark. The first party conference was held in Hjelmeland in 1974, where the party established its first political conventions.
In early 1974, Kristofer Almås, Deputy Member of Parliament Carl I. Hagen, along with some others, broke away and formed the short-lived Reform Party. The background for this was a criticism of ALPs "undemocratic organisation" and lack of a real party program. However, in the same year, Anders Lange died; consequently Hagen stepped in as a regular Member of Parliament in Lange's place. As a result, the Reform Party merged back into ALP already the following year. The party adopted its current name, the Progress Party, on 29 January 1977, inspired by the great success of the Danish Progress Party. The Progress Party performed poorly in the 1977 parliamentary election, and was left without parliamentary representation. In the 1978 party convention, Carl I. Hagen was elected as party chairman. Hagen soon started to expand the political program of the party, and built a conventional party organisation, a step which Lange and some of his followers had opposed. The party's youth organisation, the Progress Party's Youth, was also established in 1978. Hagen succeeded in sharpening the image of the party as an anti-tax movement. His criticism of the wisdom of hoarding billions of dollars in the "Oil Fund" hit a nerve owing to perceived declines in infrastructure, schools, and social services and long queues at hospitals.
While the Progress Party dropped out of parliament altogether in 1977, it returned in the following 1981 parliamentary election with four representatives. In this election, the political right in general had a great upturn, which garnered the Progress Party increased support. The ideology of the party was sharpened in the 1980s, and the party officially declared that it was a libertarian party at its national convention in Sandefjord in 1983. Until then, the party had not had a clearly defined ideology. In the campaign for the 1985 parliamentary election the party attacked many aspects of the Norwegian welfare state, and campaigned for privatization of medical care, education and government-owned enterprises, as well as steep cuts in income tax. In the election, the party lost two of its four members of parliament, but was left with some power as they became the kingmaker. In May 1986, the party used this position to effectively throw the governing Conservative-led government after it had proposed to increase gas taxes. A minority Labour government was established as a result.
The first real breakthrough for the party in Norwegian politics came in the 1987 local elections, when the party nearly doubled its support from 6.3% to 12.3% (county results). This was largely as immigration was for the first time seriously taken up as an issue by the party (although Hagen had already in the late 1970s called for a strongly restrictive immigration policy), successfully putting the issue on the national agenda. Its campaign had mainly been focused on the issue of asylum seekers, but was additionally helped by the infamous "Mustafa-letter", a letter read out by Hagen during the electoral campaign that portrayed the future Islamisation of Norway. In April 1988 the party was for the first time the second largest party in Norway in an opinion poll with 23.5%. In September 1988, the party further proposed in parliament for a referendum on the immigration policy, which was regarded by political scientists as the start of the party's 1989 election campaign. In 1989, the party made its breakthrough in national politics. In the 1989 parliamentary election, the party obtained 13%, up from 3.7% in 1985, and became the third largest party in Norway. It started to gain power in some local administrations. The first mayors from the party were Håkon Rege in Sola (1988–1989), Bjørn Bråthen in Råde (1990–1991) and Peter N. Myhre in Oslo (1990–1991).
The 1993 parliamentary election halved the party's support to 6.3% and ten members of parliament. This drop in support can be seen as the result of an internal conflict within the party that came to a head in 1992, between the more radical libertarian minority and the majority led by Carl I. Hagen. The libertarians had removed the party's focus on immigration, declaring it a "non-issue" in the early 1990s, which was heavily punished by voters in 1993, as well as 1991. Social conservative policy platforms had also been liberalised and caused controversy, such as accepting homosexual partnership. The party's unclear stance on Norwegian membership of the European Union also contributed greatly to the setback, by moving the focus away from the party's stronger issues (see also 1994 Norwegian European Union membership referendum).
While many of the libertarians, including Pål Atle Skjervengen and Tor Mikkel Wara, had left the party before the 1993 election or had been rejected by voters, the conflict finally culminated in 1994. Following the party conference at Bolkesjø Hotell in Telemark in April of that year, four MPs of the "libertarian wing" in the party broke off as independents. This was because Hagen had given them an ultimatum to adhere to the political line of the party majority and parliamentary group, or else to leave. This incident was later nicknamed "Dolkesjø", a pun on the name of the hotel, with "dolke" meaning to "lit. stab (in the back) /betray".
These events have been seen by political scientists as a turning point for the party. Subsequently the libertarians founded a libertarian organisation called the Free Democrats which tried to establish a political party, but without success. Parts of the younger management of the party and the more libertarian youth organisation of the party also broke away, and even tried to disestablish the entire youth organisation. The youth organisation was however soon running again, this time with more "loyal" members, although it remained more libertarian than its mother organisation. After this, the Progress Party had a more right-wing populist profile, which resulted in it gaining electoral support.
In the 1995 local elections the Progress Party regained the level of support seen at the 1987 elections. This was said largely to have been as a result of a focus on Progress Party core issues in the electoral campaign, especially immigration, as well as the party dominating the media picture as a result of the controversy around the 1995 Norwegian Association meeting at Godlia kino. The latter particularly gained the party many sympathy votes, as a result of the harsh media storm targeted against Hagen. In the 1997 parliamentary election, the party obtained 15.3% of the vote, and for the first time became the second largest political party in Norway. The 1999 local elections resulted in the party's first mayor as a direct result of an election, Terje Søviknes in Os. 20 municipalities also elected a deputy mayor from the Progress Party.
While the Progress Party had witnessed close to 35% support in opinion polls in late 2000, its support fell back to 1997 levels in the upcoming election in 2001. This was largely a result of turmoil surrounding the party. The party's deputy leader Terje Søviknes became involved in a sex scandal, and internal political conflicts came to the surface; Hagen had already in 1999 tried to quiet the most controversial immigration opponents in the parliamentary party, who had gained influence since the 1994 national convention. In late 2000 and early 2001, opposition to this locally in Oslo, Hordaland and Vest-Agder sometimes resulted in expulsions of local representatives. Eventually Hagen also, in various ways, got rid of the so-called "gang of seven" (syverbanden), which consisted of seven members of parliament. In January 2001, Hagen claimed that he had seen a pattern where these had cooperated on several issues, and postulated that they were behind a conspiracy to eventually get Øystein Hedstrøm elected as party chairman. The seven were eventually suspended, excluded from or voluntarily left the party, starting in early 2001. They most notably included Vidar Kleppe (the alleged "leader"), Dag Danielsen, Fridtjof Frank Gundersen, as well as Jan Simonsen. Only Hedstrøm remained in the party, but was subsequently kept away from publicly discussing immigration issues.
This again caused turmoil within the party; supporters of the excluded members criticized their treatment, some resigned from the party, and some of the party's local chapters were closed. Some of the outcasts ran for office in the 2001 election in several new county lists, and later some formed a new party called the Democrats, with Kleppe as chairman and Simonsen as deputy chairman. Though the "gang of seven" took controversial positions on immigration, the actions taken against them were also based on internal issues; it remains unclear to what degree the settlement was based primarily on political disagreements or tactical considerations. Hagen's main goal with the "purge" was an attempt to make it possible for non-socialist parties to cooperate in an eventual government together with the Progress Party. In 2007, he revealed that he had received "clear signals" from politicians in among other the Christian Democratic Party, that government negotiations were out of the question so long as certain specific Progress Party politicians, including Kleppe and Simonsen (but not Hedstrøm), remained in the party. The more moderate libertarian minority in Oslo, including Henning Holstad, Svenn Kristiansen and Siv Jensen, now improved their hold in the party.
In the 2001 parliamentary election the party lost the gains it had made according to opinion polling but maintained its position from the 1997 election, it got 14.6% and 26 members in the parliament. The election result allowed them to unseat the Labour Party government of Jens Stoltenberg and replace it with a three-party coalition led by Christian Democrat Kjell Magne Bondevik. However, the coalition continued to decline to govern together with the Progress Party as they considered the political differences too large. The Progress Party eventually decided to tolerate the coalition, as it promised to invest more in defence, open more private hospitals and open for more competition in the public sector. In 2002 the Progress Party again advanced in the opinion polls and for a while became the largest party.
The local elections of 2003 were a success for the party. In 36 municipalities, the party gained more votes than any other; it succeeded in electing the mayor in only 13 of these, but also secured 40 deputy mayor positions. The Progress Party had participated in local elections since 1975, but until 2003 had only secured a mayoral position four times, all on separate occasions. The Progress Party vote in Os—the only municipality that elected a Progress Party mayor in 1999—increased from 36.6% in 1999 to 45.7% in 2003. The party also became the single largest in the counties of Vestfold and Rogaland.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the party again became the second largest party in the Norwegian parliament, with 22.1% of the votes and 38 seats, a major increase from 2001. Although the centre-right government of Bondevik which the Progress Party had tolerated since 2001 was beaten by the leftist Red-Green Coalition, Hagen had before the election said that his party would no longer accept Bondevik as Prime Minister, following his consistent refusal to formally include the Progress Party in government. For the first time the party was also successful in getting members of parliament elected from all counties of Norway, and even became the largest party in three: Vest-Agder, Rogaland and Møre og Romsdal. After the parliamentary elections in 2005, the party also became the largest party in many opinion polls. The Progress Party led November 2006 opinion polls with a support of 32.9% of respondents, and it continued to poll above 25 percent during the following years.
In 2006, after 27 years as leader of the party, Hagen stepped down to become Vice President of the Norwegian parliament Stortinget. Siv Jensen was chosen as his successor, with the hope that she could increase the party's appeal to voters, build bridges to centre-right parties, and head or participate in a future government of Norway. Following the local elections of 2007, Progress Party candidates became mayor in 17 municipalities, seven of these continuing on from 2003. Deputy mayors for the party however decreased to 33. The party in general strongly increased its support in municipalities where the mayor had been elected from the Progress Party in 2003.
In the months before the 2009 parliamentary elections, the party had, as in the 2001 election, rated very highly in opinion poll results which however declined towards the actual election. Earlier in the year, the Progress Party had achieved above 30% in some polls which made it the largest party by several percentage points. With such high gains, the election result was in this case relatively disappointing. Before the election the gains continued to decrease, with most of these losses going to the Conservative Party which had a surprisingly successful campaign. The decline in support over a longer period of time can also be seen as the Labour Party was since 2008 accused of "stealing" policies from the Progress Party. The Progress Party did, regardless, achieve a slight gain from the 2005 election with 22.9%, the best election result in the party's history. It also for the first time got represented in the Sami Parliament of Norway in 2009, with three representatives. This made it the fourth largest party in the Sami parliament, and second largest of the nationwide parties. In the 2009 informal school elections, it became the largest party in Norway with 24% of the votes.
While other parties before had refused the Progress Party's efforts to join governing coalitions at the national level owing to concerns about the party's alleged populism and positions on immigration issues, after the election the Conservative Party stated they wanted to be "a bridge between the Progress Party and the centre." The position arose as the Progress Party vowed to not support any government coalition that it itself was not a part of, while centrist parties rejected participating in a government coalition together with the party.
Since early 2010, opinion polls regularly showed a majority support for the Progress Party and Conservative Party together. The Progress Party however saw a strong setback for the 2011 local elections. The party lost 6% in vote share, while the Conservative Party gained 9%. According to political scientists, most of the setback could be explained by a low turnout of Progress Party supporters.
In coalition with the Conservative Party, the party won the 2013 parliamentary election and helped form its first ever government, the Solberg's Cabinet, although the Progress Party itself lost seats and is now the third largest party instead of the second largest. The parties won renewed support for the government in the 2017 parliamentary election, which was expanded to include the centrist Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party in 2018.
Ideology and political positions
The Progress Party currently regards itself to be a "liberal people's party", and its ideology to be classical liberalism or conservative liberalism. The party identifies itself in the preamble of its platform as a liberal (liberalistisk; "liberal, libertarian") party, built on Norwegian and Western traditions and cultural heritage, with a basis in a Christian understanding of life and humanist values. Its main declared goal is a strong reduction in taxes and government intervention. The party is today considered to be conservative liberal. The Progress Party is sometimes controversially described as neoliberal populist, a categorization that is rejected both by the party itself and by other observers including the current Prime Minister Erna Solberg, centrist parties, and many academics. It has also been described as Europe's most moderate populist party. While more fundamental libertarianism was earlier a component of its ideology, this has in practice gradually more or less vanished from the party.
The core issues for the party revolve around immigration, crime, foreign aid, the elderly and social security in regards to health and care for the elderly. The party is regarded as having policies on the right in most of these cases, both fiscally and socially, though in some cases, like care for the elderly, the policy is regarded as being on the left. It has been claimed that the party changed in its first three decades, in turn from an "outsider movement" in the 1970s, to libertarianism in the 1980s, to right-wing populism in the 1990s. From the 2000s, the party has to some extent sought to moderate its profile in order to seek government cooperation with centre-right parties. This has been especially true since the expulsion of certain members around 2001, and further under the lead of Siv Jensen from 2006, when the party has tried to move and position itself more towards conservatism and also seek cooperation with such parties abroad.
The party has for decades been a proponent for shortening wait times for hospital treatment in Norway. 270,000 Norwegians were waiting for medical treatment in 2012-13. In the OECD publication Health at a Glance 2011, Norway had among the longest wait times for elective surgery and specialist appointments among eleven countries surveyed. Since 2013, the Solberg Cabinet has been successful in reducing the average wait times for hospital care.
The party is strongly individualistic, aiming to reduce the power of the state and the public sector. It believes that the public sector should only be there to secure a minimum standard of living, and that individuals, businesses and organisations should take care of various tasks instead of the public sector, in most cases. The party also generally advocates the lowering of taxes, various duties, as well increased market economy.
The party also notably want to invest more of Norway's oil wealth in infrastructure (particularly roads, broadband capacity, hospitals, schools and nursing homes) and the welfare state. This position, that has used a sense of a welfare crisis to support demands to spend more of the oil fund now rather than later, is part of its electoral success.
The party wants to strongly reduce taxation in Norway, and says that the money Norwegians earn, is theirs to be kept. They want to remove inheritance tax and property tax.
The party regards the family to be a natural, necessary and fundamental element in a free society. It regards the family to be a carrier of traditions and culture, and to have a role in raising and caring for children. The party also wants all children to have a right of visitation and care from both parents, and to secure everyones right to know who their biological parents are. The party opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2008, questioning how children would "cope" with the law. In schools, the party wants to improve the working environment for teachers and students by focusing more on order, discipline and class management. The party wants more individual adaptation, to implement grades in basic subjects from fifth grade, open more private schools and decrease the amount of theory in vocational educations.
During the national convention in May 2013, the party voted in favor of both same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. The party has for several years been a proponent for legalizing blood donation for homosexuals.
The party believes that artists should be less dependent on public support, and instead be more dependent on making a living on what they create. The party believes that regular people should rather decide what good culture is, and demands that artists on public support should offer something the audience wants. It also wants to abolish the annual licence fee for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and privatise the company. Otherwise, the party wants to protect and secure Norwegian cultural heritage.
Since the party distances itself from discrimination and special treatment based on gender, religion and ethnic origin, the party wants to dissolve the Sami Parliament of Norway, which is based on ethnic classifications. The party wants to uphold Sami culture, but wants to work against any special treatment based on ethnic origin regarding the right of use of water and land.
The party supports an increase in police forces, and more visible police on the streets. It wants to implement tougher punishments, especially for crime regarding violence and morality offences. The party also wants to establish an ombudsman for victims and relatives, as it believes today's supportive concern focus too much on the criminals rather than the victims. It wants the police to be able to use more non-lethal weapons, such as electroshock weapons. It also does not accept any use of religious or political symbols with the police uniform, and wants to expel foreign citizens who are convicted of crime with a frame of more than three months imprisonment.
From the second half of the 1980s the economic and welfare aspects of immigration policy were mainly a focus of Progress Party criticism, including the strains placed by immigration on the welfare state. During the 1990s the party shifted to focus more on cultural issues and conflicts, a development which can also be seen in the general public debate, including among its political opponents. In 1993, it was the first party in Norway to use the notion of "integration politics" in its party programme. While the party has made numerous proposals on immigration in parliament, it has rarely received majority support for them. Its proposals has largely been rejected by the remaining political parties, as well as the mass media. Although the party's immigration policies have been compared to those of the Danish People's Party and the Sweden Democrats, leading party members have rather seen its immigration policies to resemble those of the Dutch People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Danish Venstre, when those parties were in government.
Generally, the party wants a stricter immigration policy, so that only those who are in need of protection according to the UN Refugee Convention are allowed to stay in Norway. In a speech in the 2007 election campaign, Siv Jensen claimed that the immigration policy was a failure because it let criminals stay in Norway, while throwing out people who worked hard and followed the law. The party claims the immigration and integration policy to be naïve. In 2008, the party wanted to "avoid illiterates and other poorly resourced groups who we see are not able to adapt in Norway"; which included countries as Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The party opposes that asylum seekers are allowed stay in Norway on humanitarian grounds or due to health issues, and seeks to substantially limit the number of family reunifications. The party has also called for a referendum on the general immigration policy.
A poll conducted by Utrop in August 2009 showed that 10% (14% if the respondents answering "Don't know" are removed) of immigrants in Norway would vote for the Progress Party, only beaten by the Labour Party (38% and 56% respectively), when asked. More specifically, this constituted 9% of both African and Eastern European immigrants, 22% of Western European immigrants and 3% of Asian immigrants. Politicians with immigrant background are increasingly active in the party, most notably Iranian-Norwegian Mazyar Keshvari and former leader of the youth party, Indian-Norwegian Himanshu Gulati.
The Progress Party was for many years open to a referendum on Norwegian membership of the European Union, although only if a majority of the public opinion was seen to favour it beforehand. The party eventually grew to consider membership of Norway in the European Union to be a "non-issue", believing there to be no reason for a debate of a new referendum. In 2016, the party officially adopted a position against Norwegian membership in the EU.
The party regards NATO to be a positive basic element of Norway's defense, security and foreign policy. It also wants to strengthen transatlantic relations in general, and Norway's relationship with the United States more specifically. The party considers its international policy to "follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher."
Of all the major political parties in Norway, the Progress Party has shown the strongest support for Israel. Recently, it has supported the right of Israel to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas, and was the only party in Norway which supported Israel through the Gaza War. The party has for many years also wanted to relocate the Norwegian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The party sees the most viable form of foreign aid policy, to be for developing countries to gradually manage themselves without Western aid. It believes that free trade is the key for developing countries to gain economic growth, and that "the relationship between aid and development is at best unclear." The party is strongly critical of "forced contribution to government development aid through taxation", which it wants to limit, also as it believe this weakens the individual's personal sense of responsibility and generosity (voluntary aid). The party instead supports an increase in support for global health and vaccination initiatives against global epidemics such as HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis, and to increase the support after emergencies and disasters.
The Progress Party does not belong to any international political groups, and does not have any official sister parties. Historically the party has not compared itself to other European parties, and has sought to rather establish its own identity. An international secretary for the party in the same year said that the party had been connected with a "misunderstood right-wing radical label", partly because people with nationalistic and "hopeless attitudes" had previously been involved in the party. Such persons were said no longer to be involved.
The Progress Party was originally inspired by its Danish counterpart, the Progress Party, which ultimately lost parliamentary representation and fell into the fringes of Danish politics. In recent years, the Norwegian party has rather considered Denmark's Venstre to be its sister party. Although Venstre formally is aligned with the Norwegian Liberal Party, some politicians of the party has voiced support for the Progress Party. The party has been compared by some journalists to the Danish People's Party while others such as political scientist Cas Mudde has regarded the Progress Party to be somewhere in between these two parties.
While the party by some commentators has been compared to European right-wing populist parties, the Progress Party has consistently rejected cooperation and distanced itself from such parties. In 2009 the British Conservative Party invited party leader Siv Jensen to hold a lecture in the House of Commons, which was seen as a further recognition of the party internationally. In the United States, the Progress Party generally supports the Republican Party, and was in 2010 called "friends" by the Republican Party chairman as he said he looked forward to the "continued growth of the party and free market conservative principles."
- Anders Lange (1973–1974)
- Eivind Eckbo (1974–1975; interim)
- Arve Lønnum (1975–1978)
- Carl I. Hagen (1978–2006)
- Siv Jensen (2006–)
- Anders Lange (1973–1974)
- Erik Gjems-Onstad (1974–1976)
- Harald Bjarne Slettebø (1976–1977)
- Carl I. Hagen (1981–2005)
- Siv Jensen (2005–2013)
- Harald T. Nesvik (2013–2017)
- Hans Andreas Limi (2017–)