PARLIAMENT: Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has admitted government and police readiness regarding the 22 July was seriously flawed. Nevertheless, he declared he has learned from terror attacks.
In the hastily convened emergency parliamentary session to discuss the government-appointed Commission’s report, the Prime Minister must have hoped his rhetorical flair could save him.
Reiterating his words of just over two weeks ago when the document was released, he told politicians gathered, “It's my responsibility. I have ultimate responsibility for everything that went wrong on that day, and everything that went right.”
Norwegian popular tabloid VG is campaigning for Jens Stoltenberg to resign. He faces a possible no-confidence motion today from Opposition Parties, and his speech was designed to derail that. Throughout, Stoltenberg appeared to accept that his position is vulnerable, but appealed to Parliament to consider strengths as well as weaknesses.
The most serious allegation against him is that he personally failed to prevent the attack on the government quarter that marked the start of the attacks on 22 July last year. His government was told as early as 2005 to close Grubbegata, the street where Anders Behring Breivik parked his explosive-filled truck.
“Work had begun on Grubbegata,” said Stoltenberg, “The work would have been completed in October. This was too late.”
He failed to answer the more fundamental question this raises: why local politicians had been allowed to discuss the recommendation for five years before a decision was taken in 2010 to close the street.
The 22 July Commission's report is damning in its assessment of the police response. They point out that two armed officers in bulletproof vests spent valuable time cowering behind a skip on the mainland 700 metres from Utøya Island, where Breivik was murdering young conference delegates and from where gunshots could be heard. The rubber boat carrying the armed response out to the island sank because it was overloaded.
Yet the police got off very lightly in the Prime Minister's speech. He referred to a series of pathetic mistakes, but the emphasis was on praise and not blame.
“The Commission recorded that when the police finally got to the island, they acted swiftly and decisively in apprehending the suspect,” said Stoltenberg, emphasising the positive.
It was the same tactic throughout – refer to mistakes, but emphasise the positive. There was no police helicopter available on the day for the Oslo unit because there were only two pilots qualified to fly the aircraft. Both were on holiday.
“We now have six helicopters covering the entire country, with a response time of 15 minutes,” the Prime Minister declared.
Police failings that have so far caused the resignation of the Chief of Police Øystein Mæland, and government failings may yet force Stoltenberg himself from office.
“Grubbegata should have been closed: it hadn't been. The perpetrator could have been stopped earlier: he wasn't. More security and emergency response measures should have been put into action: they weren't. I apologise for this.”
He ended his speech with an argument that has already played very well with the Norwegian public, however. He pointed out that other countries had also failed fully to protect their citizens from terror, citing mistakes made in America during the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, and in London and Madrid during major attacks on those cities.
“A fully open society doesn't bring security. But on the other hand, a hundred per cent safe society is not an open society. It's a society that none of us would wish to live in.”
Siv Jensen, leader of the populist rightwing Progress Party (Frp), has called Stoltenberg's speech “a completely necessary apology.”
The Foreigner also has reason to believe a vote of no confidence is unlikely to take place today. “It's far too early to be asking that question,” a Party spokesperson informed The Foreigner last week.
Jensen is biding her time. As leader of the second-largest party in Parliament, she insists that she wants time to consider the findings of the Commission in detail.
There may also be a more tactical reason for Jensen's caution, of course. There is a general election next year. Stoltenberg is popular because of the dignified way in which led Norway through the crisis immediately after 22 July.
Bringing down the government now would cause an outcry in the country. Waiting for the Prime Minister's popularity slowly to erode might in the light of uncomfortable questions might serve the Opposition better.
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