Establishment of the party
The establishment of the Farmers’ Association, Norsk Landmannsforbund (later to become Norges Bondelag) in 1896 was an expression of strong mistrust of the two big political parties, the Conservative Party (Høyre) and the Liberal Party (Venstre). Norsk Landmannsforbund was established primarily to enhance the economic conditions of the farmers, but already at the beginning of 1900 the idea of creating a political “farmers party” started to come up for discussion. In 1919 Norsk Landmannsforbund established a committee which was given the task of making an informed decision about whether or not to continue the political activities of the association.
In spite of the fact that the majority of the committee members were against the establishment of a farmer’s party, the result from the National Congress in 1920 was a resolution stipulating: “Norsk Landsmannsforbund will turn itself into a political party”. Bondepartiet (The Farmers’ Party) was born, although its name was first used in 1922.
From Farmers’ Party to the Centre Party
The Farmers’ Party was established primarily in order to fight politically for certain economic policies favouring farmers. The Farmers` Party wanted to change the current and favour agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, ie, “to promote the interests of the rural areas and take possession of our own country”. During the first few years between World War I and World War II, the party adopted the strategy of “through concentrating on saving we shall get rid of the current crisis” – but slowly doubts set in as to whether this indeed was the best strategy, in particular after the Farmers’ Party came into power in 1931.
The change in strategy occurred because of the agreement between the Farmers’ Party and Labour in 1935 , into which the parties entered in order to end the current economic crisis. Through this agreement the agricultural policies put forward by the Farmers’ Party were adopted, while at the same time, the Labour Party’s (Arbeiderpartiet) more expansive economic policies, financed through a higher sales tax, were also adopted.
After the Second World War the party was on a downward slope, but there was a way back upwards through a wider involvement in the fight for equality between the different economic livelihoods, for the same social benefits for all, against the closing down of schools, and against the merging of municipolity effectuated in spite of protests from local communities. Thus, the party was building a much broader identity than what would normally be associated with the identity of the Farmers’ (Party).
The Centre Party from 1959
In 1959 the ambitions of turning the party into a liberal party in the centre of the political spectrum in order to attract a broader range of voters, led to a change of name, in spite of the fact that the party organisation was of the opinion that the Centre’ Party was indeed the best suited name.
In government and the fight against the EEC
During the period after the Second World War and up till 1973, the Centre Party experienced steady growth and progress at each election (21 MPs in 1973). The idea of decentralisation became more and more central in the party ideology, and at the National Congress in 1965, the first Programme of Principles was adopted. The programme was entitled: “Will to assume responsibility” and the catch phrase was: “decentralisation of people, power and capital”.
After the 1965 elections the long hegemony of the Labour Party ended with a government led by the Centre Party Chairman Borten taking over. This government was a coalition between the Conservative Party, the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti) and the Liberal Party. This government was dissolved in 1971 because of the irreconcilable positions of the members of the coalition with regards to European Common Market (EEC). After the dissolution of the government, the Centre Party came out strongly against Norway joining the EEC, and therefore was amongst the “winners” of the Referendum of 1972.
In the period after the end of the EEC battles, the party once again was set on a downward slope, with the number of MPs almost halved from 21 in 1973 to 12 in 1977. During the eighties the party stabilised at 6.5 percent and the number of MPs varied between 11 and 12.
During the eighties the party was in power on two occasions: the extended government led by Conservative Party Chairman Willoch from 1983-86 and in the government led by Conservative Party Chairman Syse from 1989-1990.
As EEC (new EU) again became a hot issue in 1990, the Centre Party experienced an increase of supporters. At the local elections in 1991 the party had the best election results since the Second World War, and achieved 12 percent at the Regional Parliament level. Giving even more cause to rejoice, the party increased support in the cities and again secured seats in the city councils of the largest cities of Norway.
Progress continued steadily. During the 1993 national elections, the political scene was hit by a political earthquake and the Centre Party obtained representation from all 19 regions, a total of 32 MPs, and thus became the second biggest party in the Parliament , with 16.7 percent of the votes. The party continued its independent path as an alternative to both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. Decentralisation, regional development, the environment, social equality and responsible management/administration are central issues within the party. The strong and clear involvement of the party in the EU-issue should be seen as a defence of those central issues and values.
Prior to the 1997 national elections, the party formulated the aim to establish a government of the political centre. The party lost voters in the elections, but the goal of a government of the political centre was achieved. The minority coalition government between the Liberal Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats, headed by the Christian Democrats Chairman, managed to keep afloat – in spite of dire predictions and an extreme lack of cooperative spirit from the majority in Parliament – until March 2000, thus proving that a coalition of the political centre was a viable option. Even after the fall of the minority coalition government, the parties of the political centre continued to cooperate.
Hence, in the elections of 2001 the Centre Party went to the polls on a ticket with a coalition of the political left as an alternative for government. The results of the elections led to the Centre Party losing its privileged position of arbiter from where it could easily tip the balance and decide important issues, and the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party formed a coalition government with the Conservative Party. Hence the Centre Party was left as the sole defender of the political centre in the Parliament. The party was clearly in opposition to the politics implemented by the majority in Parliament. The Centre Party aims of achieving local democracy, decentralisation, viable regions, local enterprise, social equality, responsible management and sustainable development were seriously challenged.
In the period prior to the 2005 National Elections, it became steadily clearer to all the Centre Party representatives, people holding positions of trust in the party, and all the Centre Party voters, that a coalition government dominated by the political right was totally detrimental to the political aims of the Centre Party.
As a result of this there gradually emerged a wish to form an alliance which would enhance a move in the direction of more Centre Party politics. An alliance with the Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party was unanimously agreed to by the National Congress in March 2005. The Centre Party thus for the first time went to the polls with a clearly stated aim of forming a red/green majority coalition government.
Red/green coalition government
The main Centre Party issues at the elections were local welfare (including county/local economy), transport and communication, business/industry, in addition to voluntarism, sports and culture. The red/green alliance won the elections and a platform for government where the Centre Party gained acceptance for a lot of “our” issues, was negotiated at Soria Moria Conference Centre.
The Centre Party now heads four ministries: Regional Development, Transport and Communication, Oil and Energy, and Agriculture and Food, in addition to having deputy ministers in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance.
History of the Centre Party
The concept of a political centre stems from the days of the French Revolution, when political right, left and centre entered into the language. The word “centre” is used to identify politics situated in the middle of the political spectrum – politics which distances itself from extremes and which will actively seek to find unifying political solutions. But the Centre Party can also trace its roots back to the farmers’ battle to improve their conditions of life and their fight against the autocracy of the civil service.
Establishment of the party