A “housing scandal” is rocking Norwegian politics. Here’s what you need to know

Kjell Ingolf RopstadPhoto: Berit Roald / NTB

The Christian Democratic Party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) has been in serious “damage control” as its leader, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, has been engulfed by a “housing scandal.” He has admitted to receiving free housing, paid for by the taxpayer, by registering at his parent’s home address..despite the fact he owned an apartment and rented it out. Though he is adamant he hasn’t broken any laws, and will not repay any money, the fact remains he has profited off, misused, abused, and taken advantage of taxpayer money…something quite unheard of in Norwegian politics.

Free housing

With the campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary elections drawing to a close, the last thing any political party needs is a scandal. However, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, and the KrF he leads, is knee-deep in a scandal revolving around where he does and does not actually live. On Sunday, reports emerged that he had been taking advantage of a system that provides members of the Storting with a “commuter home,” in Oslo, if they reside in and represent, another part of the country.

Ropstad, 36, grew up in Arendal, on the South Coast of Norway. Bursting onto the national scene after winning the seat of Aust-Agder in 2009, he has been registered at his parent’s home address since then. This is despite the fact that, in 2009, he bought half of a semi-detached home in Lillestrom, on the outskirts of Oslo. This was then rented out whilst he then applied for a “commuter home” – provided for free by the Storting (and thus the taxpayer) for politicians who reside or represent outside of Oslo.

Reckless Ropstad unapologetic

Imagine living at home with your parents when you are 36. For some, a dream where you never have to scrub a toilet nor cook dinner again. For others, a nightmare where you will always be that 7-year-old with bad table manners. For Ropstad, it presented a legal loophole to not only fleece the taxpayers out of money but also to turn a tidy little profit.

He had been registered at his parent’s address, from when he was a student in Oslo, before being elected to the Storting, in 2009, to last November. This represents a 12 year period where he, in dialogue with the Storting, applied for and received a “commuter home.” A 12 year period where, despite having a perfectly suitable home to live in, he decided that a taxpayer-funded one was better. A 12 year period where he not only cost taxpayers money but then decided to spin a profit by renting out his place in Lillestrom.

He has apologized, but he remains bullishly defiant. Talking with Aftenposten, he said he has “not broken any regulations” and said his living situation was something that the Storing knew about. Hardly a mea culpa one would expect for someone caught fleecing the system.

Kjell Ingolf Ropstad
Living with your parents in your 30s? #JustMillenialThings
Minister of Children and Families Kjell Ingolf Ropstad (Christian Democratic Party). Photo: Marit Hommedal / NTB

Could this scandal jeopardise votes and the 4% threshold?

The KrF, which Ropstad, leads was already in a precarious position before the events of #ParentGate. A now relatively small party it once had a proud history. Former Prime Minister, from 1997 to 2000 and then from 2001 to 2005, Kjell Magne Bondevik, hailed from the KrF and was a force in recent modern Norwegian politics. However, since a poor showing in the 2009 elections, the KrF has drifted more and more to the right. Since his election as party leader in 2019, he has been a vocal opponent of the liberalization of abortion laws and helped sure up the right-wing of the Solberg conservative coalition government

The KrF, however, is now the 7th largest party in the Storting and has only 8 seats. It garnered just under 123,000 votes nationwide in the last election. This represented just 4.2% of the national vote, barely above the “4% threshold” needed for smaller parties to gain admittance into the Storting through the so-called “leveling seats.” Given that its seats have been more than halved since the turn of the century, the KrF is in grave danger of falling below this threshold and being cast into the political wilderness, away from the halls of power in Oslo.

The scandal which has engulfed Ropstad is not the sort of political headline that a weakened party needs heading into the last week of election campaigning. Having been a part of the government since 2019, does this “housing scandal” represent an innocent oversight, or is this the sign of a party, and government, too comfortable in power?

A common theme for politicians?

An election campaign always seems to unearth things that most politicians would rather keep hidden. With intense media scrutiny, and the news cycle solely focused on the Storting, Ropstad’s transgression is not the first to rock the government…or even the Storting.

A key feature of Norwegian society is a high degree of trust for government and institutions in general. Successive Norwegian governments, regardless of political persuasion, have worked to be transparent, fair, and open. Our society places a high level of trust in politicians, government officials, and the democratic process. Yet a series of scandals, in recent years, involving all sides of the political spectrum, has chipped away at this trust.

Two successive governments (both Høyre and AP led but involving other parties in coalition too) were culpable in creating the NAV scandal. At least 5 politicians, from both left and right of the spectrum, are paying back severance pay gained under false pretenses. All actually had work and a source of income when they left the Storting. A sitting Prime Minister has been fined for breaking a law that she helped create. There has the melodrama of the Bertheussen case. A drinking water project for Oslo is at the center of scandalous budget blowouts. The list now continues with Ropstad.

Voting - elections
It’s (almost) business time: Parliamentary elections occur on September 13. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB

Voters will have the ultimate say

What the effect of these scandals will be, come election time, remains to be seen. Given that the government, and a sitting Prime Minister too, have started to become engulfed in a series of scandals is often the sign of those in power becoming tired and arrogant. Though Ropstad has a bright future, he is relatively young and a good communicator, this scandal has left the party he leads in an even more precarious position.

As a government minister and leader of his party, there is a high level of expectation about his actions. Though, as he said, he has not broken any laws, it shows an arrogant disregard for taxpayer money. Come election time, voters often have long memories. This scandal (unfortunately one of many for the political class) will be fresh in their minds when deciding who best to run the country.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.

About the author:

Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

Do you have a news tip for Norway Today? We want to hear it. Get in touch at info@norwaytoday.no


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.