Norway’s PM Erna Solberg fined for breaching her own Covid restrictions

Punishment will embarrass centre-right party ahead of re-election fight this year

Norway’s prime minister broke her country’s Covid-19 rules by organising a 60th birthday dinner for 13 family members and will be fined, becoming the most high-profile politician worldwide to be sanctioned for breaching their own rules.

Norwegian police said they would fine Erna Solberg 20,000 Norwegian kroner (€1,975) to maintain public confidence in the rules used to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The news is highly embarrassing for the centre-right prime minister as she fights for re-election later this year and her Conservative Party has suffered in opinion polls since she apologised last month for breaching the regulations.

"The law is the same for everyone, but not everyone is the same," said Ole Saeverud, police chief in Norway's southeast district, on Friday.

He added: “Solberg is the country’s foremost leader, and has on numerous occasions fronted government decisions to counter the pandemic. Therefore it is considered appropriate to give out a punishment in order to maintain public confidence in the rules on infection control.”

Police judged Ms Solberg to have been one of the organisers, along with her husband, of a family dinner in the ski resort of Geilo in February to mark her 60th birthday. She herself did not take part in the dinner as she had to return to Oslo for an emergency hospital appointment for an eye problem.

Under fire

Neither her husband, Sindre Finnes, nor the restaurant the dinner took place in were fined as police judged it unnecessary. A second evening where Ms Solberg herself participated, in an apartment rented by her and her husband, was not considered a breach of national coronavirus rules as they were unclear whether they included hired dwellings.

Politicians in other countries have come under fire for potentially breaching pandemic rules and recommendations. Dan Eliasson resigned as head of Sweden's civil contingencies agency for visiting his daughter in the Canary Islands at Christmas while Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven faced criticism for holiday shopping trips. In the United Kingdom, Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier has been charged with culpable and reckless conduct after travelling from London to Glasgow following a positive coronavirus test result.

Ms Solberg said on Friday that she would pay the fine and again apologised for her conduct. Last month she told state broadcaster NRK “I understand if people are upset or angry”.

Some commentators said that she should consider resigning if fined. But there are only five months until elections in which the centre-left opposition is heavily tipped to regain power from Ms Solberg, prime minister since 2013, a record for a centre-right premier in the Scandinavian country.

Norway has been one of the most successful European countries in combating the disease, having the second-lowest death figures per capita thanks to the authorities' decision to impose restrictions early in each wave of the pandemic.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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