Arne O. Holm says A People on the Run: Tax Refugees, Political Refugees - and Northern Norwegians

Storskog grensestasjon
Immediate proximity to a belligerent neighbor: The border station at Storskog. (Photo: Kilian Munch/the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

(Commentary) Rich people are fleeing to Switzerland. The voters from the government. And the Northerners are fleeing south.

Norway is facing a refugee crisis that hardly anyone saw coming. We are a nation in uproar on a ship without a compass.

When our more, or rather less, famous celebrities take a break from their televised reality shows, a nation of threatened interest groups stands ready to occupy the screen. 

Furious pace

At a furious pace, demands are made for solutions to rising interest rates, increased food prices, and galloping electricity bills.

Finding voters who will vote for one of the governing parties will soon be as difficult as finding Christmas presents for those who have everything.

The apostates, those who not long ago gathered around an incomprehensible coalition of nationalist farmers and industrial workers dependant on international markets, are fleeing both left and right of the government.

Without it helping neither the electricity prices nor the mood.

In the middle of this political breakdown comes tax packages which, when they have been chewed up and spit out by lobbyists, give us all a feeling of being skinned by the same state, which is currently pouring out billions of kroner in support of almost everything.

We stand quite alone.

That is of minuscule help. As voters, we are more interested in milking the state than financing it.

On the border with Russia

We are also a nation bordering a brutal and aggressive military power, which every day, every hour, sends its deadly weapons toward another neighboring country.

Where the electricity bills bring us together in the search for state emergency aid, we as northerners stand quite alone in our proximity to a belligerent Russia.

Even when Russia threatens to use nuclear weapons to win the war - nuclear weapons stored just a few kilometers from Norway's border with Russia.

We are also the ones sitting closest to the pulpit when MAF Anniken Huitfeldt looks us in the eyes and tells us we are on the front lines in the event of a war.

We are the answer to Europe's needs.

It is us northerners she and the rest of the government talk about when they preach "no people, no defense, no defense, no people" time and again. 

The seriousness of these well-worded chants collides with a reality that is quite different. Eastern Finnmark on the border to Russia is slowly but surely being emptied of people, even when the state budget entices them with free kindergarten for their children.

Because who wants to move from state-supported electricity in Oslo to the border with Russia?

Certainly not those who are unfamiliar with Finnmark's breathtaking and brutal nature, a nature one nevertheless cannot live on alone.

It is serious now

The gravity revolves around a part of Norway which is fighting tooth and nail to obtain qualified labor within health and police, to mention a few examples.

In contrast to billionaires on the run or voters stuck in a revolving door, this is a situation that everyone will be able to see. 

The lack of qualified labor, or labor at all, is affecting the entirety of Europe. But when one borders Russia, it is about something more.

It is about national security, also because there is an internal dispute in the Norwegian Armed Forces about how the High North is to be defended. How and for how long.

How is one to defend a region with demographic forecasts that tell us that we are not only becoming fewer but that we also are getting older?

It is not just about Finnmark. It is about the entirety of Northern Norway.

By cutting the taxes, we can reverse the trend.

The situation is serious. Not just because of security policy reasons, but also because the north is today's and the future's pantry and energy producer.

The north is the answer

We are the answer to Europe's and the world's basic needs. But if we are to supply the world with food, energy, and security policy resistance, we must become more, not fewer.

The sitting government has shown a great will to use tax as a political instrument. The tax committee, who presented its suggestions for extensive tax reform, is also showing the same will. They are especially interested in income tax.

The debate about this tax has drowned in the noise from the wealth and business tax. 

In the north, the income level is lower than in the central parts of the country. Studying or traveling is more expensive. The health organizations in the north are begging for personnel and therefore have the longest health queues in Europe.

If a political majority still believes people must live in the north, and if the same majority can read statistics showing the population numbers in 2030 or 2050, then there are means to reverse the trend.

For most people, everyday life is not about wealth taxes, dividend taxes, or business taxes. It is about income tax.

Cut the tax

By cutting large parts of the personal income tax in the north, as an extension and strengthening of the tax cuts that are already approved for Finnmark and parts of Troms, the stream from the north to the south could come to a halt.

This is how we can realize the many planned industrial projects in the north without ending up as a satellite for commuters. And this is how we can contribute to reaching the aims of Norwegian security policy.

This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.

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