Earlier this week on Monocle 24, the Berlin bureau chief for the Economist described the German election as “mind numbing and spirit crushing”. And this is a man who is paid to be interested. He’s right, though. Elections may often get journalists excited but for too many people in too many countries, elections are something to be endured not enjoyed.
Yet next month we will be treated to two rather important polls – in Germany and Australia – that will have an impact not just in their own countries but further afield, too. The identity of the next German chancellor, or perhaps more importantly the colour of his or her coalition, will be watched carefully throughout Europe, particularly in the south where German-led austerity has wreaked enormous economic and social damage. And while the resident of The Lodge in Canberra may not have as much influence elsewhere as the occupant of the Bundeskanzleramt, the Australian election will tell us a lot about the global health of the centre-left.
Thanks to the personalities involved, those elections – while perhaps “mind numbing”, let alone “spirit crushing” to some – should receive decent global coverage.
But there is another poll next month, one that so far has been almost entirely overshadowed, that may turn out to be even more important. It’s the one in Norway. It is perhaps understandable that elections in a stable prosperous country of just five million people in northern Europe hasn’t quite captured the world’s attention. It should though. From the country’s calm response to a terrorist attack to its decades-long experiment in relatively high taxes and relatively generous social welfare programmes, Norway has followed a different approach to many other countries in the West. Even those in love with the neoliberal model must appreciate that the world needs more than one version of western capitalism.
More importantly, Norway has taken a lead in dealing with some of the world’s biggest diplomatic crises. As we report in the latest issue of the magazine (issue 66), Norway is playing a vital role in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Farc rebels. It’s something they can do only because they are willing to work with the Cuban government and talk to an organisation on the EU’s terrorism watchlist. A new administration in Oslo may reconsider – something that could jeopardise talks to end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
It’s not Australia, it’s not Germany, it’s not sexy. But what happens in Norway on 9 September could have global importance.
Steve Bloomfield is foreign editor for Monocle.