Anti-EU farming party reaches top spot in Norway poll as elections loom

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FILE PHOTO: Leader of the Centre Party Vedum reacts after winning local elections in Oslo

OSLO (Reuters) - A party that wants to renegotiate Norway's membership of the European single market has become the biggest political force in the Nordic country, a poll released on Tuesday showed, nine months before voters choose a new government.

The Centre Party, which defends the interests of farmers and opposes Norway ever joining the European Union, polled 22.1% ahead of the opposition Labour party's 20.4% and the ruling Conservatives' 20.2%, said a Kantar survey for TV2 channel.

The Centre Party would win 43 parliamentary seats, according to the poll, ahead of 38 for Labour and 37 for the Conservatives. 85 seats would be needed to hold a majority in the Norwegian parliament, though governments often rule in a minority.

Echoing a similar trend seen in Europe and North America, Norway's Centre Party has channelled the anger of Norwegians living in rural areas who say their concerns are not being heard by the authorities in the capital Oslo.

It has also captured the support of some urban residents looking for an alternative to traditional parties.

Norway, which twice rejected joining what is now the European Union, in 1972 and 1994, is currently ruled by a minority coalition led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her Conservative Party, together with two small parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.

But a coalition of Labour, together with the Centre Party and the leftwing Socialist Party, are currently leading in polls ahead of parliamentary elections due on Sept. 13, 2021.

While the Centre and the Socialist Left parties want Norway to leave the European single market, Labour is opposed to it. A majority of Norwegians polled in recent surveys support the oil-rich nation's membership of the single market.

The latest poll will further fuel speculation that its leader, a 42-year-old farmer called Trygve Slagsvold Vedum who has served as minister in Jens Stoltenberg's cabinet when the NATO leader was last prime minister, will seek to become prime minister.

The Kantar poll surveyed 984 people by telephone between Nov. 24 and Nov. 30.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Bernadette Baum)