Foreign Minister under attack
March 26, 2012
He’s long been regarded as Norway’s most capable and respected cabinet minister, but Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre is suddenly facing harsh criticism on several fronts. On Monday he was being assailed as “arrogant and superior.”
“The Foreign Ministry has been like a pressure cooker in terms of Støre’s arrogant and superior leadership style,” Petter Gottschalk, a professor at BI Norwegian Business School, told newspaper Dagsavisen. He thinks the “pressure cooker” is about to explode.
“What’s happening now is that people who are sitting on unfortunate information about Støre are coming forward via the media,” Gottschalk said. “This isn’t surprising.”
Since taking over as foreign minister for the Labour Party in 2005, after Labour won enough votes to form Norway’s left-center coalition government, Støre has ranked second only to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in terms of power and popularity, and many have viewed Støre as Stoltenberg’s possible successor as a Labour prime minister. In the past week, though, there’s been a series of stories about Støre in local media that have put him in an unflattering light.
Støre, for example, has been accused of favouring an old friend when the ministry allocated funding for a foundation in northern Norway. Newspaper Dagbladet carried stories about the funding, raising questions that Støre was guilty of a conflict of interest, also when he allegedly pressured environmental authorities into granting the old friend, shipowner Felix Tschudi, some needed permits.
On Sunday, newspaper VG reported that the foreign ministry has granted NOK 1 million to author and journalist Simen Ekern to write a book about global trends in the future, with the ministry deciding who will be interviewed and what themes will be covered. Støre will figure prominently in the book, and take part in all the interviews.
That set off quick criticism from opposition politician Ine Eriksen Søreide, leader of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee for the Conservative Party (Høyre). She told VG that “taxpayer’s money shouldn’t be used for the branding of Støre,” while Gottschalk blasted the book project as well.
“You can’t be more conceited,” Gottschalk told Dagsavisen. “Støre is acting like a ‘sun king’ and has no scruples about being part of a book project where he’ll be portrayed as a sun king, and even get his job to pay for it.”
Gottschalk believes many “resourceful persons” in the foreign ministry (utenriksdepartementet, UD) have long been “provoked” by what he calls Støre’s “one-man’s might.” He thinks more potentially embarrassing news about Støre will be leaked to the media in the weeks to come.
“If he had a normal leadership style, his staff would have cleaned up after him if mistakes were made,” Gottschalk claimed. “But the sort of things Støre is being hit with now are a result of his staff getting tired of not being heard. They stop cleaning up.”
Støre defends himself
Støre has denied he knowingly tried to help his childhood friend Felix Tschudi and rejects reports he helped Tschudi get permits. He reportedly didn’t respond to requests for comment on Gottschalk’s claims but told VG on Monday that he sees no need to have his impartiality in the Tschudi case examined by the Justice Ministry, as several other professors have recommended.
Støre stresses that the funding in question did not go to Tschudi or his shipping company but to a foundation backed by Tschudi. Støre declined comment on the book project but Ekern, an award-winning author, said it would focus on Norwegian foreign policy with him interviewing “central international players” about how they think the world will look in 2030. Støre will take part in the interviews, Ekern told VG.
The ministry’s communications chief, Ragnhild Imerslund, said the project was initiated by the ministry and that Støre agreed the book, which will be called Norge i verden 2030 (Norway in the World 2030) should be financed through its “Reflex” project. That will involve an amount exceeding limits for external projects that Reflex generally aids. Imerslund said Ekern would lead the interviews, form the questions and have literary control over the book, due to be published by Cappelen Damm either later this year or early next year.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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