Jens presents his re-election team

Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg wants a third term as Norway’s prime minister, and on Friday he revealed a new ministerial line-up aimed to help them all win re-election. At the forefront is Jonas Gahr Støre, who will leave the foreign ministry after seven years to take over the even tougher role as health minister.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called Jonas Gahr Støre "the best health minister we can have," after deciding to transfer the longtime foreign minister to the embattled health ministry. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Støre has long been considered the current Labour-led left-center coalition government’s strongest minister after Stoltenberg himself. The two have worked closely together for years, and Støre said that when Stoltenberg asked him to take on the health ministry challenge, he could only accept.

“It will be hard to leave the foreign ministry,” Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said, though, that he would try to “inspire and support” a health care sector that’s been strained by massive reorganization, ongoing budget cuts and widespread criticism from both the public, health care workers and opposition politicians.

Støre stressed that he didn’t believe he was taking over a ministry caught up in catastrophe. “I’ve seen how health care works in other countries,” said Støre, drawing on his years of globe-trotting as foreign minister. Støre, a former head of the Norwegian Red Cross, said he thinks the majority of Norwegians are satisfied with the health care they receive, praising Norwegian innovation, highly skilled doctors and nurses and new, modern facilities.

There’s no question, though, that Stoltenberg is hoping Støre, known for a no-nonsense approach to getting things done, will be able to do just that and restore confidence in Norway’s state-run hospitals and health care delivery. Health is the most embattled of Norway’s ministry’s at present, Støre said he felt “well-qualified” to lead it. Stoltenberg called him “visionary and inspiring,” with a talent for accomplishing specific tasks.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announcing his new ministerial line-up live on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday: (from left) new Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, new Labour Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, new Minister of Culture Hadia Tajik and new Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide. New Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was standing directly behind Stoltenberg. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Stoltenberg described his new ministerial appointments, approved by King Harald at Friday’s weekly Council of State, as “a combination of renewal and continuity.” He repeatedly used the words “trygt og godt” (roughly, “safe and secure”), noting that all but one of his appointments were veteran political leaders with some returning to ministries they’d headed before. Former Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, for example, will return as Defense Minister, while the relatively new current defense minister, Espen Barth Eide, will return to the foreign ministry where he’s been a state secretary on earlier occasions. Now he’ll take over as Støre’s successor.

“I’m moving from one dream job to another,” Eide said, stressing that he liked working in both the defense and foreign ministries “very much.” He said he intended to carry on Støre’s focus on dialogue and Arctic issues, among other priorities.

The only new face in the government is 29-year-old Hadia Tajik, the youngest person to ever be named a government minister in Norway. Stoltenberg’s announcement of her appointment on the grounds of the Royal Palace sparked spontaneous cheers and applause, and he described her as  ”hard-working, knowledgable and new-thinking,” offering a “clear and strong voice” to the public debate. Tajik’s parents emigrated from Pakistan to Norway, she grew up in a small town in Rogaland on Norway’s west coast and is educated as a journalist and lawyer. Stoltenberg said he’d been considering her as a minister ever since she worked as one of his advisers back in 2008.

Tajik will take political charge of the ministry of culture, succeeding Anniken Huitfeldt, who was named as Norway’s new labour minister. Huitfeldt replaces Hanne Bjurstrøm, whom Stoltenberg said had asked to resign, therefore setting off the ministerial shuffle. All the new ministers were assuming their new duties immediately, with the ceremonial transfer of office keys taking place throughout the afternoon.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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