New foreign minister gets down to work

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Ine Eriksen Søreide, who succeeded Børge Brende as Norway’s new foreign minister last month, has been busy settling into her new job and made her first major overseas trip this week. It wasn’t easy, but Søreide didn’t expect it would be either.

Norway’s new foreign minister, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, in Myanmar this week. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland Andersen

Søreide’s trip to Myanmar is just the beginning of a globe-trotting job that her predecessor, Børge Brende, took to heart by traveling almost constantly. It remains unclear whether Søreide will do so as well, or decide that it’s also important to spend more time at the ministry itself.

Her schedule will undoubtedly remain demanding at best and relentless at worst. This week, for example, included three days in Myanmar with constant meetings and mingling with other foreign ministers from Asia and Europe. After returning on Wednesday, she was due to have an early morning meeting on Thursday with the prime minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic, before also making a speech at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee at the Nobel Peace Center Thursday evening. On Friday, before the weekly Council of State meeting with other government ministers and King Harald V, she would take part in an evaluation of Norway’s support for education in areas of conflict and crisis.

There’s no time for jet lag in the foreign minister’s job, or much of a personal life, but Søreide has made it clear that she insists on protecting the latter as much as possible. At age 41, Søreide is among Norway’s younger foreign ministers but she’s been a top politician and Member of Parliament for several years, worked hard and guarded her privacy fiercely.

Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide (far right) became foreign minister in October when Prime Minister Erna Solberg (far left) made a few cabinet changes folloiwng the September parliamentary election. Frank Bakke-Jensen (next to Søreide) of the Conservatives took over Søreide’s former job as defense minister, while Marit Berger Røsland, also of the Conservatives, took over Bakke-Jensen’s job as EU minister within the foreign ministry. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/MB Haga

“It’s a choice I made very early, when I was leader of Unge Høyre (the Conservative Party’s youth organization) in 2000.” Søreide told newspaper Aftenposten shortly after her appointment. The reason, she said, is that “when you’re a public person, who everyone has some sort of relation to whether you’re out buying milk in the store or doing something else, the need for a private space in your life gets very big. That’s why my home and my private life are things I have chosen to protect.”

Her husband, Øystein Eriksen Søreide, is also a politician for the Conservatives, now working in the City of Oslo. Asked whether they talk a lot about work and politics at home, Søreide responded with “no comment,” regarding even that as a private question.

There are some private details available about her, that she was born May 2, 1976 in Lørenskog, northeast of Oslo, and grew up in nearby Strømmen. Her father Egil Eriksen, who died in 2003, was an electrician and her mother, Wenche Irene Hansen, was a secretary. The family moved to Northern Norway and Søreide attended high school and college in Tromsø, where she was educated as a lawyer at the University of Tromsø, graduating in 2007.

Moved up through the ranks
She became active in politics and the Conservative Party as a teenager and moved up through the ranks of the Young Conservatives until serving as its leader from 2000 to 2004, working in between her studies as a summer intern at the Grette law firm in 2002 and also, briefly, as a program leader for Metropol TV. She started serving in Parliament when she stepped in for Conservative MP Per-Kristian Foss after he became finance minister in 2001.

She became an elected MP in her own right in 2005, rising to become leader of the foreign relations and defense committee in 2009. Prime Minister Erna Solberg appointed her as Defense Minister after the Conservatives won government power in 2013, and Søreide held the post for the full four years of the minority Conservatives-led government coalition’s first term in office. Solberg “promoted” Søreide to foreign minister after Solberg’s conservative coalition won enough votes in the September parliamentary election to remain in government power, pending support from the only two other non-socialist parties in Parliament, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.

‘Historic’
Søreide seems to relish her new post, as long as everything remains strictly professional. While Solberg and many other politicians invite Norwegian reporters home, and often open up their lives to the public they serve, Søreide said she has enjoyed “great respect for the limits I have set” regarding her private life. She’s well-regarded professionally, received literally thousands of congratulatory messages when she became foreign minister, and is already used to working weekends as well as Monday to Friday, given the realities of politics. Her spoken English is so good that she sounds like a native speaker, with little if any trace of a Norwegian accent.

That will come in handy during the traveling and diplomatic work that lies ahead. Søreide is also known for being well-prepared for meetings and thinks she’s well-prepared for the job itself. “I feel the responsibility but at the same time, I think that what I’ve been doing for the past eight years (four years as leader of the Parliament’s foreign relations and defense committee and four as defense minister) has created a very good platform to do what I’ll do now,” she told Aftenposten. She had to endure repeated references to the fact that she’s the first woman to become Norway’s foreign minister but agreed with Solberg that it made her appointment “historic.”  It’s not, according to Søreide, “the reason I’m now foreign minister.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund