Jens gets down to work

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Norway’s re-elected prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, rattled off a long list of tasks that now await him after he carried his Labour Party to one of its biggest triumphs ever. Norwegians can expect a new government platform, a new state budget and probably a new line-up of cabinet ministers within the next month.

Stoltenberg seemed to positively thrive when he met reporters outside the country’s new official prime minister’s residence, just behind the Royal Palace in Oslo. The sun was shining, the man everyone refers to simply as Jens was smiling and seemed amazingly refreshed after barely sleeping for the past few days.

Stoltenberg clearly had even more reason to smile than he had on Election Night. Final tallies moved Labour’s share of the vote up to 35.4 percent, the highest level in 16 years. The party gained three seats in the Parliament (Stortinget) , giving it 64 out of 169.It was also the first time since the 1950s that a Labour-led government was elected two times in a row. That brought historic comparisons to legendary Labour Leader Einar Gerhardsen, widely known as Norway’s landsfader , or “father of the country.” Newspaper Dagbladet even blasted “Norway’s new landsfader ” over its front page on Tuesday, with a large photo of Stoltenberg.

“That’s very flattering,” Stoltenberg said with a laugh on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s nightly national news.He added, though, that he’s more concerned now with getting down to work. He has an impressive agenda. A new session of Parliament opens October 9, meaning Stoltenberg and his government partners Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left (SV), and Liv Signe Navarsete, leader of the Center Party (Sp), need to have their ministers pretty much decided and their throne address ready. They must deliver a state budget proposal by October 13, a platform declaration by October 15 and present the new cabinet by October 16 after meeting with King Harald at the palace.

Stoltenberg refused to comment in detail on either the new platform or whether he’ll be making changes in the ministerial line-up. They’re expected, though, not least since Labour did so well in the election. Stoltenberg claimed all three coalition partners agree that the relative size and strength of the parties “will have a bearing” on how many ministerial posts each party will get. While Labour got 35.4 percent of the vote, SV lost support and wound up with just 6.1 percent. Sp was stable at 6.2 percent.That indicates SV will lose one ministerial post, and speculation is brewing that Halvorsen herself will be moved from her current post as Finance Minister over to the education ministry. Local media has reported further speculation that former Sp government minister Marit Arnstad will return, possibly as either Finance Minister or Oil and Gas Minister. Labour will likely end up with 10 or 11 posts and SV and Sp four or five each.

“We’ll get back to all this,” Stoltenberg said. He was also reluctant to talk about other thorny issues, including disagreement among the three coalition partners on offshore oil exploration or membership in the European Union (EU). He was quick to note, however, that he, Halvorsen and Navarsete “have found good solutions” when they’ve disagreed in the past, for example on pension reform and oil exploration in the Barents Sea. “We’ve cooperated well and that’s the tone that will continue,” he said, refusing to worry about reports that SV may take a tougher line than it has in the past.

On the EU issue, which has been buried in recent years, Stoltenberg didn’t seem willing to dig it up again. He’s long been open to EU membership, but said “there are no plans now” to seek it, noting that the EU issue holds “a special role” in Norwegian politics. Membership has been rejected twice by voters “and I’m not looking for a new defeat,” he said with a smile. If Iceland becomes a member, however, Stoltenberg indicated that the issue will need some re-evaluation.

While he was non-committal on most issues, Stoltenberg vowed that the government he leads will be “a driving force” on climate issues and that he was looking forward to upcoming international meetings in both New York and Copenhagen. Norway, he said, will urge “tough” emission cuts of 30 percent by 2030, a financing mechanism for reducing emissions and tougher regulations to control deforestation.

Stoltenberg said he expected tough opposition in parliament from the non-socialist parties that narrowly lost efforts to form their own government. Both the Progress Party and the Conservatives did relatively well with around 40 percent of the vote between them, and thus are full of confidence. “I expect criticism from them,” Stoltenberg said. “That’s their job. But I expect cooperation, too.”