Thorbjørn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who’s stepping down as president of Norway’s parliament, will now take over as secretary general of the Council of Europe. He won the most votes from member nations by a solid margin.
Jagland, with the full backing of the Norwegian government and opposition politicians, had been campaigning hard for the job. The 59-year-old veteran politician from the Labour Party who’s been a rival of current Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg clearly had no desire to retire early, but rather wanted to continue his career, now as a European statesman.
He won 165 votes, an absolute majority, in the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. That compared to 80 votes cast for his rival, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz of Poland.
The election was supposed to have been held in June, but was postponed until September after some council members made an attempt to get more candidates for the post. In the end, it was just the men from Poland and Norway in the run-off.
Jagland, who’s also a former Foreign Minister, has long wanted Norway to join the European Union but actually used Norway’s non-membership in the EU to boost his campaign. He argued that the council would benefit from leadership that comes from a voice outside the EU.
He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he “felt only joy” when it became clear that his campaign was successful. He said he was proud and glad that his victory was decisive.
He also rejected comments that the Council of Europe exists in the shadow of the EU, noting that it “has all the instruments” to champion human rights and is an important player in relation to other organizations.Jagland noted during his campaign that theCouncil of Europehas the longest history of all the existing European cooperation organizations. With nearly 50 member countries within the European area, he argued that it “remains one of the most important inter-governmental organizations in Europe today, and plays a unique role in safeguarding the rights of the individual citizen, promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights throughout the European continent.”
It also has some members whose human rights records are arguably questionable, for example Azerbaijan. A major Norwegian human rights prize, the Rafto Prize, wasawarded just last week to a journalist and human rights activist in Azerbaijan.
Norway was one of the 10 countries that founded the Council of Europe in May 1949.
Jagland, who also was recently named to head the Norwegian Nobel Committee that decides the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, will be sworn in as Secretary General on Thursday and begin work immediately.