Ministerial reshuffle begins

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has replaced, at least temporarily, two of his ministers who’ll be leaving his cabinet. He also leaked a bit of the state budget that’s to be presented on October 13 amidst news that Norway has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe.

Stoltenberg has asked Health Minister Bjarne Håkon Hanssen to run the ministry in charge of labour and integration. It’s being vacated by Dag Terje Andersen, who earlier this week was picked to be the president of the Norwegian parliament.

Sylvia Brustad, the often-criticized minister in charge of business and industry who many have expected would be replaced herself, will instead add the fisheries ministry to her portfolio. Current fisheries minister Helga Pedersen is leaving the government to become the Labour Party’s parliamentary leader.

The temporary appointments were confirmed in Friday’s Council of State, the weekly meeting between the government and King Harald at the Royal Palace in Oslo. Stoltenberg has repeatedly declined to comment on ministerial changes following last month’s election, saying “they’ll come when they come.”Meanwhile, however, Stoltenberg leaked a bit of his government coalition’s state budget proposal during a meeting of top Labour Party officials. He said the government will propose NOK 1.3 billion (about USD 225 million) in new funding for nursing homes and specially designed homes for the elderly. The money should allow for construction of 2,500 new nursing home rooms, provided local townships agree to fund a major share of the construction as well.

Otherwise Stoltenberg warned that the government may need to cut budgets and government spending during the next four years. He said the cuts would be in line with his government’s policy of more spending in hard times and less spending in better times.

New figures released Thursday showed that Norway’s unemployment rate fell in August and now stands at just 2.7 percent. That’s the lowest level in Europe and another sign that better economic times lie ahead.

Stoltenberg said he’s worried, though, about industries hit by the strong Norwegian currency, which forces hikes in their export prices. Offshore and shipyards alsoface empty orderbooksin 2011. Other industries, such as construction, have benefited from increased government spending on infrastructure and new projects. “We just have to keep following developments, to keep the wheels turning,” he said.