Veterans and new faces make up Labour-dominated government

Bookmark and Share

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg finally introduced his new Labour-led government coalition on Tuesday, five weeks after last month’s parliamentary election left his party as the big winner. That’s clearly reflected in his new government line-up, with 12 of 20 ministerial positions now held by Labour Party politicians.

All three of the most important ministerial posts will be held by Labour:Stoltenbergas Prime Minister,Jonas Gahr Størereturning as Foreign Minister and, making a comeback,Sigbjørn Johnsenas Finance Minister.

Johnsen, age 59, is a veteran Labour Party politician and spent six years as head of the finance ministry in earlier Labour governments in the 1990s, before moving home to Hedmark County where he’s held the top administrative post.

He also was highly involved in reform of the state pension program and Stoltenberg claimed Norway’s finances will be “secure” in Johnsen’s hands.Johnsen replacesKristin Halvorsenof the Socialist Left Party (SV), who will move over to head the education ministry (Kunnskapsdepartementet) . Halvorsen claimed she was “extremely satisfied” by the change, since education has long been one of SV’s top priorities.

The change will also allow Halvorsen to spend more time rebuilding her party after its disappointing showing at the polls last month, and it will mean she no longer will have to say “no” to budget requests, a big part of the Finance Minister’s job.

Stoltenberg also created a new ministerial post for his chief of staff,Karl Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersenof the Labour Party. Schjøtt-Pedersen will remain in the Office of the Prime Minister but the ministerial title further boosts his status and allows him to run government meetings in Stoltenberg’s absence.

The total number of ministerial posts thus increases to 20, another example ofgovernment expansionthat has caused some concern of late, but which Stoltenberg believes is necessary to carry out hisgovernment platform.Labour will also hang on to the defense ministry post, but Stoltenberg has movedAnne-Grethe Strøm-Erichsenover to head the troublesome health ministry and named former Labour politicianGrete Faremoto take over as Defense Minister. Faremo is also making a comeback in government, having served as Justice Minister under Gro Harlem Brundtland but landing in a conflict with Brundtland’s successor Thorbjørn Jagland when he took over as Prime Minister in 1996.

Faremo left government at that point and until last year was head of legal and corporate affairs for Microsoft Norway, responsible for Microsoft’s internal legal offices and relations with national authorities in 14 western European countries. Faremo currently is vice-chairman of industrial firm Hydro, but likely will need to leave that board position to assume her cabinet post.

Stoltenberg unleashed a few other surprises, and some ministerial appointments were bound to spark controversy.Anniken Huitfeldt, who hails from the more radical wing of the Labour Party, will replaceTrond Giskeas head of the culture ministry, which also has been responsible for sports and church affairs. Huitfeldt is not a member of the Norwegian state church.

Church affairs were moved over to the relatively new ministry dealing with renewal issues, which now will be called Fornyings- og kirkedepartementet and headed byRigmor Aasrud, also of Labour (see below) . Norway’s state church is going through a renewal of its own, in terms of management, and this may be the last government to have ministerial control over church affairs.

Giske, meanwhile, will take over as Business and Trade Minister, which means that a firm opponent to EU membership will now have chief responsibility for dealing with the European Union at a time when Norway’s trade agreement will be subject to renegotiation.Other surprises included the appointment ofHanne Bjurstrømas head of a slimmed-down labour ministry. There was broad political agreement that it had simply grown too big, so issues relating to integration will be moved to the ministry for children’s and equality issues (now to be headed byAudun Lysbakkenof SV, who replaces Huitfeldt) and issues relating to immigration and asylum will be moved to the Justice Ministry, which will continue to be headed byKnut Storberget.

Cabinet newcomerBjurstrøm, meanwhile, is a respected lawyer who most recently has been spearheading Norway’s international climate negotiations and will lead Norway’s delegation to the upcoming UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December. Stoltenberg said she will continue to do so, working with incumbent cabinet ministerErik Solheimof SV, who will continue to be minister for the environment and foreign aid. When the Copenhagen climate meeting is over on December 18, Bjurstrøm will assume the post of Labour Minister.The labour ministry will, in the meantime, be handled by another cabinet newcomer,Rigmor Aasrud, a Labour Party politician from Hadeland and former mayor of Gran Township who was appointed cabinet minister in charge of renewal and administration issues.

Yet another cabinet newcomer isLisbeth Berg-Hansen, who was named Fisheries Minister. She’s from northern Norway and has long been active in fish farming ( oppdrett , in Norwegian). Her appointment set off concern from the traditional fishing industry, which often feels threatened by fish farming. “Here we have a little job to do, in making her aware of our problems,” the leader of one fishing organization told NRK.

All told, SV will hold four ministerial posts responsible for education, children and equality, research and higher education, and foreign aid and the environment. The ministry for research and higher education will continue to be run byTora Aaslandof SV.

The third member of the government coalition, the Center Party (Sp), is keeping its four ministerial posts: Oil and Energy, Transportation, Municipal Governments and Agriculture.Terje Riis-Johansenwill continue as Oil and Energy Minister, whileLars Peder Brekkwill continue as Agriculture Minister. Sp leaderLiv Signe Navarsete, however, will switch posts withMagnhild Meltveit Kleppa, with Navarsete taking over Municipal Governments and Kleppa taking over Transportation.

Stoltenberg said he was proud of his new government line-up, which consists of 10 men and 10 women ranging in age from 32 to 66 and representing all areas within Norway.

“It’s a good team, combining renewal and experience, which will do a formidable job for Norway,” Stoltenberg claimed.