Oil Minister’s days may be numbered

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Norway’s Oil and Energy Minister, Terje Riis-Johansen, faces a unified opposition in Parliament that is formally declaring a lack of confidence in him. He’ll likely survive a vote on the issue, because of the government parties’ majority in Parliament, but political observers think he’ll soon be replaced anyway.

Opposition politicians were using words like “arrogant” to describe the government’s reaction to their concerns that Riis-Johansen intentionally withheld information about the prospects for the much-hyped carbon recapture project at Statoil’s Mongstad plant.

They claim Riis-Johansen has “left them in the dark” and even “cheated voters,” since the carbon recapture project was promoted heavily by the government during last year’s re-election campaign. As late as December, Riis-Johansen was showing off the Mongstad project to US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu (Fotoglif photo, above). Just a few months ago, the government admitted it would be seriously delayed.

The opposition has grilled Riis-Johansen and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg over when they realized the project would be delayed. Both Stoltenberg, Riis-Johansen and other government officials claim they have met all their obligations and shared all “relevant” information with the Parliament. 

It’s expected that members of Parliament from the three parties making up the govenrment coalition (Stoltenberg’s Labour Party, Riis-Johansen’s Center Party and the Socialist Left) will remain loyal to the government and defeat the opposition’s lack of confidence proposal. But it’s a serious, and fairly unusual, political situation for the government, with commentators and at least one university professor speculating that Stoltenberg will ultimately need to replace Riis-Johansen (right)

“When this is coming at the same time as polls giving the non-socialist parties a majority, this isn’t good for the next mid-term elections or the government,” Professor Trond Nordby told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday. “If the opposition feels it’s been kept in the dark, so have the voters, because they represent the voters.”

Stoltenberg’s Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen may also be in danger of losing her job after narrowly avoiding a lack of confidence proposal herself. She’s in trouble for failing to protect personal information in the state health register and, earlier, for failing to halt the looming closure of local hospitals. Dissatisfaction with her  job has been building for months.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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