‘Norway’s weakest prime minister’

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The man who now serves as secretary general of the Council of Europe and chairman of the committee that chooses the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has been ranked as Norway’s weakest government leader since World War II. Former Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland wouldn’t comment on the dubious distinction.

Thorbjørn Jagland, who now serves as secretary general of the Council of Europe, has been given poor marks for his term as Norwegian prime minister. PHOTO: Council of Europe

Jagland took over as head of Norway’s Labour Party when Gro Harlem Brundtland stepped down in 1996. He thus became her successor as prime minister, but only served until the following year, when Labour lost the election in 1997 and a center-right coalition took over.

His short tenure as prime minister was marked by controversy right from the start, when several of the ministers he chose had to resign because of poor health or personal scandals. Jagland was also known for unclear rhetorical statements and programs that left him the target of much ridicule.

Now a panel of 40 historians has ranked all of Norway’s 34 prime ministers since 1873, and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday that Jagland was at the bottom of their list.

While the legendary Einar Gerhardsen, the Labour Party boss who served as prime minister through much of the post-war year, topped the list with the best score of “6,” Jagland was labelled as “weak” and “unsuccessful” with the issues he promoted the most. He was given a score of just “2.”

Not only did Jagland’s so-called “Norske hus” (Norwegian house) project flop badly but he’s blamed for losing the 1997 election because he had declared that he Labour would have to get at least 36.9 percent of the vote to form a government. Even though Labour got the most votes, the party didn’t get 36.9 percent, leaving Jagland and Labour obliged to resign and letting the relatively small Christian Democrats party form a government instead.

That was a blunder so bad that “36.9” has become an unforgettable phrase in Norwegian politics.

Olav Njølstad, the historian who has contributed to a new book about Norway’s prime ministers that contains the historical ranking, told NRK that many political observers and historians think Jagland did not thrive in his role as prime minister and even seemed uncomfortable as Norway’s premier. “Nor was he lucky with his choices of government colleagues,” Njølstad said. “His leadership style was not the best and his rhetoric was unfamiliar.”

Jagland retired from Norwegian politics last year and now lives in France, where he’s secretary general of the Council of Europe. He also heads the Norwegian Nobel Committee, where he sparked controversy right after joining the Nobel committee over his promotion of US President Barack Obama as last year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Norway’s next-best prime minister was viewed as being Christian Michelsen, who served from 1905 to 1907 when Norway became its own sovereign state following dissolution of a union with Sweden. Gro Harlem Brundtland ranked fourth, with a score of “5” (good).

Current Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg ranked 11th on the list of the 34 prime ministers, with a score of “4” (above average), and may end up as among the longest-serving of Norwegian premiers.

See the full list here. (External site, in Norwegian)

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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