Reports of changes in the Norwegian government’s ministerial cabinet have intensified, with the replacement of beleaguered Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen expected. Fellow ministers Jonas Gahr Støre and Trond Giske are among her replacement candidates, reports newspaper Aftenposten, as discussion continues over long-term succession when Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg moves on.
Stoltenberg is a candidate himself for international posts, possibly at the UN. Speculation within his Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap), the biggest party in the left-center coalition government, connects the succession for party leader and prime minister to whoever will take over the challenging top post at the Ministry of Health.
Current Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and the Minister for Trade and Industry, Trond Giske – described collectively by newspaper Aftenposten as the Labour Party’s “crown princes” – are named as possible replacements.
Health has become a difficult issue for Labour following several recent tussles over closures and changes to local hospital services, particularly in the west of Norway, where local opinion polls do not bode well for Labour in the run-up to vital local elections in September. Fears of an electoral trouncing over the issue have led to suggestions that a stronger, more popular party figure be given the health minister’s role well before the election campaign begins. Some reports speculate that Strøm-Erichsen herself is hoping to leave her post, and possibly the cabinet itself, because of the difficulties she has encountered.
Støre and Giske are favourites to take over as Labour Party leader when Stoltenberg leaves politics, and are therefore touted as possible health ministers. Foreign Minister Støre in particular is favoured by many, and is reportedly seen as requiring more domestic policy experience, something he could get as health minister. Others, however, have described moving the highly respected and experienced foreign minister to a potentially difficult and unpopular position as “the stupidest thing in the world.”
Meanwhile, Giske is seen as thriving on conflict and being extremely confident in any position, although some evaluate him as being too left-wing to be an eventual prime minister. One further advantage for Giske may, however, be that moving Støre would carry much bigger ramifications for the rest of the cabinet, with further swapping and reshuffling presumed to be required.
An opinion poll by Avisenes Nyhetsbyrå (ANB), released before the weekend, suggested that Labour has much to do, with its support falling 1.2 percentage points to 23.1 percent, behind the Conseravtive Party (Høyre) at 29 percent. According to a pollster quoted in newspaper Dagsavisen, this means that Labour now has the support of only 55 percent of those who voted for the party in the 2009 general election – a record low level of loyalty.