Leaders like Jens’ company

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Norway’s popular prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, has been rubbing elbows once again with a whirl of international leaders. His country’s oil wealth and energy supplies would clearly help boost the attraction of any Norwegian leader, but there are other factors behind Stoltenberg’s personal popularity as well.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (dark suit at right) has become a popular guest of other international leaders, like here when he was invited along with British Prime Minister David Cameron to Berlin last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The three leaders took part in a discussion with students on democracy, political participation and social media. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Last week, for example, Stoltenberg was chosen along with British Prime Minister David Cameron to fly to Berlin for a special meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It included a forum with students from many countries where the topics of discussion were democracy, political participation and social media.

It was powerful company for the leader of a country that has a tiny percentage of the populations of either Germany or the UK. It came after Cameron himself had flown to Oslo for dinner and talks with Stoltenberg, after which Cameron invited Stoltenberg to fly on his jet down to Berlin.

Why is Norway’s prime minister so sought-after? Not only is Norway still a relatively small country, it’s outside the European Union, in which both Merkel and Cameron are powerful players. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Merkel’s staff pointed out that both Stoltenberg and Cameron are at the forefront when it comes to using social media, and experiencing its impact. They communicate in many channels. They both have a youthful image, even though Stoltenberg is well into his 50s. Finally, the political systems of Germany, the UK and Norway vary to a degree that made Merkel think her Norwegian and British counterparts’ experience would be most interesting.

Merkel was also said to simply like Stoltenberg personally, even though her politics are more conservative than Stoltenberg’s. They’ve met often over the years since both assumed their national leadership roles in 2005, and it wasn’t too long ago that Stoltenberg flew down for a dinner meeting with Merkel, who’s often viewed as the single most powerful leader in Europe.

Norway’s energy resources clearly are of interest as well, though. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported how both Germany and the UK are keen on getting undersea cables from Norway to provide more predictable sources of electricity to Europe. The cables can’t be laid at the same time, however, because of capacity issues in Norway, and the UK wants to get its first. Both are due to be in place between 2018 and 2021.

Energy cooperation was on the agenda when Stoltenberg, Merkel and Cameron met last week, while Cameron and Stoltenberg discussed energy supplies in Oslo as well. In a meeting with executives from several energy firms held at the offices of Aker ASA, they could talk about gas from Norway to the UK while Aker officials claimed they’d be hiring 1,300 new engineers in London. The Norwegians, meanwhile, need to keep the export of energy from jacking up energy prices at home.

Cameron’s visit marked the first by a British prime minister to Norway in 25 years. That alone illustrates how foreign leaders are keen to boost ties with Norway during times of financial crisis and a growing need for reliable energy supplies. Cameron was, actually, just one of seven national leaders meeting with Stoltenberg during the past week, only days after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also visited Norway. The message is clear: Norway isn’t such a small country as its own residents and leaders often claim.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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