Outgoing ministers descend on UN

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Norway’s left-center, lame-duck government that’s ruled for the past eight years hasn’t let its election defeat earlier this month thin its ranks at the United Nations (UN). No less than five government ministers are attending the opening of the UN’s General Assembly in New York this week, but deny they’re looking for new jobs.

Espen Barth Eide (right) listened intently during the opening sessions of the United Nations this week. Next to him, fiddling with his mobile phone, is Norway's minister in charge of foreign aid Heikki Holmås and, at left, Geir O Pedersen, Norway's ambassador to the UN. PHOTO: Hansine Korslien/UN Delegation

Outgoing Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide (right) and his government Heikki Holmås (center) are back at the United Nations in New York this week as part of a large delegation from Norway’s lame-duck government. At left, during last year’s session, Geir O Pedersen, Norway’s ambassador to the UN. PHOTO: Hansine Korslien/UN Delegation

The outgoing Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, Development Minister Heikki Holmås, Environmental Protection Minister Bård Vegar Solhjell and the minister in charge of family and inclusion issues, Inga Marte Thorkildsen are all spending much if not all of the week in New York. Last year only two ministers joined Stoltenberg.

“It’s a very important arena for climate politics,” Solhjell, who barely kept his seat in parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV), told newspaper Dagsavisen. He denied that the outgoing ministers have opted to spend lots of time at the UN in New York this year because they’re looking for new work.

“Ha-ha, no, at least not me,” Solhjell said. “I’ll be sitting in the parliament (representing Akershus County) for the next four years.” So will his party colleague Holmås, at least presumably, but their fellow SV member Thorkildsen wasn’t as lucky. SV’s poor showing in the election results left her without a seat in parliament, so after several years in top national politics, most recently as a government minister, she needs a new job.

So does Espen Barth Eide, who has no seat in parliament for his Labour Party either. It remains unclear what either Eide or Thorkildsen will be doing when Norway’s new government, expected to be a Conservatives-led coalition, takes over in mid-October.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is have another busy week at the UN in New York, just like he did last year at this time. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Jens Stoltenberg was also back at the UN in New York this week for his last time as Norway’s prime minister, at least for a while. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

They’ll at least have lots of international elbows to rub in the week ahead. The annual UN General Assembly is known as one of the biggest arenas in the world for mingling and networking, attended as it is by government leaders from around the world as well as top politicians and the heads of myriad international organizations. The Norwegian delegation will be involved in various discussions on progress towards the UN’s millennium goals, access to sustainable and renewable energy, women’s rights and funding for the Palestinians.

Stoltenberg is leading the large Norwegian delegation and he flew to New York already on Friday, just as Solhjell and the government’s outgoing Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe had to announce that Stoltenberg’s government was ditching its much-hyped full-scale carbon capture plans at Statoil’s Mongstad plant on the west coast. That’s a big setback for Norway’s need to meet its own climate goals and cut its high level of emissions from its oil and gas energy, and Stoltenberg & Co likely will have some explaining to do in New York.

Foreign ministry officials said Stoltenberg otherwise will be involved in “high-level” talks on global health, sustainable development and climate and energy.

Eide, who called last week for Norway to accept at least 1,000 refugees from Syria, will also be engaged in talks on the crisis in Syria and will attend meetings on nuclear disarmament. He’ll lead discussions of both the donor group for the Palestinans and those at the annual Trygve Lie Symposium, which was to focus on the issue of hateful expressions this year. He may also hold Norway’s address at the General Assembly’s overall debate.

Holmås, who’s spent much of his time as development minister traveling all over the world, will be talking about foreign aid even though the incoming government in Norway seems poised to reduce it. Holmås is especially concerned with energy issues, debt relief for developing nations and food safety.

Thorkildsen, meanwhile, will attend a high-level meeting about disabled persons and take part in discussions about women’s rights and sexual violence, among other issues. It all ends on Friday, with Norwegians of a very different political persuasion taking over their jobs and agendas just three weeks later.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund