Erna Solberg, head of Norway’s Conservative Party, could finally claim the title of the country’s prime minister on Wednesday. After the obligatory and formal transfer of power at the Royal Palace, Solberg introduced her new, slightly smaller cabinet of 17 ministers from the Conservatives and the Progress Party.
Media speculation had been running high for days, with Norwegian newspapers, websites and broadcast outlets trying hard to scoop one another with leaks from the cabinet selection process.
The confirmed result: Solberg, from Bergen, will lead a government made up of nine women and nine men, including herself, who will lead some re-organized ministries. Solberg and her government partner Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party, will dissolve the ministry that was in charge of renewal, administration and churches, transferring their duties to other ministries. Some of the duties of the fisheries ministry will be taken over by the transport ministry, including coastal issues, while EU issues will move from the foreign ministry to the Office of the Prime Minister.
There will no longer be a ministerial post devoted to foreign aid. That function will be handled by others in the foreign ministry, with Solberg noting that foreign aid is closely entwined with foreign policy.
Solberg will have a minister of her own within the Office of the Prime Minister, Vidar Helgesen, who’s expected to play an important role in the new government. Helgesen, age 45, is a politician and diplomat who was a state secretary in the Foreign Ministry when the Conservatives’ Jan Petersen was foreign minister from 2001 to 2005. Solberg said Helgesen, born in Bodø and reared on the island of Nøtterøy near Tønsberg, will have overall responsibility for EU and European Economic Area issues that come up in all the ministries, functioning not least as a coordinator. EU leaders were quick to congratulate Solberg on Wednesday and express a desire for more cooperation. Helgesen is educated as a lawyer, was a special adviser for the International Red Cross from 1998 until 2001 and also was involved in the Norwegian government efforts to broker peace in Sri Lanka.
Siv Jensen, meanwhile, will be Norway’s new finance minister, as long expected. Jensen, age 44, was the longtime finance spokesman for her Progress Party and headed the Parliament’s finance committee from 2001-2005. Jensen, who was born and reared in Oslo, has led her party since 2006 and was a Member of Parliament since 1997.
Here follow the other ministers formally appointed on Wednesday for the new non-socialist coalition government. All told, the Conservatives will have 11 ministers including Solberg as prime minister, and the Progress Party will have seven, reflecting their respective share of votes in the September 9 election:
FOREIGN MINISTER: Børge Brende of the Conservatives. Brende is returning to top Norwegian politics after most recently serving as a top official at the World Economic Forum in Geneva and, before that, as secretary general of the Norwegian Red Cross. He was a Member of Parliament for the Conservatives from 1997 to 2009 and served as both the minister for the environment and trade minister during the right-center coalition government from 2001 to 2005.
JUSTICE MINISTER: Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party. Anundsen, age 37, has been viewed as one of the most respected members of the Progress Party and won wide acclaim for his chairmanship of the parliament’s disciplinary committee, especially when it examined the government’s response to the July 22, 2011 terrorist attacks. He has been a Member of Parliament for the Progress Party since 2005 and is educated as a lawyer. He’s also worked as a teacher and a consultant, and comes from Vestfold County.
DEFENSE MINISTER: Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide of the Conservatives. Søreide, age 37, is from Lørenskog in Akershus County, just outside Oslo, and has been a Member of Parliament for the Conservatives since 2001. She’s also a former leader of the party’s youth organization, Unge Høyre, is educated as a lawyer and has impressed foreigners with her excellent command of English. She led both the defense and foreign relations committees in Parliament from 2009 to 2013, and before that headed the committee for education and church affairs. Her husband, Øystein Eriksen Søreide, was named this week as a member of the city government in Oslo, in charge of social welfare.
TRANSPORT MINISTER: Ketil Solvik-Olsen of the Progress Party. He’s a deputy leader of the party and was viewed as a candidate to head various ministries because of his broad experience in Parliament. He was tipped to head Oil & Energy, but Transport is a major priority in the new government, and Solvik-Olsen clearly won the respect of both Solberg and Jensen. He’s 41 years old, from Rogaland County in western Norway. He has represent the Progress Party in Parliament since 2005 but opted against re-election this year. He has a master’s degree in economics from the University of Toledo in the US and has served as the party’s spokesman on financial issues.
MUNICIPALITIES & MODERNIZATION MINISTER: Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservatives. Sanner is a deputy leader of the party and will take on one of the large, consolidated ministries in the new government that will be in charge of local governments (kommuner) along with the administration and renewal work that had its own ministry in the previous left-center government. Sanner is 48 years old, been a Member of Parliament since 1989 and was a former leader of the Conservatives’ youth organization. He’s already been dubbed “super minister” by the Norwegian press, because his ministerial responsibilities will be so extensive.
OIL & ENERGY MINISTER: Tord Lien of the Progress Party. This is one of the lesser-known faces in the government, although he’s been a Member of Parliament for the Progress Party since 2005. Lien, age 38, is a graduate of the country’s leading technical university (NTNU) in Trondheim and has been director of community and information for TrønderEnergi. He’s from the county of Sør-Trøndelag.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION MINISTER: Kristine (Tine) Sundtoft of the Conservatives. Sundtoft, age 46, is from Lillesand on Norway’s southern coast and currently works as a county administrator in Vest-Agder, a top post she’s held for the past eight years. Before that she was a regional director for employers’ organization NHO in Agder for 10 years and was secretary general of the Young Conservatives in the early 1990s. She was a member of the Lillesand local council but has little national political experience apart from being an alternate Member of Parliament from 1989 to 1993. Environmental activists were already waiting for her outside the Royal Palace on Wednesday, to demand better protection for Norway’s nature and wildlife.
CULTURE MINISTER: Thorild Widvey of the Conservatives. The 57-year-old Widvey is also making a return to national politics after earlier serving as Oil & Energy Minister in the center-right government coalition from 2004 to 2005. She’s one of the relative few minister who hail from Oslo, has been a member of the Conservatives’ national board since 2008 and since has served on several corporate boards of directors. She’ll assume responsibility for church-related issues from the dissolved ministry for administration.
HEALTH MINISTER: Bent Høie of the Conservatives. The 42-year-old deputy leader of the party had long been tipped as the top candidate to take over one of the government’s most challenging ministries. He’s headed the parliament’s committee on health care since 2009 and been his party’s spokesman on health issues. Høie comes from Stavanger on Norway’s west coast and worked in the hotel business before becoming a Member of Parliament 13 years ago.
EDUCATION MINISTER: Torbjørn Røe Isaksen of the Conservatives. Long considered one of the intellectuals in the Norwegian Parliament, Isaksen is the son of a teacher from Porsgrunn and will have responsibility for a ministry that’s a high priority for Solberg. He’s one of the youngest members of the government, at age 35, has a master’s degree in political science and is another former head of the Conservatives’ youth organization.
BUSINESS & TRADE MINISTER: Monica Mæland of the Conservatives. A 45-year-old lawyer from Bergen, Mæland is making her debut in national politics after several years as head of the city government in Bergen. She’s considered a close supporter of Solberg and will take over an expanded department that will take on responsibilities from some of the ministries dissolved in an effort to reduce bureaucracy and improve efficenty.
AGRICULTURE MINISTER: Sylvi Listhaug of the Progress Party. This appointment sparked perhaps the most surprise, as the former Oslo city government politician who went into public relations makes a jump to the national arena. Farmers are worried that she and her party will cut their subsidies and remove the protection they claim they need to produce food in Norway, but Listhaug, age 35, notes that she grew up on a farm and wants to stir up more optimism in the sector.
LABOUR MINISTER: Robert Eriksson of the Progress Party. Eriksson is one of the lesser known new ministers who lost his seat in parliament after the last election. His party won government power, though, and now, through him, hopes to simplify Norwegian labour law and make it more employer-friendly. Eriksson is educated as an economist and worked for an insurance company before becoming an MP in 2005. He’s from Nord-Trøndelag.
FISHERIES MINISTER: Elisabeth Aspaker of the Conservatives. NRK reported that Aspaker, age 51, won’t have her own ministry but will work in the ministry for business and trade. Norway’s seafood industry is second only to oil, though, and an important sector in the economy. A former teacher, Aspaker was born in Harstad, Northern Norway, and has represented Troms County in Parliament since 2005.
CHILDREN, EQUALITY & INTEGRATION MINISTER: Solveig Horne of the Progress Party. Another lesser known politician on the national scene, Horne is 44 years old and has represented the Progress Party in parliament since 2005. She has one of the more unusual professional certifications, as a butcher, and has worked in the fresh food business. Now she’ll be in charge of family issues and probably immigration and integration matters. She hails from Rogaland, western Norway.