Norway’s new prime minister thanked her predecessor Jens Stoltenberg for his work over the past eight years, claiming that he will rank as “a great prime minister in the history books.” He told Erna Solberg that she was taking over “the most meaningful job” in the country.
The two top politicians were full of praise for each other, just weeks after arguing constantly during the election campaign. Solberg told Stoltenberg as she literally took over his office on Wednesday that he has “enormous respect in all political sectors” in Norway. “We can disagree on all kinds of issues,” she said, “but you’ve been a good prime minister for the country.”
Solberg went so far as to call Stoltenberg a fast fjell (the equivalent of “solid as a mountain”), especially in the period following the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011. She said she admired his stamina, motivation and dedication, and that he was “delivering a better society” to her.
Stoltenberg will be a hard act to follow, given his popularity, charisma and international standing. He told Solberg, however, he views her as “capable” and “committed,” with “a huge capacity for hard work.”
He further praised her talent for cooperation and “finding solutions,” referring to how she managed to pull together a coalition government that seems off to a cooperative start with ministers showing mutual admiration. Solberg said, though, that she had no doubt Stoltenberg would be among her toughest challengers in the Parliament, “asking all the questions that I did.”
Office takeover ceremonies, and the formal handing over of keys and flowers were taking place all afternoon, as outgoing ministers in Norway’s defeated left-center government made way for their non-socalist successors. “The rest of the day will be a party,” Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “but then the real work will begin.”
Solberg promised, in brief remarks outside the Royal Palace in Oslo after a meeting with King Harald V, that her new government “wants to strengthen important areas” and has the political experience and nationwide representation to get the job done. A large crowd gathered outside the palace to hail the new ministers, who were deluged with flowers, flags, banners and, already, some political demands from environmental and gay rights activists.
There were a lot of EU flags waving among the crowd, and Solberg herself signaled that EU issues will be getting lots more attention when she named a new minister dedicated to coordinating EU and European Economic Area issues from her office. Solberg has earlier noted that her government “won’t have the same level of tension” that surrounded the EU in Stoltenberg’s government, when he had to put the membership issue on ice because of firm opposition from his government partners. He also faced resistance on EU trade agreement issues, and had to agree to even higher import tariffs on meat and cheese for the sake of government unity. They now may be reversed.
The new government is expected to get to work quickly, with observers like the head of employers’ organization NHO expecting some rapid changes in workplace rules and other regulations. Some restrictions on property sales, for example, can be changed right away as Solberg and her government partner Siv Jensen of the Progress Party follow though on promises to “simplify” life in Norway.
Jensen, meanwhile, was settling into her new office in the finance ministry “with lots of joy and humility.” She and her predecessor also exchanged compliments, with Jensen even saying it was “an honour to take over after Sigbjørn Johnsen.” He advised her that when she needed inspiration, or guidance when tempted to ease the oil revenue expenditure rule, she could simply go to an adjoining hall and look at all the portraits of her predecessors. “We’ll be watching you,” he said before handing her a bouquet of red roses, the symbol of his Labour Party now in opposition.