Prime Minister Erna Solberg headed for the Winter Olympics in Sochi this week, adding to Norway’s “official” presence at the Games where Norway already has won the most medals. Solberg’s trip, though, hasn’t escaped criticism back home.
Solberg’s decision to attend was roundly criticized earlier this year by opposition politicians and gay rights activists who thought Solberg should avoid them, to protest Russia’s anti-gay policies that have sparked controversy around the world. Solberg and her fellow government ministers who also are showing up in Sochi during Russia’s Olympics replied that they would rather use the opportunity to mingle with Russian authorities, and express their own views on tolerance and equal rights.
Solberg should have the chance on Friday, when she’s due to meet with Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, who’s been in Norway several times and was president when Russia suddenly agreed with Norway on territorial rights in the Barents Sea. That deal was signed between Medvedev and Solberg’s predecessor Jens Stoltenberg, but rather endeared Medvedev to many other Norwegian leaders, past and present.
He and Solberg were scheduled to meet for “political talks” on Friday afternoon at the Grand Hotel Poljana in Sochi. Solberg also hoped to watch the 15-kilometer cross-country race for men on Friday and several other events during her long weekend at the Olympics.
Missing central banker’s address
The timing of her Olympic visit sparked more criticism, though, because it meant she would miss the annual address by the head of Norway’s Central Bank (Norges Bank) on Thursday evening. That event, always followed by a banquet, attracts the most powerful persons within the public and private sectors in Norway and the prime minister is expected to not only attend but sit in the front row.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that only twice before have prime ministers failed to attend the annual official overview of the Norwegian economy by the country’s central banker, held every year since 1922. Solberg herself criticized Stoltenberg when he chose to attend the Rally World Championships instead seven years ago. Now Solberg, who would have been making her first appearance at the gala annual event as prime minister, has set other priorities as well.
Asked why she thought it was wrong for Stoltenberg to miss the central banker’s address but not for her to do so, her state secretary Sigbjørn Aanes told DN that “experience showed that Stoltenberg managed well as prime minister even though he wasn’t at the annual address.” He claimed there was “no drama” in Solberg’s decision to head for Sochi instead of Norges Bank in Oslo, and he assured DN that Solberg would read the address by the bank’s governor, Øystein Olsen.
Aanes also noted that Solberg has been doing a lot of traveling lately, and her absence was also caused simply by a tight time plan. Last week she was in Paris, for example, where she met French President Francois Hollande for a brief get-acquainted session. At that meeting, by the way, both Solberg and Hollande agreed to back Stoltenberg’s efforts to push though a new international climate agreement, through his new role as a UN special envoy on climate issues.