Stoltenberg ran into some critics

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Some of the arguably harshest criticism to be lodged yet against the former government of Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg came just as speculation continued to swirl around his candidacy for the top spot at NATO. After nearly two weeks of accolades, Stoltenberg encountered critics on that front, too.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (left) has met newly re-elected US President Barack Obama on several occasions, like here at a NATO summit in Lisbon. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (left) shown speaking with US President Barack Obama at a NATO summit in Lisbon in 2010. Stoltenberg is now tipped as the leading candidate to take over as NATO’s secretary general. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

With Norwegian media continuing to hail the former prime minister as certain to take over this fall as NATO’s new secretary general, the beating he took in Norway’s parliament on Thursday came as a bitter blow. A broad majority backed the strongest possible criticism they could deliver over Stoltenberg’s failure to push through full-scale carbon capture and storage at Statoil’s Mongstad plant.

The criticism hit Stoltenberg on three major fronts: His inability to force Statoil into going through with the project that Stoltenberg himself once famously described as the equivalent of Norway’s “moon landing,” his administration’s allegedly deceptive management of the project and refusal to own up to its failure before last fall’s national election, and the signal it all sends to the effectiveness of Stoltenberg as a special UN envoy on climate issues. In the latter role, Stoltenberg is charged with trying to get the rest of the world to cut its carbon emissions, while his own government has failed to do so at home despite two consecutive terms in office.

A ‘questionable choice’ for NATO
As Stoltenberg was slammed by all the parties in parliament except the three that made up his coalition government, he was also dubbed “a questionable choice” for the top civilian NATO post on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. While being publicly praised by British Prime Minister David Cameron and reportedly endorsed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the presidents of both the US and France, Stoltenberg was described by the Journal as having had a “radical” background as head of the Labour Party’s youth organization and that he’s too friendly and cooperative with the Russians.

In a commentary likely to amuse many Norwegian leaders on both ends of the local political spectrum, the Journal wrote that Norway has “traditionally been dominated by a left-wing establishment” that “resents” the US’ leadership role in the world. Stoltenberg, the newspaper suggested, reflects the contradiction of being both a strong US ally while also an occasional critic, and embodying “dangerous illusions about nuclear weapons and Western deterrence.”

Stoltenberg also represents a much too “sanguine” view of the “threat” the Journal believes is posed by Russia, which it claimed has “once again emerged as NATO’s chief adversary in Europe.” The Journal also took exception to remarks made by Stoltenberg at a NATO summit in Lisbon four years ago, when he said he thought that NATO and Russia share many of the same security challenges, and that they’d best be solved through cooperation.

Stoltenberg’s track record as Norwegian prime minister, his recent active support of NATO missions and his background as a well-liked veteran politician who’s the son of a former Norwegian defense and foreign minister, seemed to more than satisfy the heads of state of NATO’s most powerful member countries, contended Norwegian media. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Friday that Stoltenberg spent last weekend at what amounted to a secret “job interview” with French President Francois Hollande in Paris, and newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Thursday that Stoltenberg had emerged as the sole candidate for the top NATO post when current the secretary general steps down in September.

Despite the criticism over his ambitious but failed carbon capture project, and the skepticism of the Wall Street Journal, Stoltenberg’s new job was widely expected to be announced imminently, with state broadcaster NRK predicting an announcement Friday afternoon. Berglund