Jonas Gahr Støre has quickly emerged as a serious challenger to Erna Solberg and her position as prime minister of Norway. Just 10 days after his election as leader of Norway’s largest political party, Labour, Støre has scored much higher in a public opinion poll than Solberg, while his predecessor Jens Stoltenberg is learning to let go.
Newspaper Dagbladet released its latest poll this week showing that 33 percent of Norwegian voters say they’d like to see Støre as prime minister. That compares to just 22 percent for Solberg, down dramatically from the 41 percent that swept her into office last September.
The poll, conducted for Dagbladet by research bureau Ipsos MMI, also showed that 11 percent of Norwegian voters would like to see Stoltenberg return as prime minister. That’s not an option at this point, though, since Stoltenberg resigned as head of Labour and the party’s candidate for prime minister after being hired as the next secretary general of NATO.
Støre, who took over for Stoltenberg, was relatively tight-lipped in his reaction to Dagbladet’s poll: “These are nice numbers and a great encouragement. That’s all I’ll say about that.”
Stoltenberg, meanwhile, has admitted to feeling like he’s on “withdrawal” after stepping down as Labour leader after a lifetime in Norwegian politics. He headed straight for meetings in Washington DC after giving up his post and his seat in Parliament on June 14, and told Norwegian reporters while there that it already felt “really strange” to read online news and get, as usual, “very engaged” in the various stories. “But then I have to think, ‘no, now you have to stop having an opinion about everything that happens in Norwegian politics,'” laughed Stoltenberg, who served as prime minister three times in Norway.
This week he’s already been in London and Brussels for meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and outgoing NATO boss Anders Fogh Rasmussen. On Tuesday he was in Berlin for meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who played a key role in getting him the job at NATO, and Germany’s defense minister before heading on to other meetings with European leaders including French President Francois Hollande. His message was the same to them all: Europe must contribute more to NATO and not expect the US to provide the brunt of the military alliance’s financing, troops and defense power.
“I think the majority in Europe understand that,” Stoltenberg told news bureau NTB. “The seriousness has become much more clear after the unrest we’ve seen in Ukraine.” Stoltenberg is urging European members of NATO to do as Norway did and boost their defense budgets.