Jonas Gahr Støre, the Labour Party’s candidate for prime minister, does not come from his party’s traditional working class. Store is instead a wealthy man from an affluent family who’s lately had to fend off more questions over his private financial holdings. Now he won’t specify which investment funds he’s chosen, in contrast to his opponent and incumbent Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who’s openly identified her own.
Støre inherited much of his wealth through his family’s sale of the Jøtul fireplace and oven firm. He listed his private fortune at around NOK 65 million on his 2015 tax returns, around USD 10 million at the time. Nearly NOK 34 million of it is managed through his company Femstø, which is active in the purchase, sale and management of shares and other investments.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has been raising questions about the fortunes of the candidate for Labour, who does not share his party’s traditional working class background. DN reported last week that Støre had placed some of his money in stock funds that do not follow the ethical guidelines set by Parliament for Norway’s own huge sovereign wealth fund, popularly known as the Oil Fund.
Støre responded to DN that he thought it was ethically defensible to own stakes in such funds while he was simply leader of the Labour Party and a Member of Parliament, but that he would sell them if he became prime minister. Just hours later, he changed his mind and said he would sell off the holdings that don’t meet oil fund standards, “to avoid any doubt … and to follow the guidelines set by the Parliament.” It remained unclear why Støre thought one standard was acceptable as Labour leader and MP, but not as prime minister.
Støre still won’t publicly identify the actual funds where his money is placed, unlike Prime Minister Solberg, who has a fortune of around NOK 4 million built up through savings and inheritance from her mother who died last year. Solberg said all her money is placed in various investment funds managed by Norway’s biggest bank, DNB. “My funds are DNB Aktiv 100, DNB Activ Rente, DNB Miljø Invest and Asian Small Cap DNB,” Solberg told DN. “I won’t offer any opinions on how Støre (manages his money), but I don’t think it’s any problem to be open about this.”
Both Professor Eivind Smith and Guro Slettemark of Transparency International Norge believe Støre should be open as well. “It should be taken for granted that he reveals the funds in which he’s invested,” Slettemark told DN, and, she added, before he were to become prime minister. Instead he thinks it’s sufficient that he resigned as chairman of Femstø and that his two sons Magnus, age 27, and Vetle Slagsvold Støre, age 24, will take over as members of the board. That has prompted some comparisons to how US President Donald Trump has also believed it sufficient to turn over his investment management to his own sons. Smith doesn’t think that creates enough distance between Støre’s economic interests and his role as a possible prime minister.
Støre’s reluctance to be more open comes after newspaper Dagbladet also reported how Støre had invested in a housing project that uses the sort of freelance labour contracts for workers that the Labour Party opposes. Once that became public earlier this year, Støre quickly sold himself out of the project. Last year media reports revealed that Støre’s elderly parents, also wealthy, were living in a high-end private nursing home even though Labour also opposes such private options. Støre’s father later died and his mother reportedly no longer lives at the private facility at Sollihøgda.
Not ‘the right background’
Labour, meanwhile, has continued to sag in public opinion polls, to its lowest level before a national election in around a century. While that’s been attributed to everything from Labour’s plans to raise taxes to its negative assessment of the economy as unemployment falls and optimism returns, some union members simply don’t see Støre as a Labour leader.
“Jonas Gahr Støre doesn’t perhaps have the right background knowledge to represent the working class,” Janne Halvorsen, who represents employees at an Orkla foods’ ketchup factory, told newspaper Aftenposten last week. “I think the reason that workers don’t feel at home in Labour right now has something to do with where he (Støre) stands privately, his fortunes, his whole life.”
Others agree. Industrial worker Oddbjørn Johannessen in Hedmark was unhappy that Støre appealed to centrist parties before Labour’s former government partner, the Socialist Left (SV) party. “I considered voting for Labour earlier, but now that won’t happen,” Johannessen told DN. He said he plans to vote for SV.