Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, fighting to reverse a dive in voter support just a week before Norway’s parliamentary election, has changed his mind and decided to be more open about his private finances. At the same time he answered calls for more clarity about his political agenda by unveiling 10 priorities for his first 100 days in office if he still manages to become Norway’s next prime minister.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Tuesday that Støre still won’t say whether or when he knew that funds manager Egerton Capital, where he’d placed parts of his inherited family fortune until as late as last Thursday, had invested heavily in the nuclear weapons industry. Nor is it clear whether Støre’s family’s money was invested in an industry that Labour wants to disband.
DN reported that Støre has invested more than NOK 30 million in various stock funds through his own investment company Femstø. Støre initially wouldn’t identify the funds. When asked by DN whether they followed Norway’s own ethical guidelines that apply to the country’s huge sovereign wealth fund, Støre said they all did except for one.
Now he’s identified it as London-based Egerton, but he still said he’d evaluated its investments as “ethically defensible.” He conceded that it “wasn’t unnatural to make special demands for openness from a prime minister or a candidate for prime minister,” and he told DN that he’s now sold out of the Egerton-managed fund.
DN reported that among Egerton’s investments, which have yielded high returns since Egerton was founded in 1994, was a stake in French industrial firm Safran, which produces and develops components for nuclear weapons. It was blacklisted by Norway’s own sovereign wealth fund, known as the “Oil Fund,” in 2005
The sale of the Egerton holdings came after Støre had faced DN‘s questions and been hit with criticism for not being more open about his private fortune, which was listed at around NOK 64 million on his tax return for 2015, the most recent available.
More answers sought
Questions continue to swirl over why he found it “ethically defensible” to place money with Egerton when he was Labour Party leader and Member of Parliament but not as prime minister candidate, and over whether he indirectly or not had invested in nuclear weapons. Støre would only tell DN that “Femstø (his family’s own investment company) is not in Egerton after the funds I inherited from my parents were sold” He has also resigned as chairman of Fesmstø after DN started asking questions, and turned its operations over to his two sons. Støre has also now revealed that all the other funds in which his private fortune is invested are general stock funds managed by Norway’s biggest bank, DNB, and Danske Bank
“I think Jonas Gahr Støre should contribute towards finding out what he actually has invested in,” Hans Olav Syversen of the Christian Democrats party, who leads the parliament’s finance committee, told DN on Tuesday. Syversen said he thinks Støre, who has been a proponent of the strict ethical guidelines to which the Oil Fund must adhere, wasn’t aware of the investments in Safran.
New 10-point agenda
Støre, meanwhile, also made efforts this week to respond to criticism that he hasn’t been clear enough about what he’ll do as prime minister. He thus told newspaper Aftenposten that he has a list of 10 priorities for his first 100 days in office, if election results on Monday allow him to form either a minority government or a Labour-led coalition. The list highlights some of the differences between Labour policies and those of the Conservatives and other non-socialist parties that have held government power for the past four years.
Støre’s list is topped by a proposal to no longer allow employers to more easily hire workers on a temporary basis. Labour wants to restore the principle of full-time employment in Norway, and reverse the reform ushered in by the incumbent non-socialist government that gives employers more flexibility, in the hopes that could create more jobs.
Next on Støre’s list is a proposal to make it possible for local governments to hire 1,000 more teachers next year, especially for grades 1-4. That was followed by another NOK 3 billion in funds for hospitals, NOK 250 million for a program within environmental technology to help clean the seas, and more state funding for nursing homes, including a guarantee that couples could continue to live together in the same nursing home.
‘Forgot 11th point,’ about raising taxes
Støre said he also wants to re-extend mandatory (“use it or lose it”) paternity leave for new fathers from 10 to 14 weeks, provide free primary physician care for all under the age of 18, expand Norwegian language training to up to 250 hours for new immigrants, halt sales of the state’s ownership stakes in companies and turn over up to another NOK 3 billion in state funds to local governments.
Labour’s agenda will result in stronger state control in Norway and promote what the party calls “more serious and organized” working conditions for employees. He also has confirmed that the regulatory- and protectionist-minded Center Party, which champions support for farmers and outlying districts, and the Socialist Left party (SV) are “natural cooperation partners” for a Labour-led government.
Støre’s list was generally well-received for “fine-tuning” what a new Labour-led government might actually do. Conservatives’ leader Erna Solberg, who’s trying to hang on to her job as prime minister, quickly commented, though, that Støre “forgot to mention the 11th item on his list,” which she said must be Labour’s promise to raise taxes and user fees “mightily” and “within a few months after the election.” Labour and Støre launched their campaign last winter by claiming that tax hikes amounting to up to NOK 5 billion over the next four years were necessary to preserve Norway’s social welfare state.