UPDATED: Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende won’t be part of the new government Prime Minister Erna Solberg is in the process of forming after winning re-election earlier this week. Brende, who has traveled almost non-stop since Solberg chose him as her envoy four years ago, has announced his resignation and will return to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, now as its president. His track record as foreign minister was getting mixed reviews Friday afternoon.
Brende stated at a press conference in Solberg’s office late Friday morning that it was “no easy decision” to resign. He called it “sad,” but added that he has spent a total of eight years as a minister in various Norwegian governments, and run three ministries. It was time, he felt, to move on.
Brende, age 51, said it had been “a privilege to be foreign minister during four demanding years for Norway.” He’s had to deal with numerous and major international challenges, from new tensions with neighbouring Russia, ongoing crises in the Middle East, the war in Syria and the mass exodus of refugees, to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the new and highly unpredictable president of the US, long Norway’s most important ally.
When Brende first took over as foreign minister in the fall of 2013, his most important task was to restore diplomatic relations with China. Pressing issues such as the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, terrorist attacks and unrest in Turkey quickly turned attention elsewhere. Relations with China were restored earlier this year, albeit amidst much controversy and criticism that Norway had compromised its human rights principles.
‘Extremely weak’ minister
Brende claimed he thought Solberg’s government had achieved “good results” on the foreign relations front and that he thus “thinks it’s the right time” to resign before a new four-year Parliamentary session begins. Not everyone will miss him in the post, with Iver Neumann of the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI calling Brende “extremely weak” at forming and carrying out foreign policy. Neumann told state broadcaster NRK that it was “difficult” to view the normalization of relations with China as a success, “given that the price was to acknowledge the political system in China. That broke with 70 years of Norway distancing itself from authoritarian regimes. It set a dangerous precedent.” Others, including the president of the Norwegian Red Cross, were more positive and noted that Brende served during a period with myriad international crises and regime changes.
Brende will remain in his post until Parliament ceremoniously re-opens in October, and Solberg asked him to continue a few days more until her government has presented its state budget proposal for next year. The foreign ministry had already sent out a message earlier on Friday that Brende was heading for New York over the weekend to take part as usual in next week’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly. From there he’s due to travel to Colombia, where among his final duties will be attendance at the signing ceremony for the peace pact between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas.
‘Hoped he’d stay on’
Solberg said she had hoped Brende, a longtime member of the Conservative Party she leads, would stay on as her foreign minister for another term. “He has been a good foreign minister for Norway, but I can see that he now has a new, exciting opportunity” at the World Economic Forum, Solberg said. She described the Forum as “an important platform for cooperation” among nations.
Brende was a director of the World Economic Forum from 2008 to 2009 and returned in 2011 after working as secretary general of the Norwegian Red Cross. He was working at the World Economic Forum when Solberg called and asked him to return to Norway to be her foreign minister in 2013. Now Brende has been offered the job as president of the international organization, and said he decided to accept it on Wednesday.
“There’s more need than ever for an organization that’s non-partisan and can build confidence in a geopolitical world where there are more players than earlier who want a word on matters,” Brende said. The World Economic Forum, based in Geneva, was established in 1971 as an independent, non-profit foundation that stresses public-private cooperation. It’s stated goal is to “engage the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industy agendas.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Solberg hadn’t yet decided who she would ask to replace Brende. “Børge will continue as foreign minister for a bit more than four weeks,” Solberg said at the press conference. “I have some time to figure out who will take over.” She stressed that she hadn’t made any decisions yet.
Solberg will also be traveling to the UN General Assembly in New York next week and then will meet with her parliamentary delegation upon her return on Thursday. She’ll also be meeting with her current government coaliton partner, the Progress Party, and the two parties that supported them during the last term, the Liberals and Christian Democrats. Negotiations will then begin on formation of a new government, with a ministerial reshuffle expected.