‘An historic day for Norway as a nation’

Bookmark and Share

There was reason for smiles and laughter amidst the fall foliage in Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s garden on Friday. Even academic political experts were calling it “unique and historic” when three women could meet there to celebrate holding all three top government posts in Norway.

Norway’s new foreign minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide (center) joins Finance Minister Siv Jensen (left) and Prime Minister Erna Solberg (right) at the top of Norway’s government. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The appointment on Friday of Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide as Norwegian foreign minister forms a new all-female trio at the highest levels of government. Finance Minister Siv Jensen and Solberg have held the top two positions since 2013. The foreign minister’s post is considered the next most important, and Børge Brende’s resignation to join the World Economic Forum left it open for Søreide, who has served as Solberg’s defense minister for the past four years.

“It’s been said that women often get ministerial positions in governments that have the least power,” Johannes Bergh of the Norwegian research institute ISF (Institutt for samfunnsforskning) told state broadcaster NRK. “That’s definitely not the case here. This is unique and historic.”

Solberg was quick to agree, and clearly proud that it was under her Conservatives-led government that Norway got its first female foreign minister ever. That’s by no means unique to Norway, with many other countries beating egalitarian Norway in naming women as their foreign ministers or equivalent. The US has already had three, and Solberg herself noted at a press conference Friday afternoon that in the Philippines, for example, women also have held top posts including the equivalents of prime-, finance and foreign ministers. So have women in Sweden, Switzerland and Liberia, and at the EU.

“But with this, we’re writing some important history for Norway as a nation,” Solberg said, not least with all of them serving at the same time. Solberg quickly added that she chose Søreide most of all because of her competence and not her gender.

There were more smiles and laughter indoors, when two of Solberg’s male ministers joined in for a photo also. The resignation of former Foreign Minister Børge Brende (center) set off the personnel changes announced Friday. At far left, new EU- and EEA Minister Marit Berger Røsland. At far right, new Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen. Solberg thanked Brende for the job he’s done during the past four years. PHOTO: Statsministeren kontor

Nine of Solberg’s 19 ministers are also women, with one of them appointed on Friday as well. Marit Berger Røsland of the Conservatives, who has been serving as a state secretary in the foreign ministry, is taking over as government minister in charge of EU affairs. She replaces Frank Bakke-Jensen, also of the Conservatives, who in turn is replacing Søreide as defense minister.

There were no further changes in Solberg’s government, but more may come when and if she and Jensen reach agreement with the non-socialist Liberal Party, which is also headed by a woman, Trine Skei Grande. The Liberals will then want a few ministerial posts themselves and that may also usher in some organizational changes. Both Grande and Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the other non-socialist Christian Democrats party that Solberg and Jensen need to form a majority in Parliament, want to re-establish a ministry devoted entirely to overseeing Norway’s substantial foreign aid programs.

Solberg abolished a ministerial post in charge of foreign aid when she won power away from the former Labour-led left-center government, replacing it with the ministerial post in charge of EU relations. Both have been part of the foreign ministry and now Søreide, like Brende before her, will need to assume responsibility for foreign aid in addition to all her new foreign policy duties.

‘Christian Crisis Party’
Some political commentators speculated that Solberg would reinstate a foreign aid minister to ease the duties on the foreign minister but perhaps also to woo support from both the Liberals and the Christian Democrats. That may still happen, but for now, Solberg was defending her decision to leave the actual ministerial posts intact and fill the EU vacancy left by Bakke-Jensen’s reassignment. Solberg claims EU issues are more important than ever, not least given all the uncertainty around Brexit talks and the consequences that Britain’s exit from the EU will have for Norway.

New EU-minister Røsland told reporters when she was given the keys to her new office that Brexit will be her “job number one.” Educated as a lawyer, she said she’ll work at least partly as “Norway’s lawyer in Brussels,” where she said it’s necessary for Norway, as a non-member of the EU itself, to “work twice as hard to be seen and heard.”

The Christian Democrats, meanwhile, have so far opted against joining Solberg’s government. A new public opinion poll released Friday by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) suggests the decision has not boosted the Christian Democrats’ fortunes, with DN headlining its story “The Christian Crisis Party.” The party, which commanded as much as 20 percent of the vote in the late 1990s, fell to just 3.2 percent in the new poll. The Liberals rose, to 4.6 percent, while the Progress Party was steady at 14.6 percent. Solberg’s Conservatives fell, to 25.2 percent, exactly the same standing as that now held by the troubled Labour Party. That marked Labour’s poorest poll result since 2008.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund