A remarkable power struggle broke out Friday over the leadership of state statistics bureau SSB, which has descended into chaos because of a looming reorganization. The struggle has pitted the leader of SSB, Christine Meyer, against Finance Minister Siv Jensen, who has ultimate responsibility over the state agency. Meyer seemed destined to lose.
The conflict between the two came to a head Friday morning when Meyer all but walked out of a meeting she’d been called into with Jensen, because Jensen wouldn’t allow Meyer’s attorney to sit in on it. On Friday afternoon, Jensen confirmed what Norwegian media reported last night, that she no longer had any confidence in Meyer’s ability to run SSB.
That’s the official language used by top government officials and other bosses in Norway when they give underlings a chance to resign voluntarily. Then came the next standard phrase from Jensen, when she said at a press conference Friday afternoon that Meyer must “evaluate her position” at SSB. That’s the closest bosses will usually come in Norway to saying “you’re fired.”
The target is then expected to take the hint and resign. Meyer didn’t do that on Friday and then dug in her heels at a press conference of her own that she held just before Jensen’s. There she put most all the blame for the chaos at SSB on Jensen, not on herself, claiming some of her earlier meetings with Jensen had been “uncomfortable” and even raised concerns about SSB’s independence.
“SSB shouldn’t be dependent on the finance minister’s confidence,” Meyer told an assembled Norwegian press corps at midday on Friday. “SSB should be independent and not be run politically.”
With that, her declaration of war against Jensen was complete. “I have not submitted my resignation and I don’t thing there’s a basis to fire me,” Meyer said.
SSB’s reorganization suspended
One thing is clear: The highly controversial reorganization of SSB has now been halted pending the results of a state commission evaluating the venerable institution itself. Jensen claims she’d cautioned Meyer from moving too quickly on a reorganization as early as March of this year. Now Meyer agrees that it’s necessary to put the project on ice in order to restore calm at SSB.
Meyer, who’s on leave from a professor’s post at management school NHH in Bergen, still claims that when she was appointed chief of SSB (a prestigious post in Norway that’s been a springboard to other top jobs) two years ago, she was given a mandate to reorganize and modernize SSB and make it more efficient. “That’s why it’s been difficult to understand why the finance minister, who’s also in favor of more efficiency, now doesn’t want SSB to deliver on the order,” she said.
‘Pressured’ on immigration
Meyer said SSB has also been “pressured” regarding its studies of immigration’s effect on Norway. That issue has prompted accusations that Meyer herself has had a political agenda, because she has publicly supported immigration, thinks Norway should take in more refugees and then transferred a top immigration researcher over to SSB’s statistics division. He’s best known for charting what immigration costs Norway, and felt he was being silenced. Jensen and her Progress Party, meanwhile, are best known for being skeptical about immigration and keen to restrict it.
Asked whether Meyer thinks she has the confidence of SSB employees, Meyer said the reorganization process that’s now suspended has been “demanding, and not everyone agrees with it, but all employees will be heard along the way.”
Meyer ended up being called into an extraordinary meeting of SSB’s board Friday afternoon, as her future and SSB’s remained highly unclear.