Norway’s state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) has been plagued by conflict, both internally and externally, since its former boss Christine Meyer became a target of criticism and was forced to resign. Her interim replacement didn’t want the job but a director at state welfare agency NAV wasn’t afraid to take it on.
Geir Axelsen will take over leadership of SSB on a permanent basis, after King Harald V formally appointed him to the post just before the weekend. Axelsen, age 52, claims it’s one of the “most exciting” leadership posts in the country.
“Statistics Norway has a very important assignment in Norwegian society and management,” Axelsen told news bureau NTB after his appointment was announced. “In the form of statistics and research, SSB puts forth important premises for policy formation, social debate and the basis for income.”
Axelsen has worked as a state bureaucrat and as a state secretary for the Labour Party in the Finance Ministry, whose boss Siv Jensen of the conservative Progress Party will be his most direct superior. He’s also been a top executive at Statoil, responsible for macro-economics and energy market analysis.
He most recently has been in charge of economics and management at NAV, Norway’s state welfare agency that distributes everything from pension payments to unemployment benefits. He has degrees from both the University of Oslo and Harvard University in the US.
Axelsen had no comment on his predecessor’s educational background or turbulent tenure at SSB, when her reform and reorganization efforts set off huge protests from both those involved and top economists outside SSB. It marked one of the few times that economists from both employers’ organization NHO and trade union federation LO agreed that Meyer’s restructuring program needed to be slowed down or stopped, and it all sunk into a remarkable power struggle between SSB’s former boss and the finance minister.
“I must be allowed to become better known with the organization,” Axelsen told NTB. He also said he’ll wait until a commission’s report on SSB is handled after being out for hearing. “Everyone agrees that SSB will be professionally independent, but at the same time adhere to the framework that the Finance Ministry draws up,” he said.
Meyer had maintained that Finance Minister Siv Jensen and ministry staff jeopardized SSB’s independence when it questioned and overrode her management. Meyer ended up resigning and ultimately gave up her fight against Jensen, after Meyer wasn’t allowed to see notes taken at a meeting with Jensen that’s believed to have cost her job. Jensen was also criticized by the Parliament’s disciplinary committee over how she handled the conflict with Meyer, who has since returned to her job as a professor at Bergen-based business school NHH.