Progress veteran replaces Sandberg

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UPDATED: Harald Tom Nesvik, a Progress Party veteran with 20 years of experience in Parliament, was officially appointed by King Harald V on Monday to take over as Norway’s fisheries minister. Nesvik replaces the embattled Per Sandberg, who lost support within his own party as well as the government itself over a holiday trip to Iran that literally broke all the rules.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg with her new fisheries minister Harald Tom Nesvik outside the Royal Palace in Oslo Monday afternoon, after her previous minister Per Sandberg was forced to resign. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Newspaper Fiskeribladet, which covered the drama surrounding Norway’s former fisheries minister closely in recent weeks and even appeared to be threatened by Sandberg, was the first to report that Nesvik was Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen’s choice as their new government colleague. Nesvik was educated within export marketing of seafood, wrote a textbook on the fishing industry and served on the city council in his West Coast hometown of Ålesund before first being elected to Parliament in 1997.

He most recently has worked for a small maritime firm, Sølvtrans, since opting to step down just last fall as leader of the Progress Party’s delegation in Parliament. The 52-year-old Nesvik had been appointed last June to become new county governor for Møre og Romsdal from January 1, 2019 but declined the post on the grounds it would cause too much commuting again from his family in Ålesund. “I have finally moved home after 20 years of commuting to Oslo, and am now well-established in what’s  become a permanent job,” he told state broacaster NRK in May.  “After lots of thought and conversations with the family, I’ve decided that a new role with commuting between Ålesund and Molde for the next six years would be very difficult.”

Answered the call
Nothing is “permanent” for those still keen on politics, however, and Nesvik answered Solberg’s call during the weekend, traveling in all haste to Oslo to be royally approved as new government minister early Monday afternoon. His new post will involve even more commuting again, but he’s clearly now willing to spend much more time in Oslo again.

He pointedly declined to comment on the drama that led to his predecessor’s resignation, saying only that he would work hard to further the interests of Norway’s huge fishing industry, which ranks second only to oil and gas for its economic contribution. He called fishing, seafood production and the maritime activities of coastal communities the largest and most important source of jobs in outlying areas.

Nesvik may also be able to smooth all the feathers ruffled by Sandberg both within the government and the Progress Party, and get the ministry back to business. Sandberg’s decision to become romantically involved with a former asylum seeker from Iran, leave his second wife who’s also active in the Progress Party, travel with his new Iranian-born partner on holiday to her homeland, violate government rules in doing so while ignoring security procedures and also attend a celebration of Iran’s revolution in his role as a government minister became too much for even some of his most ardent supporters in the party. Sandberg had long been part of the most right-wing, immigration-skeptical and anti-Islamist faction of the Progress Party, so his sudden fondness of Iran was difficult to swallow for many of his colleagues.

When it emerged during the weekend that many of his recent actions and ever-changing clarifications of them were rooted in clearly hostile divorce proceedings from his ex-wife Line Miriam Sandberg, who serves as a state secretary in the health ministry, the situation became even more awkward. As politial commentator Kjetil B Astadheim noted in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday, few of Per Sandberg’s party fellows have rushed to his aid because they didn’t want to be seen as taking sides in the Sandbergs’ marital dispute or get involved in it. Per Sandberg lost support from both the most conservative and liberal blocs within his party, over the trip to Iran and his violations of government and security procedures respectively. Sandberg also was found to have violated security procedures during a trip to China in May as well.

Sandberg made ‘wise choice’ to resign
“Sandberg should understand himself how he’s put both the government and the party in a difficult situation,” conservative Progress Party MP Christian Tybring-Gjedde told NRK on August 2. “And he should act accordingly.” When news broke Monday morning that Sandberg was resigning, Tybring-Gjedde told NRK he thought it was a “wise decision” and that he was not surprised.

Former Progress Party leader Carl I Hagen also said he thought Sandberg made a “very wise choice” in deciding to resign. “Given the way this issue has developed, he had no other possibilities.” Hagen also scolded Sandberg for failing to inform the Office of the Prime Minister that he intended to travel to Iran on the grounds it was simply a private trip.

Sandberg also lost support from party fellows in his former home district of Troms in Northern Norway. Others have simply remained silent. Now Solberg and Jensen clearly hope Nesvik can restore confidence within the party, the fisheries ministry and the government. He was appointment as fisheries minister took effect immediately.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund