Solheim leaves SV for the Greens

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Norway’s Greens Party doesn’t seem to mind that Erik Solheim, their newest high-profile member, lost his job as head of the UN’s environmental program and now works for one of Norway’s oil tycoons. They like the fact that the political veteran thinks the Greens can become Norway’s new “party of the people.”

Veteran Norwegian politician and former UN official Erik Solheim (right) has shifted over to the Greens party (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDG) after a lifetime in Norway’s Socialist Left party (SV). He’s been welcomed to the Greens by its national spoksman, Arild Hermstad (left). PHOTO: MDG

Newspaper VG reported on Tuesday that Solheim has dumped the Socialist Left party (SV) that he once led in Norway, and has joined the Greens (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDG). “We’re very glad to get Erik on the team,” the Green’s national spokesman, Arild Hermstad, told VG. Hermstad added that he thinks Solheim “can be a valuable adviser for us.”

The now-64-year-old Solheim has been an SV member since his youth, led the party from 1987 to 1997 and went on to become a UN special envoy trying to broker peace in Sri Lanka. He later served as a government minister in charge of foreign aid and environmental issues during the left-center governments led from 2005 to 2012 by former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who now heads NATO.

Solheim later worked for the OECD in Paris and ultimately became head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2016. He only lasted two years in the job, though, after getting into trouble for extensive and expensive flying around the world. Sweden and Denmark had both decided to withhold their own funding for UNEP, in part because of all the business class tickets that Solheim charged to the UN for his near-constant traveling.

Solheim vigorously fended off the UN’s official criticism of his management and excessive expense accounts but ultimately had to resign when asked to do so by the UN secretary general himself. He started working for the Norwegian industrial tycoon Kjell Inge Røkke, who controls the Aker oil, oil service and engineering conglomerate, in May. Solheim is involved with Røkke’s REV Ocean research project, however, as leader of the Røkke-founded Plastic Revolution Foundation, which launched its efforts to clean up plastic from the seas in Ghana. Røkke is also developing an oil field off Ghana.

Erik Solheim has done a lot of flying throughout his political career, to a degree that it cost him his job at the UN Environment Programme. Greens members firmly oppose flying, so Solheim may find himself taking more trains or bicycling. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Christian Grotnes Halvorsen

Solheim’s position with Røkke isn’t a full-time job and VG reported that he already has worked as a political consultant for the Greens. Solheim himself told VG that he “slowly but surely” could feel he was gliding out of SV after so many years and heading towards the Greens.

“Climate issues are becoming the most important that our generation will be measured by,” Solheim told VG. “I had the impression that the Greens can be a leader in grasping the challenge. I think the Greens can create a widespread green movement similar to what the labour movement was like in the last century.”

He claims he’s not interested in running for any office for the Greens and flatly rejected any ambition of returning to politics as a Member of Parliament for the Greens: “I’m just a rank and file member who can contribute with advice on how the party can continue to grow.”

Greens’ leadership criticized
The Greens may need some help, after a few former members have criticized the party’s leadership as being “undemocratic, arrogant and power-hungry,” and “freezing out” anyone who raises critical questions. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday that former party secretary Hilde Lengali believes the Greens’ leadership is plagued by a bad culture that doesn’t like its authority to be challenged.

Stein Malkenes, another former key member of the Greens, also believes Greens’ leaders can’t seem to tolerate criticism. Lengali claimed the party ledership’s way of leading is at odds with the solidarity and democratic principles it’s supposed to embrace.

The party’s current secretary Torkil Vederhus told NRK it was “sad” to hear the former Greens’ members’ criticism. “We have to work with our party culture all the time,” he said, adding that Lengali’s criticism was directed at issues she complained about “long ago.”

‘Best wishes’ from SV
SV leader Audun Lysbakken, meanwhile, thanked Solheim “for his contributions over many years.” Lysbakken, who has a history of earlier conflicts with Solheim, added that since the former SV leader now thinks the Greens better represent his views, “it’s natural for him to go there. I wish him good luck in the Greens, which is a party with which we can cooperate.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund