Erna scrambles to replace ministers

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg is having daily meetings with her government partners in a scramble to replace all the Progress Party ministers in her cabinet. She agreed that it’s “important” to get her new ministerial line-up in place “as quickly as possible.”

There will soon be new people sitting around the king’s table for the government’s weekly Council of State with King Harald (right) and Crown Prince Haakon. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Solberg, who heads the Conservatives, saw her former majority coalition collapse on Monday when Progress pulled out over political differences. Progress, which had been the coalition’s second-largest party, held seven ministerial posts, including finance, justice, oil and transport.

Many think Solberg with reduce the total number of posts, which had expanded to 22 a year ago after the Liberals and Christian Democrats had joined the Conservatives and Progress.  It’s expected she’ll eliminate new posts created to appease Progress, including one for elder care and public health and another for public safety and preparedness. Both may be consolidated under the health and justice ministries.

Health Minister Bent Høie of the Conservatives, who’s also on his way out of the government to become county leader in his native Rogaland, said on state broadcaster NRK’s morning political radio program Politisk kvarter that “when there’s one less party in the government, it opens up the opportunity to make some reductions. It’s the total picture that counts.”

Musical chairs
Speculation was swirling that Solberg would also do away with the new “Digitalization” post now held by one of her Conservatives’ younger members, Nicolai Astrup, and that he may become Norway’s new oil and energy minister. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has reported that Jan Tore Sanner, one of Solberg’s two deputy party leaders who’s been in her cabinet since 2013, was likely to be tapped to take over as finance minister after Progress’ Siv Jensen.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the Conservatives are keen to bring in some of their younger members, including Tina Bru from Stavanger and the leader of the finance committed in Parliament, Henrik Asheim. Bru, who’s also been tipped as a candidate for the oil minister’s post, could then geographically replace Høie, while Asheim may sub for current minister Monica Mæland. She’s now in charge of local governments and has been part of Solberg’s cabinet since the Conservatives won government power six-and-a-half years ago, but wants to return home to Bergen.

Calls were going out this week within art and cultural circles to retain Liberals’ leader Trine Skei Grande as Culture Minister. “Even though Grande is considerably more satisfied with the culture budgets than we are, we want her to continue,” Ruben Steinum, board leader for the Norwegian artists’s group Norske Billedkunstnere, NBK. “If she chooses to move, it would send a negative signal to the field. No one else within the government has expressed anything close to the same ambitions she has on behalf of culture.” Leaders within film and museums have said much the same.

Raja and Rotevatn on the lists
The Liberals and Christian Democrats will likely demand at least one additional ministerial post each in the new three-party coalition. Several members of the Christian Democrats were calling for a comeback for their former leader Knut Arild Hareide, although he’s been at odds with his successor, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, and has signalled a desire to leave politics. Ropstad currently serves as minister in charge of family and children’s issues.

Party faithful within the Liberals, meanwhile, were reportedly hoping that one of their Members of Parliament, Abid Raja, and State Secretary Sveinung Rotevatn will get a ministerial post. Both have also been singled out as candidates to take over for Grande, after the party has sunk dramatically in the polls, but there’s been lots of friction between Raja and Grande over the years. Raja and Rotevatn are both candidates to take over for Grande if she feels compelled to resign later this spring.

Raja is educated as a lawyer with diplomatic experience from the foreign ministry, and would bring some ethnic diversity to the government. Newspaper VG reported Wednesday afternoon that both he and Hareide cut short a trip to Indonesia with the Parliament’s foreign relations committee to return to Oslo, both citing “the political situation.” VG also reported that Solberg is aiming for a new ministerial line-up to be announced after the weekly Council of State at the Royal Palace on Friday.

Some Progress politicians need new jobs
As for the seven Progress ministers who are now giving up their posts, three can return to seats in Parliament: Progress leader Siv Jensen, short-lived Oil Minister Sylvi Listhaug and Transport Minister Jon Georg Dale.

One of the consequences is that Progress veteran and former leader Carl I Hagen may finally be forced to retire when Jensen resumes the seat he’s kept warm. He was supposed to have retired 10 years ago, but made a comeback in Oslo city politics and then was called in to fill Jensen’s seat while she’s been finance minister. Her seat was initially filled by Mazyar Keshvari, but he’s still out on sick leave in connection with his conviction for submitting fraudulent expense account reports to Parliament.

Progress’ most recent justice minister, Jøran Kallmyr, meanwhile, can likely return to the law firm where he’d been working when he was first tapped for the post just last spring, but minister Terje Søviknes (elder care and public health), Harald T Nesvik (fisheries) and Ingvill Smines Tybring-Gjedde (public safety and preparedness) will need to find new jobs. Nesvik has already posted a statement saying that he hoped someone could be interested in his experience: “Just give me a call.” They’ll all, meanwhile, qualify for varying amounts of severance pay at state expense.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund