Solberg overhauls her government

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UPDATED: After two weeks of government turmoil, Prime Minister Erna Solberg unveiled a massive overhaul of her Conservatives-led coalition on Friday. It involves more than a dozen ministerial changes, all aimed at giving Solberg’s new three-party minority government more muscle in a highly fragmented Parliament, and at winning re-election in 2021.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg strode out of the Royal Palace in Oslo on Friday with her new three-party conservative coalition government. It now lacks a majority in Parliament, but Solberg remains characteristically confident they’ll get things done. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

The day’s political upheaval began with the formal resignations, delivered to King Harald at the Royal Palace, of all seven Progress Party ministers following Progress’ decision to withdraw from the conservative coalition on Monday.

Two of Solberg’s other ministers also resigned, or were forced out: Ola Elvestuen of the Liberals will no longer be minister in charge of climate and the environment, and Anniken Hauglie gave up her post as labour minister. Solberg said later in the day that both could have continued to be good ministers, “but both the Conservatives and the Liberals want to renew the team for the years ahead. Therefore Anniken and Ola are going out of the government, which gives room for new talent.”

Solberg then filled all the vacancies, after receiving the necessary formal nod from the monarch, with top politicians from her Conservative Party and her remaining partners, the Liberals and Christian Democrats. Solberg cut her cabinet from 21 ministers in the former majority coalition to 19 in her new one, while the number of actual ministries remains at 15.

The Conservatives, who won five times as many votes as its government partners did at the last election in 2017, will hold 12 ministerial posts in addition to Solberg, who continues as prime minister, while the Liberals and Christian Democrats each gained one seat around the king’s table, with four ministers each.

The Conservatives will hold most all of the government’s “heavy-weight” ministerial posts, with Ine Eriksen Søreide continuing as foreign minister, Jan Tore Sanner taking over as finance minister, Monica Mæland taking over as justice minister, and Bent Høie and Frank Bakke-Jensen staying on as the ministers in charge of health and defense respectively. Høie will also assume duties formerly handled by a Progress Party minister regarding elder care.

The new coalition also features faces new to the government but not to Norwegian politics. They include those of Sveinung Rotevatn and Abid Raja of the Liberal Party, pictured here just to the left of Solberg. Raja will be Norway’s new Minister of Culture while Rotevatn will be responsible for climate issues and the environment. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

The sun was literally shining on Solberg’s new line-up as they all marched out of the Royal Palace for traditional photos, and they include some new faces:

*** Tina Bru, a Member of Parliament from Norway’s oil capital of Stavanger, is Norway’s new Oil & Energy Minister. She’s considered one of the Conservatives’ biggest political talents, according to news bureau NTB, and is the top candidate to take over as deputy leader of the Conservatives when Høie eventually resigns to become county governor in Rogaland.

Bru’s appointment has been well-received by both the oil- and renewable energy sectors, coming less than a month after Progress’ Sylvi Listhaug was appointed to the post, only to give it up when her party left the government. While Listhaug and her Progress predecessors were bullish on oil and want to keep drilling far into the Arctic, Bru is known for supporting the industry but also voicing clear climate and environmental concerns. She’s been a member of the Parliament’s energy and climate committee and some commentators think she’ll help move the Conservatives in a more climate-friendly direction. Solberg commented later that “Tina will make sure that we continue to develop the oil business, at the same time we build out new green energy solutions.”

*** Geir Inge Sivertsen, who’s been a state secretary for the Conservatives, was put in charge of Norway’s second-most important industry, fisheries. He also hails from Tromsø, which will give the new coalition important geographic diversity and contribute to his credibility within a seafood industry largely based in Northern Norway.

*** Henrik Asheim, another MP for the Conservatives who often serves as party spokesman, was named as minister in charge of research and higher education. Solberg commented later that his new “sector” is “important for our future,” and that he’ll also be in charge of ensuring competence “to make sure that no one goes out of date in Norway.”

There were several other faces new to the government but not to Norway’s highest level of politics. The Christian Democrats’ former leader, Knut Arild Hareide, emerged as Norway’s new transport minister, a post that had been held by the Progress Party for the past six-and-a-half years. Hareide’s appointment puts him in the same government as his former rival for both control of the Christian Democrats and their political leaningKjell Ingolf Ropstad, who prevailed and will continue as government minister in charge of family and children’s issues. Tapping Hareide as the party’s additional minister in the government may help mend internal party divisions. The Christian Democrats’ Olaug Bollestad will continue as agriculture minister, while Dag Inge Ulstein will continue as minister in charge of foreign aid.

The Liberals’ ministerial line-up also involved new faces in the government and changes that may also be aimed at calming internal party strife. The Liberals’ leader Trine Skei Grande moved from her former role as culture minister to take over as education and integration minister from day-care centers through the high school level, turning over her culture post to a potential leadership rival, Abid Raja. He’s been a high-profile Member of Parliament and Liberal politician for years. Educated as a lawyer and with family roots in Pakistan, Raja also brings some ethnic diversity to the government along with commitment to the climate and environment.

Another potential leadership rival to both Grande and Raja was also brought in to represent the Liberals in government as well: Sveinung Rotevatn will take over as Climate- and Environment minister, replacing Ola Elvestuen who apparently was forced to give up his ministerial post since the Liberals only have four. Rotevatn is also an example of how Solberg’s new government may be viewed as more climate-friendly than before, since he’s long been active in climate issues. The Liberals’ other incumbent minister, Iselin Nybø, was moved from her post as minister in charge of higher education and will take over Friday afternoon as Norway’s new business and trade minister.

Well-wishers had lots of flowers for the new government’s ministers as they posed for the first time after the traditional Council of State at the Royal Palace Friday. Linda Helleland, who’s making a ministerial comeback, dropped one of her bouquets, as the new fisheries, oil and justice ministers look on. At left, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, her government partner Kjell Ingolf Ropstad and new Transport Minister Knut Arild Hareide, both of the Christian Democrats party. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

The massive ministerial shuffle also led to more changes among the Conservatives’ posts: Torbjørn Røe Isaksen was moved from his most-recent business and trade post to take over as minister in charge of labour and social welfare issues. He replaces Anniken Hauglie, who has been under pressure in the NAV scandal and is now leaving the government. Her resignation came as a surprise, since Solberg has claimed she still had confidence in Hauglie, who’s been under threat of a lack-of-confidence vote in Parliament. Hauglie herself had expressed a desire to stay on to “clean up” after the NAV chaos, but now Isaksen will be charged with that.

Another young Conservative minister, Nikolai Astrup, was moved from his post as digitalization minister to take over a long list of duties in the ministry that’s in charge of local governments and modernization. He was based there earlier and has also been “promoted” to take over administrative responsibility, while Linda Hofstad Helleland was named to take over his former digital duties. Helleland is a veteran of the Conservatives and a former minister who’s making a comeback in Solberg’s government. She’ll also assume responsibility for regional- and district policies and those regarding Norway’s indigenous Sami and other minorities. Helleland and Astrup will work out of the same ministry, with Astrup in charge of local governments’ economy, management, planning, building policy and several other issues.

There were also a rash of resignations and appointments of new state secretaries and political advisers in the various ministries. Four ministries will continue to have two ministers (Foreign Affairs, Business and Fisheries, Education, and Regions and Modernization), down from six in the former government.

Solberg herself signalled at her press conference following the presentation of her new government coalition that it will be paying more attention to climate issues, also as Norway’s oil continues to flow. “One of the big problems is how Norway will reduce its climate emissions without that coming at the expense of our welfare,” she said, adding that she feels she now “has a team that will contribute towards creating a greener, more modern and safer Norway.”

She also predicted “more open discussions and debates in Parliament, without everything being decided (as within her former majority coalition) in advance.”

Solberg described her new ministers as all being “individuals who will each come to influence the future of our country in the areas for which they’re responsible. But we are also a team that will stand together to reach our goals.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund