UPDATED: Guri Melby, who currently serves as Norway’s education minister in the country’s non-socialist government, emerged over the weekend as the top candidate to take over as leader of her Liberal Party (Venstre), which in Norway is actually on the conservative side of politics. She’ll be in charge of reinvigorating a party that holds government power but barely has enough public support for representation in Parliament.
Melby, according to the Liberals’ nomination committee, “has solid leadership experience at the local and national level … has shown herself to be a visionary politician who combines everyday politics with important liberal principles, and has broad appeal.”
She’s due to head a leadership trio including Sveinung Rotevatn and Abid Raja, both currently government ministers themselves. They’ll replace the current party leadership trio headed by Trine Skei Grande, who resigned in turmoil earlier this year, Ola Elvestuen and Terje Breivik. After years of leadership conflicts within Norway’s oldest political party, Melby thinks the new trio’s “different qualities” in the areas of education (herself), culture (Raja) and the environment (Rotevatn) will manage to strengthen the party.
Melby’s biggest task will be to reduce the turmoil and infighting that’s characterized the Liberals for years. “The most important thing is to listen to folks, both in the cities and small communities,” Melby told news bureau NTB, “and to calm things down, we need to get results. If we have a party that’s growing, many will want to join in.”
‘Yes’ to the EU
Her support for an initiative within the party to support EU membership isn’t the most popular or unifying issue she could pick, but it also marks one of the sharpest differences between her and former leader Grande. “While Trine opposed joining the EU, I’ve been a ‘yes’ person all along,” Melby said. “I think that a party that promotes international cooperation and not least efforts to resolve challenges linked to climate and migration must say ‘yes’ to obligatory European cooperation.”
Melby, age 39, is originally from Orkdal in largely anti-EU Trøndelag, and holds a master’s degree in Nordic languages from NTNU in Trondheim. Her political career started on the city council in Orkdal in 1999, where she served until 2007 when she was elected to the city countil in Trondheim. She’s also been a college lecturer in both Oslo and Sør-Trøndelag and led the board of Norway’s national language council (Språkrådet) from 2016-2018 while also representing the Liberals in the Oslo city government as head of transportation and environmental issues.
She took over Grande’s seat in Parliament when the Liberals joined the government in 2018, and made headlines when she and MP Petter Eide protested China’s lack of democracy and human rights by wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Freedom” in Mandarin during a visit by a top Chinese leader.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party tapped Melby to take over as government minister in charge of education and integration earlier this year when Grande withdrew from the government coalition among sagging polls and internal party turmoil. Melby immediately had to deal with the closure of all schools and day care centers during the Corona crisis and has often participated in the government’s almost daily press conferences on Corona containment measures. Solberg, meanwhile, has made it clear she doesn’t want to launch a new EU debate right now.
Melby describes herself as “a normal person living a normal life, with a husband and two small children.” She said she was “very glad and very proud” to be nominated as leader of the Liberals, for which she’ll need to boost support before next year’s national election. Reaction to her nomination was generally favourable, with newspaper Dagsavisen editorializing that neither the charismatic Culture Minister Abid Raja nor Environment Minister Sveinung Rotevatn (also both in the running for the post) would have managed to unite the party. Melby, according to several political commentators, may have the best chance of ensuring that the Liberals survive next autumn’s parliamentary election.