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Friday, July 12, 2024

Finance minister battling illness

Norwegian Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum has been battling more than just budgets, rising prices and political opponents lately. While addressing more than 300 delegates at his Center Party’s annual meeting on Friday, Vedum revealed he’d been diagnosed with a serious illness two years ago and hopes new medicines will keep it under control.

Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, who leads the currently embattled Center Party, was all alone in front of more than 300 party delegates when he revealed that he’s been diagnosed with MS. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Vedum’s announcement came as a surprise to many. He’d already been on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s nationwide political radio talk show early Friday morning, where he’d predictably defended Norway’s currently unpopular Labour-Center government. He was also characteristically upbeat, even though his party’s own standing among voters has plummeted from as high as 20 percent back in 2020, to 13.5 percent in the 2021 national election and to just 6-7 percent in recent polls.

He opened his party’s meeting in Trondheim Friday morning, however, by saying he wanted “to get personal” for awhile before launching into political issues.

“I have MS (multiple sclerosis),” Vedum announced bluntly. He revealed that he’d suffered what he called a series of “uncomfortable incidents” in 2020, right when he and the Center Party were enjoying a surge of voter support.

He said he sought medical help, and while on a trip around Vestlandet later that year, his doctor called “and had some bad news,” Vedum related. “‘We think you are seriously ill. We think you have MS.'”

The news came as a shock, Vedum said, adding that he knew little about the disease that attacks the central nervous system and can cause numbness, visual disturbance, mobility and balance problems, dizziness and chronic fatigue. Its cause is unknown and both symptoms and its development vary from person to person.

“Alone I was completely helpless,” Vedum, age 44, told his party fellows, but after thorough testing and new forms of treatment, he claims he now feels fine, “thanks to all the new medications that have come in recent years.”

Asked whether he was scared, he told NRK after his announcement that “I felt very uncertain, of course you do. And worried. But I’m so positive by nature that I chose not to Google it (MS).” He said he’s since received lots of help, stressing how one nurse in particular explained how, with today’s medications, “things can go well.”

As finance minister, Vedum has been under great pressure because of all the current economic uncertainty. He’s also been the target of lots of criticism. PHOTO: Finansdepartementet/Kenneth Hætta

According to Vedum, they have. “Now I don’t notice anything wrong at all,” he said, before getting down to the business at hand. That included more defense of new tax increases, unusually tight budgets for a country that’s grown wealthy on oil and gas revenues, and extraordinary profits tied to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Vedum insists Norway nonetheless must set strict priorities, and he encouraged wealthy Norwegians who’ve moved their legal residences to Switzerland to avoid taxes to move home again: “It’s nice to live in Norway.”

He also all but scoffed at climate and environmental advocates by calling on his party members to literally applaud Norway’s oil industry. “The job it’s done has resulted in the wealth we have today.” He also defended the government and praised Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who’s also taken a dive in popularity.

“I’m very glad we have the government we have,” Vedum said. “We have a very good prime minister (who was spending much of the day escorting EU leader Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg out to North Sea oil installations). It’s the voters who decide, and I think their decision (in 2021) was the best for the country.”

It was Stoltenberg who first appointed Vedum as a government minister during his last Labour-led coalition government before losing in 2013. Støre, meanwhile, told NRK he was deeply moved by Vedum’s personal but public disclosure on Friday.

“I applaud Trygve for being open about his serious illness,” Støre said. “I’m glad he’s getting good help and that the illness has stabilized.” He doesn’t seem to fear it will jeopardize Vedum’s work as finance minister, and rather encourage others to be more open about MS without worrying about the consequences.

“When Vedum in his position as finance minister can be so open, I think it can help many others,” Støre said. Other party leaders, also in opposition, praised Vedum’s openness as well, and wished him well. “It’s sad to hear that Vedum has been diagnosed with MS,” said one of his arch rivals, Progress Party leader Sylvi Listhaug. “Trygve is a politician whom I value even though we often strongly disagree.”

Former Prime Minister Erna Solberg also said she was glad Vedum was getting the best medical care possible. “Trygve is a good man, and even though we’re political opponents, I wish him all the best.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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