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Monday, May 27, 2024

Minister’s mistakes forced a government re-shuffle

Norway’s former government minister in charge of higher education and research, Ola Borten Moe, found himself replaced on Friday by Agriculture Minister Sandra Borch. That in turn brought another Center Party fan of Norway’s heavily subsidized farmers into the government. 

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (center), leaving the Royal Palace on Friday with his new agriculture minister Geir Pollestad (right) and Sandra Borch, the former agriculture minister who’s now taking over for Center Party colleague Ola Borten Moe, who had to resign under pressure. PHOTO: KD/Martin Siewartz

“I want to strengthen Norwegian food production and make Norwegian agriculture more important,” said Geir Pollestad, a Center Party veteran in Parliament, after he was named to replace Borch. Pollestad went on to claim that “Norwegian food production will take its place” within national preparedness, self-sufficiency, trade- and climate policy.

That’s hotly debated at present, as Norway’s already high food prices have soared in recent months even after Norwegian farmers have been given record-high taxpayer support. The farmers are never satisfied, however, and continue to complain even after passing on the costs of importing foreign labour to their workers from Vietnam and Thailand and admitting that Norwegians aren’t nearly as good at picking strawberries that have cost as much as NOK 69 (USD 6.70) a basket this summer.

Newspaper Aftenposten noted on Friday that Norway can never be fully self-sufficient in its food production because of the need for foreign labour along with imported tractors, fertilizer, animal feed and other things needed on the farm. Norwegian farm policy is full of contradictions, unable to compete against cheaper and often better products from abroad, and utterly dependent on billions worth of public funding.

Pollestad will continue to defend farmers after becoming the new face in the Labour Party’s government coalition with the Center Party. Pollestad, age 44, is from Rogaland and has been a member of Parliament for Center since 2009.

He replaces Borch, age 35, who also firmly defends Norwegian protectionism in the agricultural sector and ran into trouble recently for dismissing advice from researchers that Norwegians should eat less red meat. Last week she was also at odds with researchers tackling Norway’s bird flu crisis (wrongly blaming it on warmer winters). Now she’ll be in charge of research and higher education.

Sandra Borch will take over for Ola Borten Moe, who had to resign as government minister in charge of research and higher education for violating laws and rules aimed at preventing conflicts of interest. PHOTO: Kunnskaps departementet

That set off alarms among several academics on Friday, but many had also been upset with Borch’s predecessor Ola Borten Moe. He had to resign this summer after violating government rules tied to questionable stock purchases that led to potential conflicts of interest with his position as a government minister. Moe had also infuriated university leadership around Norway over funding cuts, building projects, new tuition charges for foreign students and a long list of other controversies. He’d even been declared “unwanted” by the University of Oslo and the University of Bergen.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre avoided a more major reshuffle of his cabinet as Norway heads into mid-term elections next month at the local level. Aftenposten’s political commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim had speculated over whether Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl, embattled on a number of fronts, might be moved over to replace Moe, with her top post taken over by Center Party veteran Marit Arnstad. That could have been viewed as a step down for Mehl, though, and Arnstad, happy as leader of Center’s delegation in Parliament, hasn’t wanted to return to a ministerial post.

Alstadheim thus predicted exactly what happened on Friday, with Borch taking over Moe’s post and Pollestad joining the government. Both changes took effect immediately after King Harald V ceremoniously approved Støre’s appointments (requested by his government partner) at a special Council of State at the Royal Palace. Borch is now also a contender to replace Moe as a deputy leader of the Center Party next year.

“Days like this are always special,” Borch said after also ceremoniously receiving the key to her new ministerial office from Moe. “There’s a lot of emotion, it’s never nice when a government minister has to resign. At the same time I’m ready to take over this job.” So is Pollestad.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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