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Friday, July 19, 2024

Støre ‘renews’ his troubled government

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre presented no less than seven new government ministers and an entirely new ministry on Monday. It’s all part of his effort to renew and revitalize one of the most unpopular governments on record, and bring in new talent well ahead of the next national election in 2025.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre presenting his new government ministers outside the Royal Palace in Oslo on Monday (from left): Karianne Tung, Andreas Bjelland Eriksen, Espen Barth Eide, Støre, Tonje Brenna, Cecilie Myrseth, Kari Nessa Nordtun and Erling Sande. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“We’re making these changes because there are some political arenas that must have even greater attention in the future,” said Støre, leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, after also unveiling the new ministry devoted to digitalization and public management. Running it will be Karianne Tung, a Labour Party politician from Trøndelag. Tung, age 39, was a Member of Parliament from 2013-2017 and most recently has led Tech Port in Trondheim, which stresses coordination among technological development and business.

Støre also announced that he’s changing the name of what long has been called Norway’s “Oil & Energy Ministry,” which still reflects the country’s powerful and controversial oil industry. From January 1st it will simply be called the “Energy Ministry,” an attempt to tone down oil’s role and play up the role of alternative energy.

“A steadily larger portion of our energy comes from new energy sources like wind, solar, hydroelectric and other energy forms,” Støre claimed. “We’re right in the middle of the green restructuring, and development of more renewable energy will continue in the time to come.” Støre acknowledged, though, that the Energy Ministry will still have “exactly the same areas of responsibility as ‘Oil & Energy’ has today,” where oil still dominates. His many critics can thus link the name change to other forms of what they  call “government greenwashing.”

The most high-level ministerial change was, as predicted earlier, the replacement of Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, right in the midst of various international crises. She got caught in one of the many conflicts of interest that have scandalized Norwegian politics for the past few months, tearfully admitting in August that her husband had actively invested in Norwegian companies and earned profits that damaged her impartiality. She still claims she was not aware of his investment activity.

Anniken Huitfeldt, shown here with Prime Minister Støre on the way to the UN in New York last month, did not manage to hang on to her post as foreign minister, and has been replaced by Espen Barth Eide. She’s caught up in a conflict of interest scandal similar to that of the Conservatives Party leader Erna Solberg. PHOTO: NorwayUN

Støre had initially claimed he still had confidence in Huitfeldt, but then his arch rival from the Conservative Party, Erna Solberg, got into similar trouble. That made it more difficult for Støre to criticize Solberg, when his own foreign minister had been involved in similar offenses. At his press conference after Monday’s cabinet reshuffle, Støre still spoke highly of Huitfeldt but claimed Solberg’s troubles heightened the seriousness such conflicts can have. He also claimed that a parliamentary hearing into all the conflicts that have emerged recently would take time away from a foreign minister’s duties. “It would be hanging over her,” he said, while his foreign minister must devote full attention to international crises from Ukraine to the Middle East and elsewhere.

Huitfeldt was also from the left-leaning and anti-EU side of Labour, while Støre has always been viewed as moderate and favoured EU membership. Replacing her will be Espen Barth Eide, a Labour veteran who served as both defense- and foreign minister in NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s two terms as Norwegian prime minister.

Espen Barth Eide, who’s become Norway’s foreign minister for the second time, met with foreign correspondents in Oslo just last week to talk about climate issues. He’ll still lead negotiations over emission cuts at the next UN climate summit in Dubai in December, along with Grace Fu of Singapore. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

Eide has most recently been Støre’s minister in charge of climate and environmental issues, during which he built up even more international contacts, Støre noted. Eide was also routinely criticized, though, for continuing to support Norway’s oil industry and failing to cut Norway’s own emissions. He’s been under fire most recently for also refusing to halt another of Norway’s wolf hunts, allowing a motorway to be built through a nature preserve, exploring the possibility of highly controversial undersea mining and, not least, failing to significantly cut emissions. Eide claims a new plan to use more biogas will help Norway meet its emission goals and he denies Norway maintains double standards for itself and other countries on climate issues.

Now Eide will return to international diplomacy at the highest levels, just a few weeks after not being invited to speak at a UN climate session in New York because of Norway’s waning credibility on climate issues. He will, however, continue to lead climate negotiations heading into the next UN climate summit in Dubai in December. The goal is “to increase ambitions” for reduction of carbon emissions, despite Norway’s ongoing production of oil and gas.

Replacing Eide as new Climate and Environment Minister will be 31-year-old Andreas Bjelland Eriksen of Stavanger. He the son of Labour veteran Cecilie Bjelland, is educated at the Norwegian business school NHH and formerly led Labour’s youth organization in Stavanger. He was brought into Støre’s Labour-Center government coalition last year as a state secretary in the Oil & Energy Ministry and since July 1st has been spending half his time in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Støre stressed the importance of bringing in young politicians to rejuvenate the government and prepare them for future roles. That’s also part of the reason, Støre admitted, that former Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen wasn’t tapped to join the government after Labour lost local elections, but is part of the reason former Stavanger Mayor Kari Nessa Nordtun, age 37, was named as Norway’s new education minister on Monday. Nordtun was also highly popular in Stavanger, worked a lot with schools during her tenure and helps usher in “a new generation in Norwegian politics,” according to Støre.

Prime Minister greets a potential new Labour voter outside the Royal Palace in Oslo on Monday, along with three of his new ministers: Tonje Brenna, Cecilie Myrseth and Kari Nessa Nordtun. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

Nordturn will replace Støre’s deputy Labour Party leader Tonje Brenna, who is replacing Marte Mjøs Persen as the minister in charge of labour and workplace issues in the government. Persen will be leaving government to make way for Brenna, even though Brenna also ran into conflicts of interest last summer for appointing friends and acquaintances to various public positions. She has survived, also after ruffling feathers within Labour itself recently for suggesting that some colleagues are more keen on raising levels of welfare payments than trying to get those on welfare back to work.

Also joining the government is Cecilie Myrseth, a 39-year-old psychologist from Harstad and Tromsø who will take over as minister in charge of fisheries and the seas around Norway. She’ll replace Bjørnar Skjæran, also from Northern Norway, who already had to give up a leadership post in the party to make room for Brenna and Trade Minister Jan Christian Vestre. Skjæran, like the three other ministers being replaced, did not want to leave the government but had not held a high public profile and ultimately had to cede his spot to the new generation. Myrseth has been a Member of Parliament representing Troms since 2017 and was leader of the county council in Troms before that.

Also leaving the government is Sigbjørn Gjelsvik, who formerly led the ministry in charge of local government. Gjelsvik is the only politician from Labour’s Center Party partner to fall in the ministerial shake-up, and Støre included him in expressing gratitude for the work all the ousted ministers have done. Gjelsvik, however, repeatedly ran into trouble himself for ignoring professional advice when it didn’t suit his pro-district politics. Last month he also had to apologize for hugging and kissing a ministry employee at a summer party and admitted to “displaying poor judgment.” Other ministry personnel viewed that incident as sexual harassment.

Gjelsvik is, at any rate, being replaced by what Støre called “another new face” in his government, Erling Sande. Sande, age 44, was a substitute Member of Parliament for the Center Party from 2005-2013, representing Sogn og Fjordane, and elected in his own right in 2021. He grew up on a farm in the mountainous region, was active in Center’s youth group and now leads the parliament’s transport and communications committee.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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