Norway PM reshuffles cabinet to revive election hopes

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 21, 2012 6:50 AM
Norway PM reshuffles cabinet to revive election hopes

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reshuffled his cabinet on Friday, hoping to revive the fortunes of his Labor Party, badly trailing in polls just a year before parliamentary elections.

Stoltenberg moved his foreign, defense, health and culture ministers, and replaced the labor minister in move seen as the last big effort to shape the team that would campaign for Labor's third straight term.

"We have made these changes to make room for new values, new force and new ideas," Stoltenberg told reporters after informing King Harald of the changes. "It is a combination of renewal and continuity."

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, a close Stoltenberg ally, will take over the health ministry, a key position for a government hoping to strengthen the extensive social safety net.

Botched hospital reform has been a drag on Labor's popularity and has overshadowed its success in running one of Europe's rare economic stars.

"I think that he is trying to turn the ship around before election time," said Frank Aabrebrot, a European politics professor at Bergen University. "At times some of the ministers have looked like commentators talking to bureaucrats, instead of leaders."

Opinion polls give Labor around 30 percent of the vote, behind the opposition Conservative Party's 34 percent.

They also show Stoltenberg's two coalition allies would struggle to break the 4 percent threshold needed for parliamentary seats while the right-wing Progress Party, a potential ally of the Conservatives, polls around 14 percent.

Another key Stoltenberg ally, Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, will take over as foreign minister and will play a top role in mediating between Colombia's government and the FARC guerrillas when peace talks begin in Oslo next month.

"Barth Eide is as capable as foreign minister as he was defense minister," Aabrebrot said.

Stoltenberg, trailing opposition leader Erna Solberg as preferred prime minister, will bring in 29-year-old Hadia Tajik as culture minister, making her the youngest ever cabinet member. Tajik, whose parents were born in Pakistan, will also be the only cabinet member of foreign descent.

The finance, oil and trade portfolios, the main ministries that shape economic policy, are not affected by the changes.

Norway's economy grew by an annual 5 percent in the second quarter, the fastest rate in Europe, thanks to high oil prices, record investment in the offshore oil and gas sector, and high consumer confidence.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Vegard Botterli; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)