In a cabinet reshuffle announced on Wednesday, Prime Minister Erna Solberg appointed Sylvi Listhaug, the country’s former agriculture minister, to the new post.
“Our society is not sustainable if too many people are living on public payouts rather than paying in,” Listhaug said after her appointment. “We must bring down the number coming into Norway.”
“This is about our ability to integrate those who come. If the number flowing into Norway is extremely big, that means it will also be hard to integrate them.”
An estimated 35,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Norway in 2015, a record for the country, but still a fraction of the 150,000 who have arrived in neighbouring Sweden.
Listhaug, a Christian, made headlines last month when she appeared to suggest that Jesus Christ would have supported the Progress Party's tough stance on asylum seekers, drawing the condemnation of the leading bishop in the Church of Norway.
“What Jesus cared about is you should help as many people as possible — and that’s not as many as possible in Norway,” she said in an interview with Norway's state broadcaster NRK.
In another controversial move, she appointed Per Sandberg, Progress’s outspoken deputy leader as Fisheries Minister, bringing the man, who is widely seen as a loose canon, into the government for the first time.
Sandberg’s combative style and harsh rhetoric on immigration and Islam has been a frequent source of conflict since Progress formed Norway’s coalition government in 2013.
He has caused particular difficulties for the Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats, the two minority parties which support the government but are not part of the coalition.
“He has been the source of some conflict, and he has had some initiatives that we think have been hair-raising,” Knut Hareide, the Christian Democrats’ leader told VG after his appointment. “Now he goes into government, he will probably play a different role.”
However, Sandberg vowed not to let his ministerial role muzzle him.
“I think nobody should expect me to put a lid on what is Progress policy,” he said.