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POLITICS

Jonas Gahr Støre: Who is Norway’s new prime minister?

Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre will take over as Prime Minister of Norway on Thursday. Here's what you need to know about the country's new leader.

Jonas Gahr Støre, pictured at a Labour event, will take over as Norway's prime minister.
Jonas Gahr Støre, pictured at a Labour event, will take over as Norway's prime minister. Photo by Kyrre Lein/ AFP.

On Thursday, Jonas Gahr Støre will take over the reins as Norwegian prime minister replacing the outgoing Erna Solberg.

Støre campaigned against social inequalities in wealthy Norway, one of the most egalitarian countries in the OECD but which saw the number of billionaires more than double under the outgoing centre-right government.

“Now it’s the turn of the ordinary people,” he hammered throughout the campaign.

His crusade may seem odd for someone whose wealth has been estimated at 140 million kroner (around 14 millions euros, $16 million), and who is often knocked for having the “airs of a rightwinger”.

“My finances are not ordinary, but many things about me are,” he told AFP.

The heir

Married and the father of three, Støre is an heir in several senses of the word.

His fortune comes from the sale of a family stove manufacturing company that was saved from bankruptcy by his grandfather.

He’s also a political heir, walking in the footsteps of his friend and mentor, former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg.

Støre served as foreign minister in his government from 2005 to 2012, and health minister in 2012-2013.

When Stoltenberg was named the head of NATO in 2014, his protege Støre was the natural choice to replace him as Labour Party leader.

Well, sort of natural. His arrival at the head of the party that traditionally represents workers did not sit very well with everybody.

His stellar education — Sciences Po in Paris, a brief stint at the London School of Economics and a research position at Harvard Law School — his millions, his technocrat elegance, and the fact that he speaks French all give him an elitist air that rubs some Norwegians the wrong way, especially those in the left-wing of his party.

As an editorialist once put it, Støre has had to “climb the social ladder in reverse”.

READ ALSO: The key policies from Norway’s new government that you need to know about

The son of a shipbroker and a librarian, he takes care to fly the Norwegian flag for the international workers day on May 1, after being criticised for not doing so.

“He’s a political leader who people sometimes make fun of, an intellectual seen as being a little out of place in the Labour Party but he’s done well in this campaign,” political analyst Johannes Bergh said before the vote.

‘Super-Jonas’

Almost everyone acknowledges his refined eloquence — though while some say it as a compliment others claim he uses it as a weapon to create ambiguity.

“Jonas is an extraordinary person,” Stoltenberg said when he handed over the reins of the party leadership to him.

“He knows a lot and has a huge workload capacity, which he combines with the gift of making the people around him happy.”

Fresh out of university, Støre went to work for the “mother of the nation” Gro Harlem Brundtland as her advisor when she was prime minister and then head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Working at the foreign ministry after a brief stint as the head of the Norwegian Red Cross, he earned the nickname “Super-Jonas” for all of his successes, though he has said he doesn’t really like the moniker.

Having made the Arctic one of his political priorities, he fostered closer ties with neighbouring Russia.

“I see him almost as often as I see my wife,” joked his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

READ MORE: New Norwegian government outlines climate ambitions despite commitment to oil

In 2010, the two resolved a longstanding dispute over maritime borders, thereby opening up new waters in the Barents Sea to oil prospecting.

Støre’s period as foreign minister was also one of drama.

In 2008, the Serena Hotel in Kabul where he was staying was attacked by the Taliban. Støre was not hurt, having sought refuge in a saferoom, but six people were killed.

The politician was also one of rightwing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s targets when he opened fire at a Labour youth gathering on the island of Utoya in July 2011.

Støre had visited the island the day before.

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RUSSIA

Norway says it hasn’t breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

Norway is not breaching a century-old treaty covering the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard by blocking Russian cargo to the islands, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday after Moscow threatened retaliatory measures.

Norway says it hasn't breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

“Norway does not violate the Svalbard Treaty,” foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt told AFP. “Norway does not try to put obstacles in the way of supplies” to a Russian coal mining settlement in the area, she said, after Russia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Norway’s charge d’affaires over the issue.

Moscow accused Norway of disrupting the work of the Russian consulate general on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard but allows citizens of more than 40 countries to exploit the islands’ potentially vast resources on an equal footing.

Moscow has long wanted a bigger say in the archipelago — which it insists on calling Spitsbergen rather than the Norwegian Svalbard – which has been a haunt of its hunters, whalers and fishermen since the 16th century. The Svalbard Treaty handing sovereignty to Norway was signed in 1920.

Huitfeldt argued the shipment that was stopped at the Norwegian-Russian border “has been stopped on the basis of the sanctions that prohibit Russian road transport companies from transporting goods on Norwegian territory”.

Goods transport “does not have to go via mainland Norway by Russian truck”, she said, suggesting other solutions could be found to supply the mining community.

Svalbard was exempt from a ban on port calls by Russian-flagged vessels, “and we have clearly signalled our willingness to consider a dispensation from the flight ban”, the minister said.

The situation in the town of Barentsburg, home to the Russian miners, was “normal”, she said.

“Residents have access to food and medicine,” Huitfeldt said. “It is not Norwegian policy to try to force Russian companies or citizens away from Svalbard, or to put obstacles in the way of the business that takes place in accordance with Norwegian laws and regulations.

“At the same time, Norway’s necessary reaction to Russia’s war in Ukraine may also have practical consequences for Russian companies on Svalbard, as in Norway in general,” Huitfeldt said.

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