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Prepared for criticism

It is not the fault of the party leadership that the left side of the SV is not in government, says Development Minister Erik Solheim. He himself will do his utmost to implement SV politics in position.


- Congratulations on the new job. Our little insight into the day today, shows that you have hardly had time to try your new chair. What is job number one for you now?

- It is difficult to come up with a program statement the other day, because the first job is to get me into all things, Solheim smiles sincerely. He has left the sweater at home today, but reports that the tie will only last the first week.

- I want to adopt a listening attitude, both here in the ministry, towards SV, the development aid community and others. There are many who know more than me, from whom I must learn.

- But then when you've done it?

- Then of course I have a lot of political baggage with me with the Soria Moria declaration. Everything must be implemented. One of the most important things there is that we will provide more to the UN, and provide less assistance through the World Bank.

- Yes, precisely the aid through the World Bank is one of the aid communities that have strongly criticized the resigned government for, since they also set a number of market liberal demands on the countries that receive aid. Is this an ideological change of course you are now going to make?

- I do not want to criticize my predecessor, I have promised not to do so. Hilde has been the most energetic Minister of Development Norway has ever had, she has given the maximum and received money for the field…

- But must the World Bank be allowed to criticize?

- Yes it is ready. We want to change the language and the way of thinking. It is easy to think of violence when working with development, but it is first and foremost about power. Solidarity for me is to give people power, by correcting imbalances both between countries and within the individual countries. I want to give the poor more power, also in relation to the World Bank and the WTO. As I see it, this is in the socialist tradition: to see that it is about power more than crumbs from the table of the rich.

- In recent years, and especially under the outgoing government, criticism has been leveled at poor cooperation between the aid and foreign ministers. At the same time, good cooperation is said to be crucial for good development work. How do you think it will go for you?

- I'm sure it will go very well. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and I have all had a broad review of many things, and fully agree on cooperation. Peace and reconciliation are a key example, where the use of money for development must go hand in hand with many actions in the same direction, each of which falls under our various areas of interest. Then we will get to do an incredible amount more. And at the internal meeting earlier today, we made it very clear that we do not want to create any contradictions internally in the ministry.

- But is it actually the case that there are sometimes real contradictions, between, for example, Norwegian trade interests and an effective development policy?

- In the government, it is the job of the various ministers to fight for the various interests. But the compromises come in relation to a common goal. To take another example from the government declaration: it clearly states that we must see the environment and development in context. Poverty can be a concrete cause of environmental problems. If you do not have food, you use all means to get it. Climate change affects the poor the most, the rich always have the opportunity to buy out of the problems. Helen Bjørnøy and I will look closely at how we can collaborate on this. There is also a lot of knowledge in the Ministry of the Environment.

- The government declaration does not say much about women and development, and well nothing about children and young people?

- There is a lot to tackle. I usually say that if you think you know everything on day two in a new job, then you are a jerk. I know a lot about peace, that's what I've been working on for the last five years. And I know a lot about the environment, which was my heart's desire as party leader. But I know less about traditional aid and have a lot to learn. Here I am back to listening. It may sound silly, but it is stupider to pretend you have the answer to everything, says Solheim and quickly moves into a digression:

- I heard a commentator say here, that now that we have a majority government, we can avoid listening to the Storting. For some nonsense, if good thoughts are thought of the thing, we will of course listen to them. Thinking power and creative processes will be important in the future. We will connect with the best people, both internationally and in Norway. Everyone should be able to record, the only limiting factor is time. I want to travel around, receive and listen to SV's voters, members and local teams, people outside the party and from organizations. I have many ideas for how we can achieve a closer collaboration between what is happening in Norway and internationally. For example, in migration policy: In Norway, we now have some large ethnic groups from outside. It is natural that we have a closer collaboration with countries that many Norwegian immigrants come from than many other countries. Norwegians with ancestry from other countries also send huge sums of money to their home country, overall, such aid involves larger financial sums than international aid. Therefore, we will enter into a dialogue with the immigrant communities to see how we can together contribute to the greatest possible development.

- You yourself are controversial in your own party, and are often placed on the right side in SV. Now many are afraid that the party as a whole will have to move a lot against the Labor Party in government. Will SV's core issues win?

- There will be both victories and defeats. But the feedback shows that members are happy with the foreign policy in the declaration, which is the only part of the Soria Moria declaration I have had anything to do with. It has aroused great enthusiasm in the national government. There will always be contradictions in the government, but I will do my utmost to get through SV's policy.

- But you agree that it is the right wing of the party that is represented?

- At least I know that Kristin has done her utmost to get Audun Lysbakken to become Minister of State. She worked hard to ensure the greatest possible breadth in the government, and it is not her fault that he is not with. But since I am among the few in the government who come from Oslo originally, it has been important for me to choose a state secretary and political adviser from Northern Norway and Southern Norway, respectively. Regardless; I have no personal problems with being criticized. No matter what may come from Norwegian critics, it will be only one per mille of what I have experienced from criticism as a peace broker in Sri Lanka.

- Critical voices claim that the credibility of Norwegian development policy depends on a number of other changes in foreign and trade policy, for example because Statoil is sometimes involved in conflict-ridden areas. How do you view this?

- On the one hand, we will give other countries the opportunity to learn from us. State-private ownership, money back to the Treasury… This Norwegian model is something that makes us most interesting for other countries. That we chose to create a large state player such as Statoil was important when Norway became an oil nation. But today you have to go far to the right in Norwegian politics to find someone who does not think it was a good idea. At the same time, we must take care of the ethical. It cannot be the case that Norwegian oil companies in practice extend the life of dictators and act unethically in international cooperation. This is the back of the medal.

- What do you think offers the most difficult challenges in your new job?

- An obviously difficult thing, says the Minister for Development Aid before letting the words hang in the air for a while, – is to combine my ambition to give power to the poor with avoiding interfering in other countries' internal affairs. When you want to give more power to someone internally in another country, it is to interfere. Personally, I have one single challenge: How to make it go around, especially since I now have a small baby of three months.

- Yes, you are going to introduce an extended cardboard folder as well, but it may be difficult to find time to take it out?

- I have received strict instructions from Kristin to do so, Solheim laughs.

- In fact, I have received a specific order to take out a full cardboard folder. We must live as we preach.

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