Profile - Jens Stoltenberg

Socialist Affairs traces the life of Jens Stoltenberg, new leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, DNA


When Jens Stoltenberg came into the world in 1950 it would have been an easy bet to forecast that he would carve out a political career for himself.

His father Thorvald was already well known as a public figure and would become Norway’s defence and foreign minister, its representative at the UN and in Copenhagen, a senior UN representative in former Yugoslavia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

At the same time Jens’ mother Karin, too, was deeply involved in politics. She was state secretary for industry in 1988 and 1989 having previously been permanent secretary at the ministry of children and the family. Her sister Marianne, Jens’ aunt, was married to a foreign minister. Politics appeared to run in the blood.

The young Jens soon found his feet as he tackled the art of expressing himself. As a pupil at his Rudolf Steiner school he took part in a youthful performance of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. He joined the DNA, a party which had been founded in 1887, when he was 14 and at university, where he took a course in economics, he refined his political skills not least in street demonstrations during which stones were thrown at a Western embassy.

He never erred on the side of being too conformist, whether this meant selling lottery tickets for the benefit of his band the Kringsja Musikkorps or filming an atomic power station in neighbouring Russia, an act for which he was arrested. In Yugoslavia he found his way into a hospital which was closed to foreigners by giving another name.

By the 1990s he was making his way in the DNA hierarchy. In October 1993, when he was already first deputy chairman of the Party, the then prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland made him her youngest cabinet minister, appointing him to the portfollio of industry and energy. This post was - and remains - vital in a country whose vast reserves of oil and natural gas provide more than half of all export revenue and contribute mightily to give the 4.5 million Norwegians an average annual income of nearly 34,000 euros each.

When Brundtland resigned in October 1996 her successor Thorbjorn Jagland moved Jens Stoltenberg to the finance ministry where he stayed till the DNA was replaced a year later by a government lead by Kjell Magne Bondevik, the Lutheran pastor who was leader of the conservative Christian People’s Party.

Bondevik, who was trying to govern with a coalition which commanded the slimmest of majorities, in his turn left office in March 2000 and it fell to Stoltenberg to form a government also with a small majority. In accepting the challenge he became the youngest prime minister in Norway’s history. As he presented his cabinet to King Harald V he commented, "It has been important to get a combination of experience and renewal and to get a broad spectrum of knowledge." He added that his only problem in forming a new administration was to choose from the long list of excellent candidates. Half his cabinet members were women and most were of his own age. The oldest was 59.

Under his adminstration Norway consolidated its already long-established international reputation as a peace maker, trying to solve crises and wars around the world.

His term in government ended on 19 October last year when Bondevik picked up the reins for a second time.

He was elected to lead the party in succession to Jagland who had been its leader since 1992.

Jens Stoltenberg lives in Oslo with his wife Ingrid and their two children Aksel and Catharina.



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