Only a few weeks after Norway’s Conservative-led government teetered on the brink of collapse, it has taken a turn to the right with appointments that include putting a climate change skeptic in charge of the ministry that governs Svalbard – a responsibility he admits he was unaware of when he started the job Tuesday.
New leaders were also appointed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, both of whom also play a role in shaping Svalbard policy.
Per-Willy Amundsen, 45, the new Minister of Justice and Public Security, has declared climate change a ruse to implement socialist policies and it is “madness to spend billions on a hypothesis that the warming is man-made.” He has also expressed rigidly anti-Islamic and anti-immigration views. He was evasive in media interviews this week when asked if he still supports those and other controversial statements.
“I think that there is very little interest in getting into to individual statements and comments that were made several years ago,” he told Aftenposten. “Now I’m the Minister of Justice and will implement government policies.”
Amundsen told NRK on Wednesday he was unaware that his appointment puts him in charge of Norway’s Polar Affairs Department, which has administrative oversight of Svalbard.
“I’ve been a minister for just over a half day,” he said. “I have a lot I need to get myself into and that’s what I’m going to give priority to in the coming days.”
Amundsen, who replaces Anders Anundsen as minister, is part of the national conservative wing of Norway’s Progress Party. The party suggested last year that refugees being accepted into Norway should be sent to a camp in Svalbard.
He was appointed state secretary by Prime Minister Erna Solberg after the 2013 parliamentary election. His subsequent appointment as justice minister drew sharply contrasting reactions from party officials who during November and early December engaged in a tumultuous battle over the 2017 budget that threatened to topple Solberg and her cabinet.
“There are now two ministers in the same ministry, immigration minister Sylvi Listhaug and Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen, both of whom are climate change deniers and have a history of rhetoric about immigration that is not unifying,” Liberal Party Leader Trine Skei Grande told Aftenposten.
The Liberal Party is part of Norway’s four-party ruling coalition and her remarks were attacked by members from other parties.
“Grande’s statements violate our democratic tradition,” Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a Progress Party member, told the newspaper. “She has become a climate inquisitor. Either you confess you to her believe in climate change or otherwise you are considered infidels.”
“Per-Willy is knowledgeable and engaged. He appeals to the party’s core voters.”
The new other appointments this week include naming Terje Soeviknes of the Progress Party the minister of petroleum and energy, and Frank Bakke-Jensen of the Conservative Party as foreign minister. Both also attracted criticism, including from Knut Arild Hareide, head of the Christian Democrat party that is the fourth party in the ruling coalition.
“This is not an invitation to the center, perhaps the opposite,” he told Reuters.
The appointments come nine months before the next parliamentary election.