Svalbard got its fourth boss in two years on Tuesday and, while she appears to have little policy experience directly related to the archipelago and many are expressing frustration at the constant turnover, she’s not the lightening rod of controversy some of her predecessors who lasted mere days were.
Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde, 54, a Progress Party member, was appointed by Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg to a newly created co-minister position in Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Emergency Planning (formerly the Ministry of Justice and Public Security). As the first-ever Minister of Social Security, Tybring-Gjedde’s responsibilities include administrative oversight of Svalbard, including determining its budget and policy objectives.
She will be fifth appointee (not including a person appointed briefly on an interim basis) in charge of emergency preparedness – a critical issue for Svalbard as it is facing new large-scale challenges with avalanches, sea rescue operations and other issues related to climate change and increased human activity – since Solberg became head of Norway’s four-party ruling coalition in 2013. That concerns many at the local and national level who say the turnover is causing uncertainties about organization, work conditions and ensuring secure operations.
“It gives poor continuity, poor coordination and creates a lot of ambiguity,” Jonas Gahr Støre, head of the opposition Labor Party, told NRK.
Solberg acknowledged during a press conference Tuesday announcing the appointment that “we could have wished for more continuity,” but the designation of a new ministry position to handle preparedness emphasizes the government’s commitment to the issue.
Longyearbyen’s Progress Party, in a statement issued shortly after the appointment was announced, noted it “is already in the process of establishing contact with Tybring-Gjedde to continue the good cooperation we have had with previous Svalbard Minister Tor Mikkel Wara.”
Among Tybring-Gjedde’s recent political highlights that might relate to her duties here:
• She was named the 27th most powerful woman in Norway last year by Kapital magazine, which notes her husband Christian is “one of the government’s strongest ‘internal’ critics.”
• As secretary of state for the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy since 2015. she’s gung-ho about oil drilling both for the revenue and its positive contribution to combating climate change, arguing Norway’s has “average low emissions compared to the production in other parts of the world.” She’s a strong proponent of Norway’s aggressive effort to expand every-further north into the Barents Sea, stating in 2017 “the area is big and complex and we know that we have to make comprehensive exploration…if you will not search, you will not find.”
• She was handful of ministry officials whose homes were filmed late last year by Oslo’s Black Box Teater, accusing her of “participating in a network that will make Norway more racist” due to her party politics. But she appears to fall well short of the anti-immigrant/Muslim notoriety of fellow Progress Party members such as Sylvi Listhaug, who’s very brief tenure overseeing Svalbard ended as she threatened to bring down Solberg’s government for accusing opposition members of putting “terrorists’ rights” before national security.
• While searches of government and media websites turned up no direct Svalbard involvement, recent Arctic-related activities include being part of an “offshore energy and mineral resource prospects” panel at this year’s Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø and as a featured participant in the petroleum-industry hosted event “Oil and Jazz” last November in Honningsvåg.