Stoltenberg’s Norwegian central bank candidacy faces growing opposition

Jens Stoltenberg’s candidacy for the role of Norway’s next central bank governor has stoked rising opposition from MPs, who have raised concerns about the independence of monetary policy and trust in public figures.

The Nato secretary-general, who is a former Norwegian prime minister, has been seen as the favourite for the position, which includes oversight of the country’s $1.4tn oil fund — the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund — ever since his application was made public last month.

But parties with a majority in Norway’s parliament are now opposed to his candidature after a series of revelations about dinners involving Stoltenberg, current prime minister Jonas Gahr Store and oil fund boss Nicolai Tangen, as well as the well-connected banker son of former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.

“We’re a small country with the most important positions being filled by a small number of the same people from the Norwegian elite. I don’t think this would look good in another country and it doesn’t look good in Norway,” Kari Elisabeth Kaski, MP for the Socialist Left party that backs the current centre-left government, told the Financial Times.

Tina Bru, deputy leader of the Conservatives, the country’s main opposition party, said that Stoltenberg’s appointment could harm confidence in the political system. “We cannot afford to jeopardise the confidence in, and independence of, such an important institution as Norges Bank,” she said.

Stoltenberg is vying to replace Oystein Olsen as governor of Norway’s central bank when he steps down next month. But the head of Nato has said he would continue to lead the military alliance until the end of his term in September.

His main opponent in the battle to become governor is Ida Wolden Bache, the current Norges Bank deputy and its former head of monetary policy, who would become the first female to fill the role if successful.

Opposition to Stoltenberg has crystallised after a series of disclosures of his meetings with members of Norway’s political and business elite, including Store, who has ruled himself out of discussions on the governor due to his conflict of interest.

The dinners at the home of Knut Brundtland, the executive chair of bank ABG Sundal Collier, have led to claims from the opposition that a small group of interconnected Social Democrat politicians and business figures wield excessive power in Oslo. Tangen told local media on Friday that he had not asked for permission from the finance ministry to meet a lawmaker, as is the tradition with oil fund chiefs, as the dinners were private.

Sylvi Listhaug, leader of the populist Progress party, said the appointment process had begun to look farcical and now threatened the independence of Norges Bank.

Formally, the opposition parties in Norway have little influence on the process as it is finance minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum who will decide on the next central bank governor.

But Kaski warned: “It’s wise if the government listens to the good arguments coming from the opposition . . . If you have a person in that role with such an amount of political baggage, it could be a problem.”

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