In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. This month, we discussed with Guri Melby, the leader of ALDE member party Venstre in Norway, on gender challenges in politics, her party’s stance on EU membership, and more.
Guri Melby, you were elected to lead your party in September this year. Has anything surprised you in these first few months?
As party leader and especially in my role as Minister of Education, these past months have been characterised by dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on schools and kindergartens. The pandemic is an important reminder of the important role schools play, for both teaching but also for the vulnerable children who are strongly affected during a crisis like this.
And looking back at your career, what is the political accomplishment that you are the proudest of?
As a politician, I am concerned with politics that give all citizens more freedoms in their lives and contribute with solutions to the everyday challenges people face, for example in the life of students or as parents of young children. A memorable moment was the increased equality in parental leave during the child's first year, which has been important for strengthening equality between parents.
As Minister of Education and Integration, I have been focused on giving teachers more education and strengthening their role. I see this is of great importance, as it is crucial for students to have the experience of increased freedom and more opportunities in life.
Your party Venstre is the only liberal party in Norway. Based on the party’s current loss of support at the local and national level, what are the upcoming priorities for your party to regain power and attract more voters ahead of next year’s national election?
The climate issue is now stronger than ever and will be an important priority for us, in addition to education and the development of new green jobs.
And what about the issue of EU membership? Your party has been open about its stance for Norway to join the European Union.
The debate about EU membership is not very lively in Norway but Venstre is very clear on the point that Norway’s affiliation through the EEA agreement is crucial for business and the climate plan to name a few.
As a country outside of the European Union, we are concerned with international co-operation and binding international co-operation. We have a long tradition of transatlantic cooperation that we expect to strengthen, with the election of a new president in the United States. At the same time, we will be a voice for greater cooperation with the EU and see it as an increasingly important partner to solve the challenges of our time.
Being a woman in politics isn’t always easy and overall, women continue to be underrepresented in politics. What would you say to those young women who are thinking about entering politics but are hesitant whether they will make it?
My advice for these women is you just must try, and you can always do far more than you think!
Participation is the most important guarantee that someone will make note of the issues that are important to you, and participation always starts with oneself.
Gender challenges, such as violence against women and girls and unequal pay for men and women, are still a reality in Europe. What is the approach of your party to level the playing field?
Norway has come a long way but there is still work to do to ensure equality and equal opportunities. There are also many structural challenges still in place. This includes issues such as changes in parental leave, tools for changing a gender-segregated labour market and jobs for female managers in companies owned by the state.
In addition to progressing on gender issues, what kind of progress do you hope to see in Norway and in Europe in the coming years? In your view, what are the most urgent issues liberals in Europe are facing right now?
First and foremost, I hope that we manage to fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We also have great challenges ahead of us as liberals in fighting climate change while restructuring our business communities. This will require cooperation on solutions across national borders, commitments to tighten climate targets and involving people in green restructuring. But we must do it, as it is climate change that is the most urgent challenge we are facing. We as liberals must also lead the way in combatting issues such as polarisation and anti-globalisation and ensure freedom and equal opportunities – also for generations to come.
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