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Thorbjørn Jagland
Thorbjørn Jagland (30366602783) (cropped).jpg
Jagland in 2016
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
In office
1 October 2009 – 18 September 2019
Deputy Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni
Preceded by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (Acting)
Succeeded by Marija Pejčinović Burić
32nd Prime Minister of Norway
In office
25 October 1996 – 17 October 1997
Monarch Harald V
Preceded by Gro Harlem Brundtland
Succeeded by Kjell Magne Bondevik
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
8 November 1992 – 10 November 2002
First Deputy Jens Stoltenberg
Second Deputy Hill-Marta Solberg
Preceded by Gro Harlem Brundtland
Succeeded by Jens Stoltenberg
Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
In office
1 January 2009 – 3 March 2015
Preceded by Ole Danbolt Mjøs
Succeeded by Kaci Kullmann Five
President of the Storting
In office
10 October 2005 – 30 September 2009
Monarch Harald V
Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik
Jens Stoltenberg
Vice President Carl I. Hagen
Preceded by Jørgen Kosmo
Succeeded by Dag Terje Andersen
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
17 March 2000 – 19 October 2001
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg
Preceded by Knut Vollebæk
Succeeded by Jan Petersen
Member of the Norwegian Parliament
In office
1 October 1993 – 30 September 2009
Deputy Vidar Brynsplass
Frank Willy Larsen
Martin Kolberg
Constituency Buskerud
Personal details
Thorbjørn Johansen

(1950-11-05) 5 November 1950 (age 73)
Drammen, Buskerud, Norway
Political party Labour
Spouse Hanne Grotjord
Children 2
Education University of Oslo

Thorbjørn Jagland (born Thorbjørn Johansen; , 5 November 1950) is a Norwegian politician from the Labour Party. He served as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe from 2009 to 2019. He served as the 32nd Prime Minister of Norway from 1996 to 1997, as the minister of Foreign Affairs from 2000 to 2001 and as the president of the Storting from 2005 to 2009.

Jagland studied economics at the University of Oslo at introductory level, but did not graduate. He started his political career in the Workers' Youth League, which he led from 1977 to 1981. He was party secretary from 1986 to 1992 and party leader from 1992 to 2002.

Jagland's cabinet, albeit short-lived, was marked by controversies. Jagland, who was much ridiculed in the media for his quotes and statements and frequently portrayed as incompetent, resigned following the 1997 election, as a consequence of his much ridiculed 36.9 ultimatum, even though his party won the most votes. In 2010 a group of forty prominent historians ranked Jagland as the weakest Norwegian prime minister since the end of the Second World War.

In 2009, Jagland was elected as the secretary-general of the Council of Europe. In 2014 he was reelected for an additional five years. Jagland was a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, and left in 2020; he formerly served as its chairman from 2009 to 2015.

Early and personal life

Thorbjørn Jagland was born on 5 November 1950 as Thorbjørn Johansen in Drammen and is the son of a welder, Helge Th. Jagland, and a cook, Ingrid Bjerknes. According to the Norwegian daily Dagbladet, his father had additional duties as a kind of "steward" for his community, so when "the postal service had letters" or envelopes without a complete address, the mailman delivered many of them to Jagland's home, "since that was were everything happened". Jagland graduated from secondary school in 1969. Along with his twin brother Helge, Thorbjørn Jagland briefly studied economics at the University of Oslo, but was at the same time involved in politics and did not finish his studies. Jagland and his parents changed their surname from Johansen, a common surname with working class connotations, to Jagland in 1957; the Jagland name was one of the proposed "new family names" which imitated traditional farm names in the book 2000 nye slektsnavn ("2,000 new family names") by Astrid Moss; the book aimed to help members of the working class with common surnames to find more unique names.

He married journalist Hanne Grotjord in 1976. The couple has two sons, Anders (born 1978) and Henrik (born 1986). As Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Jagland resided in Strasbourg, France, but has since moved back to Norway.

Jagland has been awarded the title of Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honour of France for his "tireless commitment to the European continent and the universal values it represents".

Political career

Early involvement, general secretary and elected party leader

In 1966, at age 16, he joined the Lier chapter of the Workers' Youth League (AUF). Rising up rapidly through the party ranks, he was elected leader of the Workers' Youth League in Buskerud, in 1973, a position he held until 1975. That year, he was elected member of the Buskerud county council. In 1977, he became the national leader of the Workers' Youth League, a position he held until 1981. During this period, he said he wanted to bridge the gap between the youth wing and the mother party, but also expressed the need for the Workers' Youth League to have its own political platform. Important issues he supported at that time included the nationalization of the oil industry, permission to conduct petroleum test boring outside Northern Norway, and that the state should use income from the petroleum industry to nationalise domestic industry.

From 1981, he worked as a secretary for the Labour Party; he became acting general secretary in 1986 and was formally appointed to the position in 1987. In his role as secretary of the Labour party, Jagland initiated a number of measures that culminated in organisational and political reforms. The right of the Trade Unions to influence the working of the Labour Party was curtailed; periodic consultations were initiated with civil society outside the party boundaries in the formulation of the party manifesto etc. In 1986, he also became chairman of the Labour Party's International Committee. He held both positions until 1992, when he succeeded long-time leader Gro Harlem Brundtland.

Jagland was elected to the Norwegian Parliament from Buskerud in 1993, and was re-elected on three occasions. During his first term, Jagland was a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, and also served as the fractional leader for the parliamentary group of the party. In 1995, Jagland published a book, titled Brev (Letters), "Vår sårbare verden" (Our vulnerable World) i 2001 and "Ti teser om EU og Norge" (Ten Postulates about the EU & Norway) in 2003.


On 23 October 1996, Gro Harlem Brundtland informed Jagland she was withdrawing from politics and leaving him as head of government. The third cabinet Brundtland resigned, prompting the party leader Jagland to form a new cabinet.

Jagland's cabinet was short-lived with two ministers being forced to withdraw. He resigned following the 1997 election even though his party won the most votes. Jagland was widely perceived to have been passed over when Jens Stoltenberg formed his second cabinet in 2005.

Jagland launched his vision of the "Norwegian House" during his tenure as Prime Minister. In his speech to the Storting following his appointment, Jagland described the Norwegian House as a foundation with four pillars. The metaphor represented, "the collective value creation within the ecologically sustainable society". The four pillars that hold up the house were business and labour policy; welfare policy; research and educational policy; and foreign and security policy. Jagland stated that everyone had something to contribute regarding the creation of the house; in particular he stated that the cabinet would cooperate with the opposition to reach these goals. He also stated that it was important to introduce information technology in all parts of the education system. As part of the construction of the Norwegian House, the cabinet also started to appoint lay councils, with expertise within their fields, that would provide them with feedback and inputs on important areas in society. Jagland stated that the purpose was to allow critical voices close access to the political decisions, and increase the number of ideas generated at a political level. Jagland stated in August 2008 that, "the Norwegian House could have been better planned and prepared, but I did not have the time. I took a chance. The Labour Party was down for the count. My goal was to make a good election; and we did. We have not done so well since". Jagland said in an interview, "I still get letters from people who miss the Norwegian House. It was an attempt at something new, a building project that would also inspire the activity on the side of the parties".

Jagland's 36.9 ultimatum and resignation

Ahead of the 1997 parliamentary election, Jagland announced the cabinet would resign if the Labour Party received less than 36.9% of the popular vote. This was the percentage of the vote that the party had received in the 1993 election while Brundtland was still leading, which had provided them with an unclear mandate to govern. The Constitution of Norway does not require a cabinet to be formally approved by Parliament in order to serve, and a minority government that lacks concrete support from its inception may serve as long as it does not receive a vote of no confidence.

The Labour cabinet was only directly supported by its own party group, which consisted of 67 out of 165 members of Parliament. To pass legislation, the cabinet had sought support from the largest opposition parties—the Centre Party as well as Labour's traditional adversary, the Conservative Party—on a case-by-case basis. Brundtland had already employed this ad-hoc tactic during her time as Prime Minister, describing it as "slalom racing in the Storting". However, the negotiations in order to land the annual state budget in 1996 were particularly tough. According to political scientist Trond Nordby, Jagland felt that a cabinet which achieved less than 36.9% would struggle to govern.

As it turned out, Labour only received 35.0%, remaining the largest party with a small loss of seats. Jagland resigned on 29 September 1997 and power was given to the first cabinet of Kjell Magne Bondevik. This cabinet had an even weaker parliamentary basis. Erik Solheim, the leader of Socialist Left Party (SV), said that if Jagland resigned, "he would go down in history as Norway's most puzzling politician".

Minister of Foreign Affairs

In February 2000, still reeling from the 36.9 fiasco and the growing popularity of deputy party leader Stoltenberg, Jagland withdraw as a prime minister candidate. Speaking to the national council of Labour on 10 February 2000, Jagland said "If I were to continue as prime minister candidate, and especially if I should return as prime minister, the pressure that has been put against me the last three years will only continue and increase in strength." Only 35 days later, the first cabinet of Bondevik resigned following a motion of confidence. A new Labour cabinet, to be led by Jens Stoltenberg, was announced by King Harald V on 17 March 2000. Jagland was chosen for Minister of Foreign Affairs.

One of his first acts as Minister of Foreign Affairs was to visit Belgrade, three years before its collapse. Jagland wanted to improve foreign aid to Yugoslavia and try to find a peaceful solution to the Yugoslav wars. Jagland engineered financial and material support to the forces in Yugoslavia who were opposed to Slobodan Milosevic, a move that increased the popularity of the opposition to Milosevic and his eventual fall from power. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs furnished computers that helped in revealing the electoral fraud perpetrated by Milosevic. The Norwegian contribution was instrumental in the overthrow of the Milosevic government and Jagland was the first to be invited to the victory celebrations.

Jagland again made national headlines in a similar fashion to the publicity about "The Norwegian House" and "36.9%", this time for the phrase "Bongo from Congo", which Jagland used when referring to Omar Bongo, the President of Gabon, when he was visiting Norway. Jagland stated on 2 February 2001 on the nationally broadcast television show I kveld med Per Ståle on TV 2 that "everybody at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs went around saying that 'now you are going to meet with Bongo from Congo'". The term "Bongo" and "Congo" has been seen by many as a racial slur.

Jagland visited Sri Lanka in June 2001 to try to reach a level of involvement in the Sri Lankan Civil War. After a brief visit to the capital Colombo, at the request of the Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga, Jagland agreed to take a role in the peace process of Sri Lanka between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers.[29]

The Labour Party did not fare well during the 2001 election. In an interview with the Associated Press, Jagland said, "It is unstable and unpredictable". After the votes had been counted, Stoltenberg and his cabinet was forced to resign, suffering from its worst election campaign results since 1924.

Jagland stepped down in 2001 from his post as Foreign Minister in the wake of the collapse of the Stoltenberg government.

The leadership battle of the party didn't end with the election, and pressure was still mounting on Jagland to give the party leader role to Stoltenberg. It was expected that Stoltenberg would contest the leader during the national congress of Labour in November 2002, and in January 2002 the two were supposed to say if they wanted role. On 15 January, Jagland collapsed in the parliament and was sent to the hospital. Later that evening, during live coverage by TV 2 Nyhetene, comedian Bård Tufte Johansen interrupted the live broadcast jumping around in a chicken costume, cackling about media's treatment of Thorbjørn Jagland and mocking the media's double standards. On 3 February 2002, Jagland announced that he wouldn't seek a new term as party leader in November.

President of the Storting

In 2005, Jagland was reelected to a fourth term in the Norwegian Parliament. Jørgen Kosmo, the previous President of the Storting, had not stood for parliamentary re-election, and Jagland was elected to this position by the members of parliament on 10 October 2005. Jagland was elected with only one blank vote, whereas his Progress Party opponent, Carl I. Hagen, had 25 blank votes in the Storting.

Jagland announced in September 2008 that he would not seek reelection. He said he decided, with "great sadness", to leave Norwegian politics because he was applying for the position of Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.

Nobel Committee

Jagland and Obama
Jagland with president Barack Obama during the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

On 1 January 2009, he succeeded Ole Danbolt Mjøs as the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

On 3 March 2015 Jagland was demoted by the five-person Norwegian Nobel Committee, which elected Kaci Kullmann Five as its new chair. Jagland's demotion is without precedent in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. After the demotion, Jagland continued to serve as an ordinary member of the committee.

Secretary General of the Council of Europe: First term, from 2009 to 2014

In 2009, Jagland was elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Jagland was elected with 165 against 80 votes in the Parliamentary Assembly. The other candidate was former Prime Minister of Poland Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz.

Jagland has emphasized the importance of strengthening the cooperation with the European Union and regular consultations are taking place with the leaders of the EU. The process of EU accession to the European Convention was meant to be ratified by 2015, but as of July 2017, no new accession agreement had been drafted. Jagland signed an intention agreement with Commissioner Stefan Füle in April 2014, which will considerably increase the number of Joint Programmes and EU financing of projects implemented by the Council of Europe. Jagland has also taken the initiative to a Neighbourhood Policy which includes an important number of cooperation activities on the basis of Council of Europe standards with Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco and Kazakhstan.

Jagland's has initiated regular consultations with the United Nations and these have since become institutionalised within the Council of Europe.

In 2012, Jagland launched the World Forum for Democracy conferences at the Council of Europe. The annual conference brings together statesmen, NGOs, grassroots workers, academics, politicians and others and was inaugurated in 2012 by the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban ki Moon.

In April 2014, under Jagland's watch, the Council of Europe released its seminal report "State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe". The report constituted the first consolidated analysis of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, based on the findings of the Council of Europe's monitoring bodies. In the preface to the report, Jagland wrote:

"Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe now face a crisis unprecedented since the end of the Cold War. ..... People's rights are also threatened by the impact of the economic crisis and growing inequalities. The Council of Europe and its member States must act urgently to stop this erosion of fundamental rights..."

Secretary General of the Council of Europe: Second term, from 2014

On 24 June 2014, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe convened to elect the Secretary General for the term running from 2014 to 2019. Thorbjørn Jagland had expressed his intentions of continuing on for a second term and was one of the two candidates competing for the post. Jagland was opposed by Ms Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

In the voting conducted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), of the 252 members voting, Jagland won 156. Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger obtained 93. There were 3 blank ballots. With the requirement for an absolute majority being 125, Jagland's tally of 156 gave him a comfortable absolute majority. Jagland formally commenced his next term from 1 October 2014.

Jagland's re-election as Secretary General of the Council of Europe is without precedent. Several outgoing Secretaries General had stood for re-election without having been successful. His wide margin of victory is seen as a sign of approval and appreciation of his yeoman services to both the Council of Europe and his unstinting efforts to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

Jagland was continually accused by Norwegian and foreign media of servility towards Putin's Russia during his tenure. Russia was placed under voting sanctions following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but in 2019 Jagland spearheaded the effort to give the Russians their voting rights back. Council members and analysts have criticized Jagland for giving in to Russian "blackmail". 7 delegations left the council in protest of the decision to give Russia voting rights without ending the occupation of parts of Ukraine.

Other positions

He was vice-president of the Socialist International and was Chair of the Organisation's Board when Willy Brandt was president. Jagland also chaired its Middle East Committee for 10 years. Furthermore, Jagland was one of five members of the Mitchell Committee appointed by President Clinton and Secretary-General Kofi Annan to advise on how to end violence in the Middle East. Jagland is an Honorary Board member of the Peres Center for Peace and was chair of the Board of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights but left when he became Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. A survey in 2000 found that Jagland was second most influential in a list of the 50 most influential persons in Norway.

Jagland has been member of the International Board of Governors at the Peres Center for Peace since 1997. He served as one of several vice presidents of the Socialist International from 1999 to 2008. From 2000 to 2006, he chaired the Socialist International Committee on the Middle East. He became chairman of the board of the Oslo Centre upon its establishment in 2006 but left in 2009 when he became chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee.

Political views

Through his career in politics, Jagland was more to the left of his party. Jagland supported more of a traditional social democratic government, and was very skeptical of policies such as privatization of state-owned companies.

Jagland is in favour of Norwegian membership of the European Union. In 1990, he published the book Min europeiske drøm (My European dream). He proposed the European Union be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and it was, by Jagland himself in 2012. Since 1999, he has stated that the left wing in Norway does not use Socialist International enough.

He has outspokenly opposed the perceived presence of Islamophobia in Western societies. He has also called fighting Islamic extremism an "unnecessary fight", "that would only lead to confrontation", and insisted that no Islamic extremism exists in Norway.

See also

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