(Adds PM quotes, background)
By Stine Jacobsen
OSLO Dec 20 Norwegian Prime Minister Erna
Solberg replaced the ministers for energy, EU affairs and
justice in her right-wing government on Tuesday in a reshuffle
nine months before the next general election.
The minority government of Solberg's Conservatives and the
anti-immigration Progress Party has lagged the centre-left
opposition in recent opinion polls.
Solberg said that the three ministers quitting the cabinet
had wanted to leave for personal reasons.
Oil Minister Tord Lien of the right-wing Progress party will
stand down in favour of Terje Soeviknes, a popular small-town
Lien "has been a driving force for a continued high tempo of
oil and gas off Norway, at the same time as developing renewable
energy," Solberg told a news conference.
Norway is western Europe's top producer of oil and natural
gas, and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy manages the
government's majority stake in Statoil.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party was
replaced by Per-Willy Amundsen, until now a junior minister. EU
Affairs Minister Elisabeth Aspaker of the Conservative Party
will be replaced by Frank Bakke-Jensen of the same party.
Two small centrist parties, which support Solberg's minority
government in parliament, criticised the appointments as a step
to the right.
"This is not an invitation to the centre, perhaps the
opposite," said centrist Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild
Trine Skei Grande, head of the centrist Liberal Party, said
that the Progress Party appointments would add a dose of
scepticism about man-made climate change to the government.
Solberg rejected the criticisms, saying the reshuffle "does
not change the political foundations of the government".
She said the government agreed with mainstream scientific
findings that climate change is mainly man-made.
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen and Alister Doyle; Editing by Mark