17 February 2003

Record numbers fill Oslo’s streets Demonstration no criticism of Government, says PMNorway asked to provide forces for IraqOpposition votes through aid package for victims of power crisisMore people undecided on EU membershipEnoksen resigns as Centre Party chairmanLabour could not have saved Snow White Economic migrancy has negative impact on immigrants Call for prisoners to share cellsMassive drop on Oslo Stock Exchange so far this year Record number insurance frauds exposedToday’s comment from Dagens Næringsliv

Record numbers fill Oslo’s streets (Aftenposten/Sunday)

60,000 people marched through the streets of Oslo yesterday. It was the biggest demonstration ever held in Norway. The organizers, No War Against Iraq, had been expecting that 20,000 to 30,000 people would turn out to show what they felt about the USA’s plans for war. 110 different organizations have joined the Peace Initiative, which had collected over 10,000 signatures prior to yesterday’s massive demonstration. Despite the huge numbers, the police received no reports of any trouble.

Demonstration no criticism of Government, says PM (Dagbladet/Sunday)

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik does not perceive the biggest demonstration in Norwegian history as a criticism of the Government. “No, I don’t. There are probably some demonstrators who think so, but I cannot judge everyone by the opinions of a few. We are working for a peaceful solution,” said Mr Bondevik, who believes the demonstration is a reminder to all heads of government. Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said he could not tell if the world’s resounding ‘no’ to war would have any effect. “The most important thing is to stick to resolution 1441 and support the work being done in the UN,” he said.

Norway asked to provide forces for Iraq (Verdens Gang/Saturday)

VG has learned from reliable sources that the USA has specifically asked Norway to send commando units in the event of war in Iraq. The US request further increases the political pressure on the Norwegian government and Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. The Government’s main message so far has been that it does not wish to take a public position on a US-led military offensive against Saddam Hussein. This is why the Government has not previously responded to two more general requests for assistance, which Norway and several other countries have received from the USA.

Opposition votes through aid package for victims of power crisis (Dagsavisen)

The opposition parties in the Storting reached agreement yesterday evening on an aid package designed to help electricity consumers struggling to pay this winter’s huge bills. The package totals over NOK 500 million, and the PM has been left to find the cash to pay for it. Housing benefit is to be increased by NOK 2,500, the income ceiling for housing benefit is to be raised by NOK 30,000, and families with children are to receive help to pay for lighting and heating. In addition, the local authorities will receive several hundred million kroner in increased transfers.

More people undecided on EU membership (Aftenposten/Saturday)

According to the February poll, supporters of Norwegian membership of the EU do not have as big a lead as they had in January. However, this is not because opponents of membership have gained ground, but because more people are undecided. The majority in favour of Norway joining the EU is still extremely clear in the February poll. 63 per cent of those who have made up their mind say they would have voted in favour of EU membership if there were a referendum on the issue tomorrow. 37 per cent would have voted against. In the January poll, twice as many people were in favour as were against.

Enoksen resigns as Centre Party chairman (Verdens Gang/Saturday)

Åslaug Haga and Marit Arnstad, both young mothers, are probably the women who will steer the Centre Party out of the political boondocks. Their way is now clear after Odd Roger Enoksen stepped down yesterday as party chairman and leader of the Centre Party’s parliamentary group. “It has not been an easy decision. As chairman I must take a large part of the blame for the position in which the Centre Party now finds itself, but a party leader alone does not determine its popularity,” said Mr Enoksen.

Labour could not have saved Snow White (Dagens Næringsliv)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has admitted that the Labour Party would not have had any better chance of saving the Snow White contract from being given to the Spanish shipyard Dragados than the sitting government. “We could have had a dialogue with Statoil. But that is all. We do not have any authority to instruct the company,” he said. Labour’s Olav Akselsen and Sylvia Brustad have sharply criticized the Government and Trade and Industry Minister Ansgar Gabrielsen for not doing something to prevent Statoil awarding the huge Snow White construction contract to Dragados instead of Aker Kværner’s Rosenberg yard.

Economic migrancy has negative impact on immigrants (Dagsavisen)

According to professor Ottar Brox, an increase in the number of economic migrants coming to this country will lead to new groups of immigrants competing for the same jobs currently dominated by non-western immigrants. “This could force immigrants already living in Norway into a new underclass. Political left-wingers forget this fact when they go in for increased imports of labour from abroad. Any doubts expressed about the wisdom of importing economic migrants is interpreted by the left as prejudice and opposition to all forms of immigration by poor people,” said professor Brox, himself a member of the Socialist Left Party.

Call for prisoners to share cells (Aftenposten/Sunday)

The lack of available cells in Norwegian prisons means that offenders are being released back onto the streets. The Norwegian Police Union has now called for two remand prisoners to share a cell. “We cannot have a situation in which it is prison capacity that determines whether a suspect is remanded in custody or not. That leads to arbitrariness. When the court says that there are grounds for remanding a prisoner in custody, that should be the end of the matter. The suspect should be locked up,” said Arne Johannessen, head of the Norwegian Police Union.

Massive drop on Oslo Stock Exchange so far this year (Aftenposten)

Since the start of the year the Oslo Stock Exchange has fallen almost as much as in the whole of 2001. Share prices are therefore now at the same level as they were in January 1996. However, it is not easy to get a generally accepted explanation of why this should be so – not only because financial analysts are not terribly certain themselves, but because some of them want to keep a low profile at a time of great turbulence; they are quite simply keeping stum.

Record number insurance frauds exposed (Dagsavisen/Saturday)

Last year more attempts to defraud insurance companies were uncovered than ever before. The insurance industry claims that this is because they are now taking the problem seriously. However, only one in ten fraudsters is exposed. Last year a total of 935 insurance claims, worth some NOK 216 million, were rejected as fraudulent. This is the highest figure ever recorded.

Worth Noting

  • Over half of all Norwegians now have a more negative opinion of Americans as a result of the possibility of war in Iraq, according to a recent poll.

  • A war could lead to increased oil prices, a strong Norwegian currency, higher unemployment, falling share prices and lower interest rates in Norway. A lengthy war in Iraq will also have a significant impact on export volumes, and will probably also lead to a drop in house prices.

  • “Agricultural policy is no longer any problem in the debate on whether Norway should join the EU. The forthcoming agreement on agriculture under the auspices of the World Trade Organization will be more dramatic for the Norwegian farming industry than EU membership,” said former Labour leader Thorbjørn Jagland.

  • Unless new medicines are discovered, the cost of caring for those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease will more than double by 2030. For Norway, this means an annual cost to society of NOK 26 billion. Alzheimer’s is already the most expensive single illness we have.

  • A majority of the Coastal Party’s central committee members have called on Steinar Bastesen to step down as party leader. Mr Bastesen declined to comment on the decision of his own county branch.

  • Magazines, films and advertisements are awash with images of tempting, and often extremely scantily clad, women. Children and Family Affairs Minister Laila Dåvøy calls this phenomenon “the pornographization of the public domain”. She is concerned about what this is doing to our younger generations, and wants to bring the issue into the spotlight.

  • After Ida Kreutzer took over as chief executive at Storebrand, employees’ satisfaction with their jobs has gone through the roof. According to an internal poll, a massive 94 per cent of employees said that they enjoyed working for the company.
    (Dagens Næringsliv/Saturday)

  • A wolf that had been sloping about in the Drammen area for the past few days has died after being hit by a train. The wolf had passed through large built-up neighbourhoods, and the district has never before seen a wolf in such central locations.

Today’s comment from Dagens Næringsliv

A parliamentary majority will once again ride rough-shod over the Government and allocate NOK 500 million to help pay people’s electricity bills – without indicating where the money will be coming from. That right-wing populists in the Progress Party and left-wing populists in the Socialist Left Party should use this method to demonstrate their influence is understandable. That the Labour Party should have gone along for the ride is incomprehensible. The problem with the legislative usurping executive powers has long been recognized within the party. Labour’s recent decline started in earnest in 1997 when the then prime minister, Thorbjørn Jagland, acknowledged that it was hopeless for a minority government to run the country in a responsible way as long as the majority of MPs in the Storting felt no sense of co-responsibility. And the politicians in office today may in future have the opportunity to play tit-for-tat and make life difficult for a new Labour government.