14 February 2003


Storting backs Petersen (Aftenposten)

In his report to the Storting, Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said that the international situation was more uncertain than for a very long time. He also said that there was a definite danger of war, but added that war was not inevitable. “We are facing a very serious situation, and must be prepared for the USA and the UK, with the support of other countries, to be prepared to back up the demands [on Saddam Hussein] with force if the regime in Baghdad does not cooperate fully,” he said. Politically, there is no doubt that a broad majority in the Storting supports the Government’s ‘UN track’. Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg says he agrees with the Government’s main message, which is to give the UN weapons inspectors more time, while keeping up the military pressure.

Centre Party and Socialist Left Party critical (Dagsavisen)

Socialist Left Party leader Kristin Halvorsen and the Centre Party’s Åslaug Haga both criticized Foreign Minister Jan Petersen for not daring to make up his mind about the ‘peace track’ that Germany and France are currently pursuing. “We have a foreign minister who just skirts around the issues,” said Ms Halvorsen, who accused the Norwegian government of not having any other ambition than to follow the USA’s line. Åslaug Haga said that the Norwegian government “as a minimum” should support the Franco-German initiative.

Centre Party more radical with Haga (Nationen)

Political scientist Fran Aarebrot claims that the Centre Party has become more radical with Åslaug Haga as its foreign policy spokeswoman. He is surprised that the Centre Party has chosen to take such a publicly sceptical line with regard to the USA. “The party has moved from a position at the far end of the Establishment wing, and is now questioning US behaviour in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only does the Centre Party say no to Brussels, it is now also saying no to Washington,” said Mr Aarebrot. He does not believe the party will gain many votes by promoting itself as an anti-American party.

Jagland challenges doves (Vårt Land)

Former Labour leader Thorbjørn Jagland has little time for anyone who does not want to threaten Saddam Hussein with military force, be it the German foreign minister or home-grown bishops and others who are mobilizing mass demonstrations for peace. He goes farther in his accusations against the anti-war campaigners than Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik did earlier this winter. “When the military pressure begins to work, it is crazy not to keep it up. I hope and believe that we will see it continue,” said Mr Jagland.

Best ever poll results for Socialist Left Party (Aftenposten)

This month’s poll by Opinion gives the Socialist Left Party its highest score ever, while the three ruling coalition parties continue to slide. Together the Conservatives, Christian Democrats and Liberals now have the backing of 22.8 per cent of the electorate. “We have to fight for voters every day,” said an incredulous Kristin Halvorsen in response to the poll, which puts support for the Socialist Left Party at a record 21 per cent. “This can be traced back to our opposition to war and the EU, and an uncompromising willingness to fight for the welfare state,” said the party’s deputy leader Øystein Djupedal.

Number of welfare claimants still rising (Dagsavisen)

Last year the already large amount paid out to welfare claimants rose by NOK 16 billion. One in four Norwegians is now living on benefit, and politicians are concerned. When the National Insurance Service and the Directorate of Labour announce their figures, the sums are not small. The National Insurance Service paid out NOK 223 billion last year. A rise in joblessness pushed up the unemployment and incapacity benefit payments made by the Directorate of Labour to NOK 15 billion all told. “The figures for increased payments are far too high. It is worrying that so many people of working age are receiving benefits,” said Social Affairs Minister Ingjerd Schou (Con).

Telenor’s shopping spree has cost NOK 15 billion (Aftenposten)

Telenor has spent NOK 25 billion to acquire mobile phone companies in Denmark, Thailand and Malaysia. After yesterday’s massive write-downs, there is only NOK 10 billion left. But Telenor chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas’s promise that the company will now be more sensible lifted Telenor’s share price, despite a year-end deficit of NOK 5 billion in 2002. The question is whether Telenor’s corporate management, with the brakes firmly on its eagerness to invest, risks turning thrift into a one-way ticket to the poor-house.

Merchant fleet shrinks (Dagens Næringsliv)

48 ships, totalling some 2.8 million dwt, disappeared from the Norwegian merchant fleet last year. This is the largest reduction in the Norwegian shipping industry since 1993. “Experience shows that the size of the Norwegian-controlled merchant fleet fluctuates in line with the regulatory framework under which we operate,” said Marianne Lie, chief executive of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association. She sees many signs that the Norwegian shipping industry is becoming weaker, and that growth is taking place outside Norway.

Shipyards get NOK 300 million in emergency aid (Aftenposten)

There is international agreement that direct subsidies to the shipbuilding industry should be abolished. But EU countries Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have introduced subsidies for yards building container ships as well as product and chemical tankers. “Denmark and Finland are thinking of following suit. That is why we are now doing this to the same extent that has been approved by the EU,” said Trade and Industry Minister Ansgar Gabrielsen. According to Mr Gabrielsen, it is not certain how much this measure will cost, but the Government yesterday agreed to set aside NOK 300 million for the purpose.

Primary GPs must be used more widely (Dagbladet)

Health Minister Dagfinn Høybråten wants more primary GPs to work at child health clinics in order to improve the prevention of medical problems among children and young people. Mr Høybråten thinks local authorities are not tough enough in imposing national health service duties on GPs. “All primary GPs can be required to work for the local authority for up to 7.5 hours a week. This is necessary if we are to reach the targets we have set in the public health area,” said Mr Høybråten.

1. Worth Noting

  • Foreign Minister Jan Petersen is not optimistic about the chances of bringing together the disparate views on Iraq held by the members of the UN Security Council.

  • Fear of a terrorist attack in Norway is growing, according to the latest twice-yearly poll carried out by the Directorate of Civil Defence and Emergency Planning. While 50 per cent of the population thought it likely that Norway would be the victim of a terrorist attack one year ago, that figure has now risen to 62 per cent in the latest national emergency preparedness poll.

  • Odd Roger Enoksen is due to announce tomorrow whether he wants to continue as leader of the Centre Party. He has previously said he was willing to step down if the party so wished. The party’s selection committee has not yet arrived at a recommendation.

  • Under new EU rules, banks and other financial institutions are no longer obliged to state effective interest rates. “If the directive is adopted in its current form, it will be a step backward for Norwegian consumers,” said Jo Gjedrem, a consultant with the Consumer Ombudsman.

  • Swedish retailers are reporting record sales to Norwegian consumers in January. Sales of meat have risen by 50 per cent, though the retailers disagree on whether the increased tax-free quota is responsible.

  • Axel Jensen – author, adventurer and human rights campaigner – died yesterday, the day after his 71st birthday. Though confined to bed through illness, his involvement in the public debate and love of writing never deserted him.

  • Women cannot do parallel parking. Men are cocky behind the wheel and blame everyone else when something goes wrong. Leif N. Olsen, head of the Norwegian Driving School Association, is proposing that women and men receive differentiated driving tuition.

2. Today’s comment from Dagsavisen

Most of what Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said to the Storting in his report on Iraq sounded like an echo of US Secretary of State Colin Powell. We gained the impression of a Foreign Ministry leadership that agrees with the USA in all things great and small. Mr Petersen’s conclusion was therefore all the more surprising and gratifying. He made it clear that Norway would not support an American one-man push towards war. Norway’s position is that a new Security Council resolution is required before military intervention can be employed. But that, in our opinion, is so self-evident that it should have gone without saying. However, the Foreign Minister has not previously been so clear that the UN weapons inspectors must be given the time they need. With this conclusion, Mr Petersen yesterday signalled he was not toeing Washington’s line.