21 February 2003

Labour leadership calls for swift action on EU membership Jagland: EU has an obligation Government asks Storting for new war mandate Norway may be able to smooth things out Fiscal policy relief right around the corner Bank governor provokes union boss No help for industry Krekar counting on the Netherlands Banks may take claim to auditing firm Today’s comment, from Dagsavisen

Labour leadership calls for swift action on EU membership (Dagsavisen)

Thorbjørn Jagland (Labour), would like to see Norway join the EU as soon as possible, and that an application should be prepared before the end of this parliamentary term. Mr. Jagland, who is chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs committee, feels it would be in Norway’s own best interests to give Europe’s influence a boost. “We do not want the level of transatlantic conflict rising in response to a headstrong USA pursuing its own agenda,” he said in yesterday’s foreign policy debate. “An EU membership application is an imperative after the general elections in 2005.” Says Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg, “We cannot waste any more time. I have never concealed my support for EU membership, but the Labour Party has not yet reached a conclusion on when we should apply.”

Jagland: EU has an obligation (Nationen)

“The EU is demanding too much money from Norway in the negotiations for extending the EEA Agreement, but this is out of the question. The EU is just as interested in extending the EEA Agreement as Norway is. As a matter of fact, they have a legal obligation to do so,” says Thorbjørn Jagland. A new round of EEA enlargement negotiations started in Brussels yesterday, but the deadlock is still unresolved. “I admit there has been little movement on either side,” says Norway’s chief negotiator, Bjørn T. Grydeland.

Government asks Storting for new war mandate (Verdens Gang)

The Government has decided to ask the Storting to approve an extension of Norway’s military effort in Afghanistan, and is expected to do so at a “secret” meeting in the Storting today. The Government also wants to contribute military equipment to the defence of Turkey in the event of war in Iraq. The Government has a solid parliamentary support base for the effort in Afghanistan. Even if voices are raised against it, the positions of Labour and the Progress Party will secure the Government the support it needs.

Norway may be able to smooth things out (Verdens Gang)

Incoming Centre Party leader Åslaug Haga and Haakon Blankenborg (Labour) take a positive view of Norway as a bridgebuilder between Europe and the USA. “I have confidence that Norway can smooth things out. We must try. We are in an important position because we have a tradition of good relations with the USA. If things grow tense between the USA and Europe, there are not many others to play this role, says Ms. Haga. “It is impossible to pass a motion stating that we will be a facilitator. But Norwegian representatives have been useful in relations with the USA because we have good relations with the USA without being their representatives,” says Mr. Blankenborg.

Fiscal policy relief right around the corner (Aftenposten)

Norwegian industry has been struggling under the weight of a strong krone, and profits have suffered unduly. But better times are ahead for industry as well as for households in danger of bankruptcy. Central bank governor Svein Gjedrem indicated in his annual speech yesterday that he was poised to reduce interest rates and committed to weakening exchange rates. He stated that the current tight fiscal policy, if allowed to continue, would probably reduce inflation more than the targets call for, so he is preparing to ease things up gradually.

Bank governor provokes union boss (Dagsavisen)

Gerd-Liv Valla, president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), was not happy at all with central bank governor Sven Gjedrum’s annual speech last night. “I am furious. He did not mention executive pay once. Ordinary workers received five or six per cent in pay raises last year. The executives took 15 per cent. This was a provocation to union members, but he has really not seen it at all! Our members are willing to share the burden, but we are not prepared to be the only ones to show moderation,” she said last night.

No help for industry (Dagens Næringsliv)

No measures to keep industry healthy; we are not as rich as we think we are; the world economy is in an extraordinary situation; the Government Petroleum Fund should still invest in securities; – these were a few of the main points of central bank governor Svein Gjedrum’s annual speech last night. He does not believe in industrial first aid. “The most important effect of easing up the budget is that this will keep the krone down. I do not think we should overestimate the power of economic policy to make things easier for industry,” he said.

Krekar counting on the Netherlands (Dagsavisen)

Two Dutch officials are in Oslo to question Mullah Krekar, who has applied for asylum in the Netherlands. Krekar is afraid that Norway will extradite him to Jordan, and therefore has more confidence in the Netherlands. “The Netherlands have a good view on Jordan’s extradition request, but I would prefer to stay in Norway,” he says. Jordanian officials believe Krekar has been involved in smuggling heroin, but the Dutch authorities have turned down their request because they found the basis of it too thin.

Banks may take claim to auditing firm (Aftenposten)

Norwegian banks claim they have lost NOK 1.4 billion on the Finance Credit affair. The banks and their insurance companies are now considering a move to send the bill to KPMG, which was Finance Credit’s main provider of auditing services. If they do, the biggest finance scandal in Norwegian history will be headed for the courts. KPMG has 100,000 employees worldwide and 800 in Norway. With a sales volume exceeding the equivalent of NOK 75 billion worldwide last year, Arne Frogner, head of KPMG in Norway, has no fears that the claim will make his company founder. “We have never been confronted with anything internationally that our insurance hasn’t covered, he said.

Worth noting:

  • The USA has applauded the decision of the Norwegian Government to expel Mullah Krekar. The USA has blacklisted Krekar’s organization, Ansar al-Islam. (NTB)

  • Mullah Krekar’s lawyer, Brynjar Meling, has billed the Norwegian government for NOK 600,000 for the legal services he has provided. He has also filed a request that Minister of Local Government Erna Solberg be disqualified from the further handling of Mullah Krekar’s asylum application. (Aftenposten)

  • Two months after Saddam Hussein gassed 5,000 Kurds to death in 1988, Carl I. Hagen (Progress) argued heatedly in the Storting for Norway to sell arms to Iraq. (Dagsavisen)

  • On Saturday, 115,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Oslo in protest against war in Iraq. Yesterday, only 18 of the 165 members of the Storting were on hand for a parliamentary debate on the Iraq crisis. At one point, only 11 MPs were present. (Dagbladet)

  • An Internet barometer on the Norwegian Union of Military Officers website revealed that a majority of Norwegian military officers were willing to serve in a war against Iraq. 43 per cent replied that they would serve even if the war were not sanctioned by a UN resolution, while another 30 per cent said they would serve only if the war was sanctioned by the UN. (Klassekampen)

  • Fear of war has tripled the number of Iraqi refugees to Norway. 47 Iraqis came to Norway in January 2002, but last month’s count was 168. The Immigration Directorate has no plans to augment the refugee reception system, however. “This increase is too small to form a basis for any conclusions,” says Trygve G. Nordby, Director General of the Immigration Directorate. (Nationen)

  • The Storting is in the process of reaching a decision on power production in Norway. After this winter’s power crisis, there is a parliamentary majority for an extensive market-based development of wind power, bioenergy and other renewable energy sources. (Aftenposten)

  • No later than six months after an examination, hospitals are required to let patients know whether they need treatment and when they will get it. Hospitals all over the country have violated this rule flagrantly, but the Directorate of Health makes it clear that this is a deadline they have to hold. (Aftenposten)

  • 202 municipalities are without a pharmacy, yet 90 per cent of all new pharmacies open in municipalities where there are already one or more pharmacies. (Nationen)

  • Quicker processing of asylum applications by the Immigration Directorate is one of the reasons behind a sharp rise in the population of Norway in 2002. The population was 4 552 000 at year end, having risen by 27 900 in the course of the year. (NTB)

Today’s comment, from Dagsavisen

Minister of Local Government Erna Solberg has kept Carl I. Hagen and other like-minded people at arm’s length in the Mullah Krekar affair. We have commended her on previous occasions for keeping cool under pressure, but the temperature has obviously gone up in the past few days. In deciding to expel Mullah Krekar, Ms. Solberg and the Immigration Directorate have branded Mullah Krekar as an international terrorist. He may well be a terrorist, but both admit that they haven’t a shred of evidence that he is a danger. The indications are many and convincing, however. The problem is that much of the information has been obtained from Krekar’s opponents in northern Iraq. Ms. Solberg has been under heavy pressure, both domestic and international, and she has now taken a decision that leaves more questions than it answers. The lack of evidence has created a credibility gap, so it is even more important now to allow Krekar to have his case tried in Norway. He has been living in Norway since 1991. We cannot see how he has suddenly become such a big national security risk that his case cannot receive a proper hearing. If the authorities believe Krekar is a terrorist, it is wrong to expel him. Indeed, Norway can perfectly well accommodate terrorists – it is just that they must be accommodated behind bars. If the Government believes Krekar has committed crimes in northern Iraq, it is improper and immoral for Ms. Solberg to simply send him back to the same area. Norway should substantiate his crimes and have him tried for them. Not pass the problem off to others.