25 February 2003


LO opts for moderation (Dagsavisen)

The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) is opting for moderation during this year’s national wage negotiations. But, in return, the LO is demanding that the Government do more to stem the rise in unemployment. Behind the LO’s decision is the assumption that it is the needs of industrial companies facing tough international competition that must set the pace for developments in pay levels. LO representatives will also be demanding specific measures from the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO), as well as central and local government employers, to keep executive pay under control. This is one of the most important premises for the LO’s continued moderation.

Power overload (Dagbladet)

Petroleum and Energy Minister Einar Steensnæs set aside NOK 50 million in state support for energy-saving measures. This could prove to be several hundred million too little. Mr Steensnæs did not expect more than 10,000 people to apply for such grants, but in under a month 25,000 applications have come flooding in. People are taking their ‘revenge’ after this winter’s astronomical electricity price rises. Following the Minister’s announcement that state grants were available for energy-saving measures, the scheme has quite simply suffered an overload.

30,000 jobs threatened by EEA Agreement (Aftenposten)

30,000 Norwegian jobs could disappear as a result of the EU’s demand for the abolition of differentiated employers’ national insurance contributions. The figures have shocked county councillors from the four most northerly counties, which alone could lose at least 20,000 jobs. Four ministries are involved in the effort to find the best way to compensate for the possible loss of the differentiated employers’ national insurance scheme. They have almost exactly one month to come up with a solution. “I am spending a lot of time on this issue at the moment,” said Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss.

No! No! No! (Verdens Gang)

The Socialist Left Party’s leadership has said it wants to make room for all shades of opinion on the question of whether Norway should join the EU, but none of those who have been proposed as candidates for the party’s central committee or national executive committee are in favour of EU membership. “It would be positively embarrassing if these committees do not have a broader composition, and it would be very regrettable if the Socialist Left Party elects a central committee consisting only of EU membership opponents. It would be very unfortunate for the party. The distance between the Socialist Left Party’s membership and its voters has increased in recent years,” said Rolf Jørn Karlsen, secretary of the Norwegian United Federation of Trade Unions, member of the Socialist Left Party and supporter of EU membership.

Opposition stymies Norman’s relocation plans (Verdens Gang)

Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor D. Norman (Con) wants to relocate eight central government authorities, with 900 jobs in all, out of Oslo. But the opposition has put a stop to the overall plan. Only the Centre Party fully supports the Government on this issue. “We view the eight authorities as individual cases. The Government has come in for massive criticism for extraordinarily poor arithmetic when it comes to working out the costs of relocating these jobs. Mr Norman has really screwed up in his handling of this affair,” said the Progress Party’s Ulf Erik Knudsen. The hearings held by the Storting’s Labour and Government Administration Committee on this matter lasted as late as 9 pm yesterday.

Fiery protest against WTO (Nationen)

More than a thousand bonfires were lit yesterday in protest against the WTO’s proposed cuts in agricultural support. Agriculture Minister Lars Sponheim also took part in the protest action. “I feel it is my duty as Minister to meet farmers when they are afraid for their futures. Will there be any future for them? The situation is dramatic for the Norwegian agricultural sector,” he said. While the farmers lit bonfires against the WTO, former Labour Agriculture Minister Gunhild Øyangen poured more fuel onto an already fiery debate. “Norway should support the EU’s position in the WTO negotiations. I think that farmers in remote rural areas in particular would benefit from it,” she said.

Socialist Left Party surging forward (Dagbladet)

Socialist Left Party leader Kristin Halvorsen puts her party’s strong rise in popularity in the February poll carried out by MMI for Dagbladet down to a high level of credibility, good teamwork and opposition to a war in Iraq. According to the poll, the Socialist Left Party has the backing of 16.3 per cent of the voters. “This is probably one of the few occasions when a foreign policy issue has an impact on voters’ party preferences. There are many people who share our concern. Our opposition to war in Iraq reflects the feelings of the majority of the population. But this is just one of several factors,” said Ms Halvorsen. The poll puts Labour ahead on 26.5 per cent, while the Progress Party stands at 25.3 per cent.

Lack of cash leads to substandard care of the elderly (Dagsavisen)

Three out of five nurses believe elderly people often receive totally inadequate levels of care at Norwegian nursing homes, according to a recent survey of nurses. Tight local authority budgets are the main reason for the poor level of care. “This is a frightening reality, which it is good that we have been able to document. The report shows that we must improve manning and competence levels at the country’s nursing homes, so that sick elderly people can be given the same medical attention as the rest of the population,” said Bente G. Slaatten, leader of the Norwegian Nurses’ Association.

Tighter national budget forecast (Dagens Næringsliv)

When the national budget is revised in May, public spending should preferably be reduced. “Tax revenues are down. The outlook is that the revised national budget will be used to tighten up public spending if we are to stick to the regulations governing how much of Norway’s oil wealth can be spent in the domestic economy,” said Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg during a meeting with the Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS) on Monday. She made it plain that 2003 would be a lean year, with a downturn in the economic cycle compared to the two preceding years.

New tobacco brands to be launched (Nationen)

At the same time as the authorities are rounding off their major anti-smoking campaign, “Gallaher Norway” is promising to introduce new tobacco brands into the Norwegian market. The world’s fifth largest tobacco producer is in the process of establishing a presence in Norway. Gallaher, a UK-based company listed on the London Stock Exchange, expects to have the new brands in the shops this spring, and says it has not been put off by the authorities’ aggressive anti-smoking campaign.

Worth Noting

  • “The dispute that has paralyzed Nato for almost a month, and which was sparked by the Iraq crisis, was unnecessary. The dispute has had an impact. It has undoubtedly weakened Nato’s reputation,” said Foreign Minister Jan Petersen yesterday, after talks with senior Nato officials in Brussels.

  • Norwegian men and women are waiting to receive more than NOK 470 million in compensation they are entitled to. The amount due is most often the result of a court case in which the judges have awarded compensation. The problem is that many of those sentenced to pay compensation are penniless, and have absolutely no possibility of making restitution.

  • 55 per cent of those Norwegian local authorities which have responded to a survey by the Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS) say they have reduced their education budgets for 2003.

  • The accounting scandal and the dramatic fall in the share price of the Dutch supermarket giant, Royal Ahold, are having a negative impact on the fortunes of Norway’s richest man, Stein Erik Hagen. The value of Mr Hagen’s 20 per cent stake in the Swedish company ICA Ahold is directly linked to the price of Royal Ahold shares – which dropped 63 per cent yesterday.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • For the first time in ten years Norwegian environmental organizations have seen their membership numbers rise. The Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature increased its membership by 2,000, and now has almost 20,000 members. The Future in Our Hands, Nature and Youth, Greenpeace and the WWF also recruited more members.
    (Vårt Land)

  • Over the past ten years, Norway has become the Nordic country that produces fewest PhDs. The reason is that the Storting has not allocated enough money to achieve the same emphasis on doctoral research as our neighbours.

Today’s comment from Dagbladet

By the end of the year unemployment could affect 100,000 people, who all feel marginalized in a society where so much of our financial security, self-image and sense of belonging is linked to having a job. Unemployment has risen by almost 40,000 since the general election, when the Bondevik-led coalition government took office. The employment situation is uncertain in both the private and public sectors. The Government is tightening the screw at both central and local government level in order to make room for major tax cuts. An abrupt halt to public sector growth is a political objective for the Government. High interest rates and a strong exchange rate are pushing Norway’s export industries to the wall. The level of activity in the oil industry, which has previously acted as the economy’s engine, has slowed right down. Those in power should face up to their responsibilities. Everyone in the Government, from the Prime Minister down, has responded to the rise in unemployment by pointing out how tight the national budget is and referring to a one percentage point cut in interest rates. It is now clear that these measures have come too late, and are too little to halt the rise in unemployment. The Government has deliberately chosen to allocate a lot of money for tax cuts, in line with the Conservative Party’s ideology. This limits its options in other areas. The link between these two factors is something the Government’s spokesmen cannot simply magic away. The unemployed do not deserve the politicians’ current pettifogging. Instead, legislators should engage in a constructive and open debate whose objective is not to ‘score points’, but to create broad agreement on both short-term and long-term measures to reduce unemployment.