26 February 2003

Norway buys military equipment from Israel Aid organization sharply criticizedNorwegians would gladly pay more tax Call for Bondevik to resignValla into battle against unemploymentValla admits last year’s wage settlement was too generous Hagen accused of bluffing National Rail Administration to pay insurers NOK 44 millionNOK 1.4 billion lost since start of yearFarmed cod will be a successToday’s comment from Aftenposten

Norway buys military equipment from Israel (Aftenposten)

In April last year Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold announced that Norway would no longer buy Israeli-made military supplies due to the tense situation in the Middle East. Since that time she has given the go-ahead for eight purchases from Israeli manufacturers or from firms that use Israeli sub-suppliers. The value of the goods purchased totals NOK 16.7 million. “We assess each individual purchase, and our decision is based on a combined evaluation of quality, price and other relevant circumstances. I would like to underline that we have not introduced any kind of boycott of Israeli goods,” said Ms Krohn Devold.

Aid organization sharply criticized (Nationen)

The development assistance organization Worldview Rights has come in for sharp criticism for inadequate reporting of how it spends its funds. In a report produced by Nordic Consulting Group, which has investigated the aid organization, Worldview Rights reveals that a large proportion of the funding it received from the state to support its efforts to promote a cultural dialogue between North and South Korea was in fact spent on mobile telephones, portable PCs and other computer equipment. The Foreign Ministry has not yet decided what consequences the report will have for Worldview Rights. But the authorities have announced that they will be tightening up their current practice and demanding much more in the way of reporting in the future.

Norwegians would gladly pay more tax (Dagsavisen)

Three out of four Norwegians are extremely or fairly satisfied with the social welfare services provided by their local authorities. But a clear majority is prepared to pay NOK 1,000 or more in additional taxes if it would lead to better service provision. “The picture of doom and gloom being painted by the local authorities at the moment is not representative for how they carry out their responsibilities,” said Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg (Con).

Call for Bondevik to resign (Verdens Gang)

Gerd-Liv Valla, president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), has said publicly that she would like to replace Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik with Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg. “It is important to be able to think two thoughts at the same time,” she said. “The LO must seek to cooperate where it will do most good, but at the same time we must show our clear political opposition to a government which makes decisions that run counter to the LO’s vision of how society should develop.” Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg is extremely happy with the LO’s public display of support, and has promised to follow it up.

Valla into battle against unemployment (Dagsavisen)

Gerd-Liv Valla, president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), is predicting that upwards of 150,000 people could find themselves unemployed next year. For this reason the LO is calling for a moderate wage settlement this year, in solidarity with those who already are unemployed and those who are in danger of losing their jobs. The LO leader emphasizes that this year’s round of wage negotiations will be a test, and she is expecting a better dialogue with the Government if negotiations ahead of next year’s general agreement are to be successful. “The Government must stop provoking us with political decisions that run counter to the union movement’s interests,” said Ms Valla.

Valla admits last year’s wage settlement was too generous (Aftenposten)

While unemployment continues to rise, Gerd-Liv Valla, president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), has admitted that the unions have “co-responsibility” for industry’s high level of costs. “Yes, and we accept co-responsibility for the fact that the growth in costs has been too great. But what we do not want is to take sole responsibility. The LO has not signed up to a collaboration on wages just to be kind to Mr Bondevik. On the contrary. We are very unhappy with a lot of what this government is doing,” she said.

Hagen accused of bluffing (Dagbladet)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg feels provoked by the fact that Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagen is attempting to boost his popularity on the back of rising unemployment, and claims that he can prove that what Mr Hagen is saying is nonsense. “Hagen is pulling a political bluff. The Progress Party has spent all its time trying to tear down the social democratic values that have made Norway the country with the lowest unemployment rates. Now Hagen is talking as though he were against current policy, but in the past few years the national budget has been pushed through thanks to the Progress Party’s votes. One year ago the Progress Party said we were exaggerating when we warned of the danger of unemployment,” said a frustrated Jens Stoltenberg.

National Rail Administration to pay insurers NOK 44 million (Dagens Næringsliv)

Following swingeing criticism of traffic control and safety measures on the railway line prior to the Åsta train crash in 2000, in which 19 people died, the National Rail Administration is to pay the insurance company Vesta Forsikring NOK 44 million. In doing so, the Rail Administration will avoid a court hearing. “An important motive for both sides in reaching an out-of-court settlement was consideration for the many people who were involved in the accident. It would have been an additional burden for them to have the whole tragedy replayed in a court of law,” said Rune Gaustad, a senior executive with Vesta.

NOK 1.4 billion lost since start of year (Dagbladet)

The Oslo Stock Exchange is back at the same level as in 1995. At the start of the year, private investors owned unit trusts worth NOK 26.5 billion, NOK 10 billion of which was placed in unit trusts that invest in the Oslo Stock Exchange. The stock market’s unit trust index has dropped by 14 per cent since the New Year. This means that small investors who had trusted their luck with the Oslo Stock Exchange have lost NOK 1,4 billion. Last year, they saw assets to the tune of NOK 6,26 billion evaporate into thin air.

Farmed cod will be a success (Aftenposten)

Norwegian fish farmers can produce 100 million cod fry each year. Fully grown, this represents five times more cod than is caught in a good season off the Lofot islands. Cod worth billions of kroner could soon be raised as “livestock”. But the industry needs almost NOK 3 billion to build the facilities in which the cod fry can grow to adulthood. From then on cod worth NOK 3-4 billion will be produced each year. However, neither Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss nor Hans Olav Karde, who heads northern Norway’s largest bank, can promise the venture capital needed by the fish farming industry.

Worth Noting

  • The Foreign Ministry is now advising Norwegian citizens not to travel to Iraq, and has said that those people already there should leave the country. Because of the uncertain situation in the area, the Foreign Ministry is also advising Norwegian citizens not to travel to Kuwait for the time being, unless their journey is absolutely necessary. The Foreign Ministry is also asking Norwegian citizens to consider carefully the necessity of travelling to or staying in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the Foreign Ministry is advising Norwegian citizens not to travel to Gaza, the West Bank or Jerusalem until further notice.

  • Higher education no longer guarantees a permanent job, as the temporary employment agencies know only too well. They can now pick and choose among a wealth of well qualified job seekers.

  • The Progress Party and the Socialist Left Party believe the state should initiate construction projects in order to get idle hands back to work. If the Labour Party joins the call, the Government could be forced to spend more money on measures to combat unemployment.

  • 17 hazardous incidents in which military and commercial aircraft were involved were recorded last year. The near misses have lead to new rules for military pilots. “An alarming preponderance of foreign military aircraft were involved in these incidents,” said Lt. Col. Jostein Elden of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

  • The signals regarding a cut in interest rates that Central Bank Governor Svein Gjedrem included in his annual speech, the fear of a forthcoming war and fund managers that are dumping Norwegian kroner all contributed to a further fall in the Norwegian exchange rate against the euro.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • Professor Ole Danbolt Mjøs (Chr.Dem) was yesterday chosen to replace Gunnar Berge (Lab) as chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Professor Danbolt Mjøs is one of three new committee members. The two others are former Conservative Party leader, Kaci Kullmann Five, and former Socialist Left Party leader, Berge Furre.

  • Professional criminals in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger can count on expeditious treatment by the police in future. In Oslo, a unit called VIC (very important criminals) is being set up. Its aim is to complete the investigation of an offence on the same day it is committed.

Today’s comment from Aftenposten

Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss is giving the problem of differentiated employers’ national insurance contributions top priority. Four ministries are involved. It should almost go without saying. The scheme has been one of the most sturdy pillars of Norwegian regional policy since 1995. The scheme is estimated to cover almost 350,000 jobs, and amounted to somewhere in the region of NOK 8 billion in 2002 in the zones entitled to reduced contributions. A recent survey shows that 30,000 jobs could disappear, of which 20,000 in northern Norway, if the EU forces an end to the peculiarly Norwegian system of differentiating employers’ national insurance contributions. Under the current scheme, the size of an employer’s contribution varies according to the employee’s home address, from 14.1 per cent in central areas to zero per cent in Finnmark and North Troms. The Norwegian scheme has remained a difficult and unclarified source of disagreement between Norway and the ESA/EU since the EEA Agreement was signed. The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) signalled early on that it felt the scheme violated the rules governing illegal state subsidies. The Government now has a month in which to come up with a solution the EU can accept. There is complete political agreement in Norway that the differentiated employers’ national insurance contribution is simple, effective and non-bureaucratic. The Finance Minister is extremely optimistic about defeating the ESA’s objections, and expects that Norway will be able to retain large parts of the current scheme. We hope he is right.