27 February 2003


Krohn Devold breached agreement (Aftenposten)

According to Labour’s Marit Nybakk, who chairs the Storting’s Defence Committee, the Storting should have been informed that new supplies of military materiel were being purchased from Israel. She claims that Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold (Con) breached an unspoken agreement to freeze such purchases. “This is pretty incredible, and shows a clear lack of political sensitivity,” said Ms Nybakk. She warned that she would be raising the issue, either by means of a question at ministers’ question time or a written request from the Labour Party for an explanation. However, Gunnar Heløe (Con), State Secretary at the Defence Ministry, said that there had been full openness regarding the purchases. “In the debate in the Storting in June on the Socialist Left Party’s proposal for tighter restrictions on weapons purchasing, the Minister made it quite plain that the Government had rescinded its ‘freeze’. The Storting was therefore informed about the situation,” he said.

Support for coalition partners halved in one year (Dagsavisen)

Support for the ruling coalition partners has fallen by half in one year, and now totals less than 20 per cent for all three parties combined. Labour and the Socialist Left Party together have a majority, and could have formed a coalition government by themselves if there had been an election today. The Conservatives have lost most support, and now have the backing of just 13.1 per cent of the voters. The Christian Democrats’ slide continues; they now get the vote of a record low 5.6 per cent of the electorate. Labour is the country’s most popular party, with 26.3 per cent of the country behind them, closely followed by the Progress Party on 25.8 per cent. The underlying figures show that the Progress Party is picking up disaffected Conservatives, while the Christian Democrats are losing most voters to Labour.

No Foreign Ministry help for those acting as ‘human shields’ in Iraq (Aftenposten)

If war breaks out in Iraq, the Norwegian authorities will not be able to help the six Norwegians who are in the country as human shields. Their fate lies in the hands of Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Ministry has asked all Norwegian citizens to leave Iraq and has closed the Norwegian Embassy in Baghdad. The few Norwegians who are left in the country are journalists and six volunteers acting as human shields. The Norwegian human shields have written that several of their number are thinking of leaving the country before war breaks out. They feel uncomfortable with the way the Iraqi authorities are treating them.

Public disapproves of Bondevik and Petersen’s handling of Iraq crisis (Dagbladet)

Both Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and Foreign Minister Jan Petersen get the thumbs down from the Norwegian people for their handling of the Iraq crisis. Mr Bondevik is seen as handling the Iraq crisis slightly better than he does his job as PM, while Mr Petersen scores far higher for his efforts as Foreign Minister than for his handling of a possible war in Iraq. One in three voters thinks Mr Bondevik is doing a bad job, regardless. Only 13 per cent say that Mr Bondevik is doing a good job as Prime Minister, while 25 per cent say Mr Petersen is doing a good job as Foreign Minister.

No support from chief prosecutor for Krekar charges (Dagsavisen)

According to law professor Ståle Eskeland, the Director General of Public Prosecutions, Tor-Aksel Busch, feels the charges brought by the police against Mullah Krekar are without adequate foundation. In addition to the expulsion case against Mullah Krekar, a criminal investigation against him is also underway. He has been charged under section 104a of the Penal Code, which deals with participation in and the establishment of private paramilitary organizations. “Section 104a will probably not play any particularly important role in respect of members of foreign organizations. Any other solution would make the majority of liberation movements illegal under Norwegian law,” writes Mr Busch.

Oil companies flee Norway (Dagbladet)

The oil companies cannot stand any more of Norway and would now rather invest in West Africa and Russia. “The problem is that the politicians have always been interested in only one side of the oil business – revenues. They have squabbled about how to spend the Government Petroleum Fund, full stop. This is bad. The politicians have forgotten to draw up the broad outline and make sure we have an overview of the assets we have at our disposal on the Norwegian continental shelf,” said Ole-Jacob Kvinnesland, chief executive of Norland Consultants AS. This year, 14 exploration wells are being drilled on the Norwegian continental shelf. A few year ago the level of activity was twice as high.

Hagen wants better monitoring of aid organizations (Nationen)

According to Carl I. Hagen, who is a member of the Storting’s Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the report on Worldview Rights reveals a lack of adequate routines on the part of the Foreign Ministry. He is now calling for changes. Mr Hagen is waiting for a response from the Foreign Ministry, and will review the report as soon as it has been delivered. “We will be looking at the report particularly in light of the public administration’s practice and control routines,” said Mr Hagen. The Office of the Auditor General will also be following up the Ministry’s handling of the affair.

Tougher sorting of asylum seekers (Dagsavisen)

The Immigration Directorate (UDI) plans to sort asylum seekers by nationality, and quickly send certain groups out of the country without them having access to legal assistance. Trygve Nordby, head of the UDI, says that confidence in the principle of asylum is threatened because so many more asylum seekers are arriving than the UDI can manage to process. This is why he wants to introduce greater differentiation in the processing of applications, depending on where the applicant comes from. The Local Government and Regional Affairs Ministry is currently working to develop various ways to tighten up the regulations.

42 per cent of recruits sent home (Verdens Gang)

Fewer and fewer young men are capable of completing their initial period of military service. Four out of ten recruits who were called up in January were sent home in short order. Poor physical and mental health is the main reason that so many recruits are discharged. But drug abuse and a criminal record also make 19-year-olds unsuitable for military service. The high drop-out rate is causing problems for important military detachments, such as His Majesty the King’s Guard and the Garrison in Sør-Varanger, based in Kirkenes, which monitors the Russian border.

Worth Noting

  • The Labour Party is hammering at the Government over rising unemployment, but Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg does not support demands to increase public spending to get the economy moving.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • A loophole in international agreements means that people who have been refused asylum in Denmark can travel to Norway and reapply for asylum. In the 1990s, Denmark declared it would not be bound by agreements entered into by the EU on behalf of Denmark with third party, non-EU countries. Because of this the Schengen and Dublin regulations to not apply. The issue will be raised once more with the Danish authorities.

  • Open office landscapes are popular with Norwegian companies, but research shows they can have a negative effect on employees.

  • According to figures released by the Banking, Insurance and Securities Commission, the earnings posted by Norwegian banks are at their lowest level since 1992. Bjørn Skogstad Aamo, who heads the Commission, is nevertheless not worried that the banking sector will suffer another collapse.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • Sponsor Service will today be put into the hands of the official receivers. The company’s largest shareholder, Telenor, is accusing Sponsor Service’s management and its founder Terje Bogen of fiddling the books. The whole affair could now end up in the hands of the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime. Sponsor Service’s primary bank, Nordea, will lose most by the company’s bankruptcy. Nordea could be owed as much as NOK 250 million, most of which is probably lost.

  • NorgesGruppen, which already owns the Meny and Kiwi supermarket chains, sees the crisis in its Dutch counterpart, Royal Ahold, as an opportunity to take over the life’s work of Stein Erik Hagen, which includes the Rimi and ICA supermarket chains in Norway. “It is not April Fool’s Day yet,” said Mr Hagen in response.

Today’s comment from Verdens Gang

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik succeeded yesterday in talking up interest rates by sowing doubt on the possibility of a cut in interest rates. Since Central Bank Governor Svein Gjedrem has indicated that there may be several cuts in interest rates during the spring, this must be viewed as something of a work of art. The PM’s interest rate blunder was the result of a typically petty squabble in the Storting about who was most to blame for the rising level of unemployment. The opposition accused the Government of using unemployment to bring down interest and exchange rates. Mr Bondevik responded by accusing the opposition parties of putting jobs in danger by forcing through expensive public spending initiatives, including billions for cheaper pre-school nursery places – which, according to Mr Bondevik, reduces the chances of there being a cut in interest rates. We agree with Mr Bondevik that lower interest rates and a lower exchange rate, as well as a moderate wage settlement this year, are the best measures to combat rising unemployment. This means that both the Government and the opposition must resist the temptation to spend more of the country’s oil wealth. The Progress Party’s proposal for a package of measures lubricated by liberal helpings of oil-money is, therefore, a good example of what we should not do. If the proposal is adopted, the experts agree that the exchange rate will remain strong. And a strong Norwegian krone is currently the biggest threat to jobs in the country’s export industries. Unfortunately, for the moment it looks as though the Government and the Storting are more concerned with dishing out both blame and cash than with taking responsibility.