The Foreign Ministry is opposed to establishing stocks of emergency supplies for use in the event of war in Iraq. Norwegian Church Aid describes this position as “immoral”. The Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian Church Aid have asked the Foreign Ministry for money to build up stocks of emergency supplies that can quickly be distributed to the civilian population in the event of war. The Foreign Ministry turned down their request, arguing that to do so “would send the wrong signals – it might look as though Norway thought there would be a war”, as Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Red Cross, put it in an article published in Thursday’s Verdens Gang. State Secretary Vidar Helgesen rejects this criticism, pointing out that the Foreign Ministry has donated NOK 10 million to the UN’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund, NOK 20 million to the UN High Commission for Refugees for emergency relief measures, and NOK 24 million to on-going humanitarian aid in Iraq under the auspices of the Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian Church Aid and Care.
Clear majority in favour of EU membership (Dagsavisen/Saturday)
59 per cent of those who have made up their minds, think Norway should join the EU, only 41 per cent want Norway to stay out. The Christian Democratic Party’s voters are in most doubt. These are the figures to emerge from the latest poll AC Nielsen has carried out on behalf of the Newspapers’ News Agency (ANB). 50 per cent of those questioned say yes to Norwegian membership of the EU, 35 per cent say no, and 14 per cent do not know what they would have voted if there had been a referendum on the issue today. There is a majority of EU supporters in southern Norway as a whole, with the greatest support in towns and villages. Opponents of membership can muster a majority only in the northern half of the county, and in rural areas.
Norway could send occupying forces to Iraq (Dagbladet)
According to defence expert Vegard Hansen of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), if there is a war in Iraq, it is probable that Norway will send an occupation force to the country after the battle is won. “If Norwegian forces are to take part, I think it would be most likely that they would be deployed in a post-Saddam phase. In other words, after the war itself is over. Detachments such as the Telemark Battalion could be used to ensure security and stability in Iraq after a war,” said Mr Hansen. However, Dag Aamoth, a spokesman for the Headquarters Defence Command Norway, firmly denies that the Norwegian Armed Forces are preparing for war in Iraq.
Socialist Left Party leadership warned over EU membership (Verdens Gang/Saturday)
Wenche Fossen, leader of the European Movement in Norway, has warned the Socialist Left Party not to turn itself into an organization whose main focus is fighting EU membership. She welcomes all initiatives to promote support for EU membership, but wishes to focus only on her leadership of the European Movement. “The European Movement in Norway is supposed to be the unifying organization for supporters of EU membership. That is why I pulled out of the planning group behind the establishment of Radical Europe when I became head of the European Movement in January this year,” Ms Fossen told VG. She has been a member of the Socialist Left Party for many years, and is warning the party not to turn itself into an organization whose main focus is fighting EU membership. The Socialist Left Party opens its annual conference on Thursday, and the party’s handling of the EU membership issue is on the agenda.
Proposal to secure public access to coastal beauty spots (Aftenposten)
Agriculture Minister Lars Sponheim says that the Norwegian Armed Forces should sell its real estate assets to Statskog, the Norwegian forestry commission. This would secure public access to unique and attractive coastal areas and beautiful mountain terrain for many years to come. The proposal has delighted Statskog, while the Armed Forces are in despair because it slashes many millions of kroner off the sales value of the 25,000 hectares (approx. 6,200 acres) concerned. The people who will gain most are boat owners, beach-lovers, hunters, anglers and others who enjoy outdoor pursuits.
Thumbs down for Church Affairs Minister (Aftenposten)
A parliamentary majority has rejected the scale of post-baptismal religious teaching proposed by Church and Cultural Affairs Minister Valgerd Svarstad Haugland. The opposition rejects the introduction of scheme that would provide Christian religious teaching for all baptized children right up until the age of 18 – seen by the Minister as an important symbolic issue for the Christian Democratic Party. As things stand today, if she goes ahead and presents a bill on the same scale as that proposed in the report to the Storting, she will not get the parliamentary majority she needs. The Labour Party, Progress Party and Socialist Left Party all feel that the requirement for post-baptismal religious teaching should be more thoroughly researched. A majority of the members of the Storting’s Church, Education and Research Committee has demanded that the Minister provide answers to a list of critical questions.
Voluntary work worth NOK 40 billion (Aftenposten/Saturday)
More people than ever before are involved in voluntary work, according to a recent survey carried out in 276 of the country’s local authority areas. But at the same time, voluntary organizations are having trouble finding people willing to take elected office. Volunteers fill the equivalent of 156,900 full-time jobs. This is more than ever before, and the efforts put in by volunteers are worth some NOK 40 billion, according to a report published in the Directorate of Public Management’s magazine, Stat og Styring. Last year was the official year of the voluntary sector, and in that connection a study was carried out of the voluntary work being undertaken in the country’s local authority areas.
1. Worth Noting
- The number of Norwegians who support a UN-backed war in Iraq is rising. But a poll carried out by Norsk Gallup on behalf of TV2 shows that the majority of people remain opposed to war, regardless of what the UN may decide.
- Supporters of EU membership retain their lead in the polls, but new members are streaming to the organization No to the EU. Since the new year, 550 new members have joined No to the EU, while Youth against the EU has recruited 400 youthful new members.
- If Aker Kværner meets the stock market’s expectations today, the company will publish its best annual results since 1997. But uncertain order books and a low share price take the shine off this achievement. In the four years prior to 2002, Aker Kværner made accumulated losses of around NOK 12 billion. However, such appalling figures from Aker Kværner are probably now a thing of the past.
- A juicy bonus boosted DnB chief executive Svein Aaser’s total remuneration package by 24 per cent last year. Mr Aaser’s basic salary rose by 5.7 per cent, bringing it above the NOK 3 million mark. In addition, he received a bonus last year of NOK 533,000.
- 45 per cent of the country’s local authorities have cost-cutting plans in place that could lead to redundancies, according to a survey carried out by the Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS). According to the survey, 95 per cent of local authorities say that they have cost-cutting plans that involve either a recruitment freeze or downsizing. 45 per cent say that the measures may also involve redundancies. 150 local authorities, encompassing just under half of Norway’s population, took part in the survey.
- The days when major projects abounded on the Norwegian continental shelf seem to be over. Statoil has assessed its investment requirement in the years to 2010, and the curve points sharply down. Statoil alone invested NOK 11 billion on the Norwegian continental shelf last year. But in the international arena, Statoil’s presence is growing steadily stronger. Statoil has secured three major international operatorships during the past four months. The company’s investments outside Norway are growing strongly.
- Companies that buy works of modern art could qualify for tax relief. The Government is dusting off plans to strengthen cooperation between business and the arts.
- The scandal currently facing the construction industry – in which the country’s three largest construction companies are facing a police investigation of two alleged cases of anti-trust violations – could be the tip of the iceberg. At least that is what Hei von Weltzien Høivik, thinks. He is the Norwegian School of Management’s leading management ethics expert. Olav Søfteland, head of the Directorate of Public Roads, and Trade and Industry Minister Ansgar Gabrielsen share his concern.
2. Today’s comment from Dagbladet
Cultural and Church Affairs Minister Valgerd Svarstad Haugland has proposed spending NOK 250 million of the taxpayers’ money to strengthen and extend church-run religious instruction for children baptized into the Church of Norway up to the age of 18. It is a proposal that has met with strong opposition in the Storting, and there are serious doubts as to whether this scheme, which is close to the Christian Democratic Party’s heart, will be ever be implemented. Not surprising, really. At a time when most people view the Church as a master of ceremonies, and politicians let Church buildings fall into disrepair, it seems odd to spend several hundred million kroner on an extensive apparatus for church-run religious instruction. And now it appears as though most ordinary people are not interested in this Christian Democratic Party contrivance. According to an opinion poll, only 8 per cent of those questioned said they wanted a reform of this kind. Aftenposten, which has been out on the street asking people what they think, was told that “this is something we can fix ourselves”. So, it is certainly not something rooted in the groundswell of popular demand. The Storting should send the proposal back where it came from, with a note saying thanks, but no thanks.