11 March 2003

Government refuses to foot the bill This could topple Bondevik Sharp rise in fisheries fraud Record catches and curses Only 10 asylum seekers granted refugee status by Immigration Appeals Board Today’s comment from Dagsavisen

Government refuses to foot the bill (Dagbladet)

Parents who did not believe the politicians’ promises of cheaper pre-school day-care were probably right. Nursery fees are actually rising, and the minority coalition government is unwilling to pay for the major drive to make pre-school day-care more widely available and cheaper that the opposition parties pushed through the Storting despite its protests. The Storting, however, is furious at the Government’s foot-dragging, and there could be trouble if the Government once again tries to delay the introduction of the nursery reform which the parliamentary majority has approved. The Progress Party’s Siv Jensen said it seemed as though the Bondevik-led government was almost begging to be relieved of office. The Government is now in acute financial difficulties, and must make drastic cuts in the budget this spring. Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was yesterday forced to acknowledge that since the 2003 national budget was approved last autumn, the Storting has voted through additional public expenditure to the tune of NOK 2.1 – 3.1 billion. At the same time, the state’s income from tax revenues is falling. New spending cuts are therefore expected.

This could topple Bondevik (Dagbladet)

In the next few months, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik will face battles on many fronts. The Iraq war is in a class of its own, but it is unlikely to cost him his job. However, that could be the result of the battles over local government funding, this year’s revised national budget and next year’s budget. When this year’s budget was being negotiated, Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagen made it clear that the Bondevik government would have trouble surviving 2003. It now seems as though Mr Hagen was right. For the PM and Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss, the nightmare could begin with this spring’s haggling over the revised national budget.

Sharp rise in fisheries fraud (Dagens Næringsliv)

While the number of inspections has doubled in the past five years, the number of cases of alleged fisheries fraud reported to the police has risen by 240 per cent. Small catch quotas combined with a large fishing capacity increases the temptation to underreport the size of catches landed. This is the reason that the authorities have intensified the number of spot checks carried out on the industry.

Record catches and curses (Dagens Næringsliv)

Despite the fact that this year’s fishing season has yielded record catches, the fishermen of Lofoten are up in arms over record low prices and quotas which have already sent the largest vessels home while the fishing is still at its best. Protest actions are planned for when both the northbound and southbound coastal express ships (Hurtigruta) dock in Lofoten this evening. The fishermen are demanding a 30 per cent increase in catch quotas, corresponding to 117,000 tonnes. It is a demand that the Fisheries Ministry has rejected because it would require Norway to negotiate a deal with Russia. The record fishing season means that the largest vessels have already been pulled out. By Sunday night, this winter’s Lofot fishing season was over for vessels over 21 metres.

Only 10 asylum seekers granted refugee status by Immigration Appeals Board (nrk.no)

The Immigration Appeals Board has come under heavy fire for being too restrictive in granting refugee status. Last year the Immigration Appeals Board granted asylum in just ten out of 8,000 cases. The Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) says that this is far too few. “It could hardly be worse than it is,” said Rune Berglund Steen, a spokesman for NOAS. He claims that Norway is not meeting its international obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees.

Worth Noting

  • The overwhelming majority of people in this country do not share Education Minister Kristin Clemet’s eagerness for the creation of more private schools. Almost 80 per cent of those questioned said it was more important to improve the state school system.

  • The airline SAS Group continues to lose passengers. The five companies in the group flew 200,000 fewer passengers in February this year than in the same month last year. This is the equivalent of 15,000 jam-packed airliners. There are no indications that the trend is about to reverse.

  • Investors have lost faith in the Norwegian krone. The exchange rate will soon be back where it was in January 2002. The record drop in the value of the krone could ensure that interest rates remain high. The Norwegian krone fell in value against the majority of other currencies on Monday.

  • All children from ethnic minorities should start school at the age of five, according to Conservative politician Aamir Sheikh. He believes that local authorities would save money if children started school earlier, because they require less special-needs teaching and are more able to participate in normal classroom teaching if they can all speak Norwegian well.

  • Three out of five interpreters failed the official test. Circuit Judge Arild Kjerschow of the Oslo District Court says that the legal rights of non-Norwegian speakers could be in danger if the Immigration Directorate stops testing court interpreters.

Today’s comment from Dagsavisen

Yesterday, the Government got to grips with the demanding job of putting together next year’s national budget. Reports emerging from the Government’s budget conference at Jevnaker indicate that tax cuts have been put on ice, and that local authorities will receive a little more cash. It remains to be seen whether this will appease the Christian Democratic Party’s irate local council leaders. All budget processes are difficult, but this one is going to be gruelling. The Norwegian economy has gone from good to bad in the course of a very short time. Unemployment is rising. Lower tax revenues and lower returns on investment from the Government Petroleum Fund mean the Government has less cash to spend. The process is like squeezing 18 pairs of ministerial feet into shoes several sizes too small. It cannot be done without much protest and howls of pain. Internal problems and tensions are not the only things the Government has to contend with. It is living more dangerously than before with regard to the Storting. With this autumn’s local elections fast approaching, the Progress Party will be even more difficult to negotiate with than usual. Nor is the Labour Party any more willing to cooperate than before. The question of who is going to help the Government get a budget approved by the Storting is therefore more open than it was last year. Behind the scenes lurk the prospect of a government crisis and a prime ministerial demand for a vote of confidence. But that is something we have grown used to when it comes to Kjell Magne Bondevik’s governments.