14 March 2003


Socialist Left Party neck and neck with Labour (Aftenposten)

The latest poll by Opinion puts support for the Socialist Left Party neck and neck with Labour, giving the two parties together an absolute majority. Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left Party, attributes her party’s gains to a general mobilization of public feeling against the fact that money, commercialization and profit should have such a great influence on so many areas of life, from the price of electricity to the level of care grandma is entitled to. “This is a backlash against mean-minded Conservative Party politics and loyalty to the USA,” she said. The poll puts support for the Socialist Left Party at 22.9 per cent, the same as the Labour Party. The Progress Party is still the country’s most popular party, with the backing of 24.2 per cent of the electorate. The Conservatives slide 0.8 percentage points to 13.4 per cent, while the Christian Democrats hold steady at 6.8 per cent. The Socialist Left Party is not ready to consider a change of government, despite its success in the polls. “A majority like this could give an absolute majority to the Socialist Left Party and the Labour Party together. But we are not going to start allocating ministerial positions. The Socialist Left Party has not lost all sense of proportion,” said Ms Halvorsen.

Relations with USA remain good, says PM (Dagbladet)

The USA’s relations with Norway are good and will remain so. That was the message Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was given by US President George W. Bush in a telephone conversation last night. “We talked about the good relations between Norway and the USA, but mostly we talked about Iraq, of course. Mr Bush expressed respect and understanding for Norway’s position on the issue,” said Mr Bondevik. During the conversation, there was no mention of the comments made by US Ambassador John Doyle Ong, who had said relations between the two countries had been weakened. “It was not an issue. I feel that there is no tension between Norway and the USA. Relations are good,” said Mr Bondevik.

Government split over job relocation plans (Aftenposten)

There are strong indications that the ruling minority coalition is deeply divided over whether a number of central government agencies should be relocated out of Oslo. This has emerged in an internal memo, in which the Finance Ministry is highly critical of Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor D. Norman. The Finance Ministry memo presents a number of arguments against relocating the Norwegian Competition Authority out of Oslo, and asks that these objections be taken into consideration in the forthcoming report to the Storting on the relocation plans. The fact that arguments against relocation have not been taken into account is thought to have prompted immense irritation within the various government ministries. The memo refers to all the agencies that Mr Norman wants to relocate, with special emphasis on the Competition Authority. It is well known that Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss has refused to consider relocating the Competition Authority, which comes under his jurisdiction.

DnB boss bags a bargain (Dagens Næringsliv)

Svein Aaser, chief executive of Den norske Bank (DnB), is picking up Gjensidige NOR on the cheap, according to the unanimous opinion of the London financial community. Analysts envisage a Nordic financial services giant since DnB/Gjensidige NOR could prove a tempting target for Sweden’s powerful financial services providers. There are now strong indications that a merger between DnB and Gjensidige NOR could be agreed within a short space of time. According to a centrally placed source, there is every reason to believe that the most critical point has been passed. Yesterday morning, the two companies issued a statement to the Oslo Stock Exchange, after news of the merger negotiations leaked out. Both the swap ratio and the composition of the senior management team has now been agreed.

Government pays NOK 60 million for truce with teachers (Dagens Næringsliv)

The Government is to pay out NOK 60 million to secure a truce with the teachers. With the help of Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, the teachers have also effectively blocked two of Education Minister Kristin Clemet’s most important educational reforms. Ms Clemet prompted howls of anger when she announced without warning on 31 January that responsibility for teachers’ pay negotiations would be transferred from central government to local government level. Helga Hjetland, leader of the Confederation of Higher Education Unions, Norway (UHO), described the move as a betrayal, and broke off all contact with Ms Clemet. However, yesterday all was sweetness and light. For several weeks the UHO has been quietly negotiating with the Government and the Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS) over the transfer, under the auspices of the PM himself. A smiling Mr Bondevik was yesterday able to announce the deal. The teachers are once more on speaking terms with the Government.

New Centre Party leader aims to ditch sourpuss image (Nationen)

The Centre Party needs to work on its image. No party can increase its voter appeal by being perceived as a sourpuss, according to incoming Centre Party leader Åslaug Haga. She also wants to put an end to media ridicule of rural life. The Centre Party opens its annual conference today, and tomorrow Åslaug Haga will be elected party leader. She wants to create a new image for the party. “It is a problem that people perceive us as being reactionary, no matter how wrong that perception is. We need to be concerned with how we appear to voters. No party can increase its voter appeal by being perceived as a sourpuss. I am not saying that we are, but I see that others can perceive us in that way. The Centre Party must be associated with something positive and forward-looking,” said Ms Haga.

1. Worth Noting

  • Six months ago, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik signed a public declaration condemning bullying. Today, Education Minister Kristin Clemet will be told that barely four out of ten local authorities have adopted local targets in the fight against bullying. In other words, it looks as though a large number of council leaders have not done what Mr Bondevik asked them to do six months ago – sign a local declaration against bullying

  • The Labour and Government Affairs Ministry guarantees that none of the 900 employees working at the government agencies to be relocated outside Oslo will be left without a job. State Secretary Osmund Kaldheim says that employees will not have to compete for other government jobs, and those who quit will qualify for three years of paid further education.

  • Absenteeism through illness rose from 6.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2001 to 6.9 per cent in the same period of 2002. But there has been a slight fall in the number of people taking sick leave in those companies that have signed the agreement on an inclusive workplace.

2. Today’s comment from Aftenposten

Despite the strong language, there is no reason to interpret US Ambassador John Doyle Ong’s comments in a speech on Wednesday as having any dramatic political implications. The Ambassador expressed disappointment that Norway was not willing to give the USA’s line on the Iraq conflict its unquestioning support, and hinted that relations between our two countries could be permanently damaged as a result. Such hard words are, to put it mildly, unusual from an ambassador from an allied nation. But then, the whole political drama now being played out on the UN stage in New York is unique in post-war history. We presume that Mr Doyle Ong’s comments were meant as a warning. However, we believe that they can easily turn out to be counter-productive. Even the USA, our most important ally, has no right to demand that Norway should change its relations to, and view of, the UN. For almost 60 years it has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy thinking, and will continue to be so. For just as long, the USA and Norway have had a close relationship. But friendship cuts both ways, and real friendship is based on mutual respect. If the stronger party to an alliance demands abject loyalty, what is being demonstrated is not real friendship.

3. Sport

Robert Sørli made history yesterday as the first non-American to win the 1,150 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska. Nine days of gruelling effort were rewarded with over NOK 1 million in prize money.