26 March 2003

Defence Committee chairman: Norwegian submarine not helping USA in Iraq Boost for Bondevik No tidal wave of violence after all NOK 5.5 million swindle Go-ahead for fines to combat illegal advertisingKing crab to enrich Finnmark Investor mutiny could derail merger Statoil cocks a snook at Hydro over chief executive pay Nordea employees could face jobs free-for-all Today’s comment from Dagsavisen

Defence Committee chairman: Norwegian submarine not helping USA in Iraq (Nationen)

Labour MP Marit Nybakk, chairman of the Storting’s Defence Committee, is convinced that the Norwegian submarine KNM Utvær is not meaningful to the US military offensive. “KNM Utvær is supplying Nato member states with information. And that includes the USA, which is Norway’s ally. I do not think KNM Utvær makes any difference. I would like to make clear that we are not helping the USA in connection with the war on Iraq. I am confident that the armed forces leadership knows how to maintain the appropriate balance,” said Ms Nybakk.

Boost for Bondevik (Dagbladet)

After a hard winter in which his popularity took a severe beating, the outlook has brightened somewhat for Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. More people are now saying that he is doing a good job as Prime Minister. 17 per cent of voters now approve of the PM’s performance, 4 percentage points up on the historically dismal rating he has been marooned on since last December. “The fact that support for both the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats has risen on MMI’s latest tracker poll leads us to hope that the Government and the Christian Democratic Party could have reached a turning point. I hope and believe that this is the case,” said Mr Bondevik.

No tidal wave of violence after all (Aftenposen)

Society has not become more violent in the past twenty years, according to Statistics Norway. Based on studies which the national statistics bureau has carried out regularly since 1983, some 5 per cent of those questioned say that they have received threats in the past 12 months. This figure has remained constant, and even fell slightly in the latest poll. On the other hand, incidents involving violence are now more frequently reported to the police. Since 1991 the number of violent crimes reported to the police has increased by 65 per cent.

NOK 5.5 million swindle (Verdens Gang)

The suspicions of Norwegian diplomatic personnel led to the discovery that a Palestinian lawyer has misappropriated NOK 30 million in development assistance grants. “We are now preparing civil litigation against the human rights organisation LAW and against named individuals,” said Karsten Klepsvik, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. Over a five-year period, Norway has donated NOK 5.5 million to LAW, with the money coming from the Foreign Ministry’s budget. Some of this is included in the missing NOK 30 million.

Go-ahead for fines to combat illegal advertising (Vårt Land)

The police have done very little to combat illegal alcohol and tobacco advertising. The Government has now been given the go-ahead to impose fines on companies who attempt to get round the ban on such advertising. Examples of sneak advertising include the tobacco company that puts its brand name on ashtrays or the brewery that unlawfully links its name to alcohol. All these could face tougher reactions than they are used to. “The Storting has now strengthened our ability to enforce the advertising ban. It is fairly certain to have an impact,” said Conservative MP Bent Høie, who was responsible for piloting the issue through the Storting’s Social Affairs Committee.

King crab to enrich Finnmark (Aftenposten)

A parliamentary majority hopes that Finnmark’s the king crab population can be turned into an economic resource. When the issue was debated in the Storting on Tuesday, the majority of MPs rejected a proposal by the Socialist Left Party that the king crab should be managed as an unwelcome, artificially introduced species. There was universal concern about the king crab’s rapid expansion westwards, but the majority of MPs chose to emphasize the positive aspects of its arrival in Norwegian waters, such as the fact that increased fishing for king crabs could help secure jobs and economic development in Finnmark.

Investor mutiny could derail merger (Dagens Næringsliv)

Yesterday, the Norwegian Shareholders’ Association sent out 36,000 letters to Gjensidige Nor’s shareholders, asking for the power of attorney to vote against the proposed merger with Den norske Bank (DnB). The response has been enormous. By just after lunch yesterday, the association’s chief executive, Knut Traaseth, had already received 500 powers of attorney by fax. To block the merger, a third of all shareholders attending the general meeting must vote against.

Statoil cocks a snook at Hydro over chief executive pay (Aftenposten)

Statoil chief executive Olav Fjell is the only one of the company’s more than 11,000 employees in Norway who will not be paid a bonus this year. And this despite the fact that the company delivered a handsome profit in 2002. Mr Fjell is not getting a pay rise either, in contrast to most of Statoil’s other employees. Statoil’s board of directors and Mr Fjell reached this agreement at yesterday board meeting. Eivind Reiten, chief executive of rival oil producer Norsk Hydro, received bonus payments and salary increases amounting to almost NOK 1.2 million, which prompted a storm of controversy. In January, the Government and business representatives agreed to moderate executive pay in order to keep down this year’s wage settlements for the rest of the labour force.

Nordea employees could face jobs free-for-all (Dagbladet)

Nordea is thinking of releasing all its employees from their current positions as part of the bank’s reorganization effort. This means that 2,550 employees could be precipitated into an every-man-for-himself battle to keep their jobs. The Nordic banking giant is struggling to cope with spiralling costs, and will have cut hits headcount by 800 by the end of the year. Around 500 of those affected by job losses will be from the bank’s Norwegian operations.

Worth Noting

  • There are strong indications that Nato will retain a presence in Norway. Nato’s regional headquarters at Jåttå, just outside Stavanger, looks set to survive the alliance’s restructuring programme. “So far, Jåttå is firmly located on the future map of Nato,” said one of several sources at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

  • Even though Iraqi asylum seekers have been released from their obligation to leave Norway, the social security benefits they receive have been reduced as if their departure deadline had expired. According to figures released by the Immigration Directorate, refugee reception centres around the country currently house 200 people from Iraq, whose applications to stay have been rejected.

  • Many central government agencies have still not made adequate provision for elderly, sick and handicapped employees, according to recently published figures.

  • For once, the latest study of the size of cod stocks has come as a welcome surprise to marine biologists. The 2002 cohort was more promising that scientists had expected. The economically important spring cod fishing season, including the Lofot fishing season, could therefore be safeguarded.

  • While competitors in other countries are holding back, there has been a sharp increase in exports of farmed Norwegian salmon. At the same time, prices remain low. The fish farmers’ bank, Den norske Bank, is now refusing to finance any increase in production.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • The Storting was misled about the costs involved in relocating the Coast Directorate to Ålesund. Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor D. Norman yesterday took a small step towards his critics.

  • Consumers will soon be receiving this winter’s hefty electricity bills. The country’s largest power company, Hafslund Strøm, has worked out that most people will get a bill for NOK 7,000.
    (Verdens Gang)

  • Yesterday, Lance Armstrong, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Ronaldo, Michael Schumacher and Tiger Woods, in alphabetical order, were nominated for the prestigious award: World Sportsman of the Year 2002. The decision will be announced in Monte Carlo on 20 May.
    (All newspapers)

Today’s comment from Dagsavisen

Support for the Progress Party has dropped by a substantial 2.7 percentage points, according to an opinion poll published in yesterday’s Dagbladet. In an interview with the same newspaper, Carl I. Hagen admitted that the party is struggling at the moment. He acknowledged that his strong support for the USA’s war on Iraq has cost votes. But he said he had no regrets. According to Mr Hagen, the Progress Party does not decide its policies on such key issues on the basis of “popularity contests”. That is a change of tune, coming from the founding father of Norwegian populism. For our part, we have always viewed Mr Hagen as the undisputed Norwegian champion of bandwagon jumping. But it is possible we are mistaken when it comes to being loyal to the USA, under any circumstances and regardless of the cost. If that is the case, Mr Hagen’s voters should note that, on such issues, the Progress Party is reduced to a local chapter of the Republican Party, and its chairman to a spokesman for the Bush administration. Norwegian voters are hardly likely to appreciate such servility.