27 March 2003


Call for PM to pull Petersen into line (Aftenposten)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has called on Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik to “have it out” with Foreign Minister Jan Petersen over the Iraq issue. Behind the move is a serious accusation that the Government is speaking with forked tongue. “It is completely unnecessary to issue such a call. We talk together almost every day. The Government’s position is quite clear,” said the PM. During yesterday’s question time in the Storting, MPs from the Labour Party, Socialist Left Party and Centre Party all said that Mr Petersen’s comments in the course of the past week had sown doubts about the Government’s position. They were referring in particular to Mr Petersen’s remark that Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson was ‘out to lunch’ for saying that the war in Iraq was in violation of international law.

Bondevik: Wrong to kill Saddam Hussein (Dagbladet)

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has criticized the USA’s deliberate attempts to kill Saddam Hussein. “I am not in favour of people being removed from power by removing them from their lives,” responded Mr Bondevik when asked to comment on the USA’s expressed wish to kill the Iraqi dictator. At his monthly press conference, the PM took issue with several aspects of the US military offensive in Iraq. “We are against this war. It should never have started,” he said. Mr Bondevik will also express Norway’s criticism of the USA when and if President George W. Bush comes to this country.

Devil or deep blue sea? (nrk.no)

“Was there any real alternative to this war?” asks history professor Olav Riste. He believes that the USA was faced with a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea when it decided to attack Iraq. Professor Riste is head of research at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies until April this year, when the 69-year-old is due to retire. He is following developments in Iraq closely. “The question is whether there was any alternative to war. Resolution 1441 was unanimous, and implicit in it was the fact that Iraq would have to expect “serious consequences” if it did not meet the UN’s demands,” professor Riste points out. He does not think an extension of the weapons inspections was any alternative to war. Instead, he feels, sanctions could have been made tougher, the no-fly zone could have been extended to the whole country, the number of weapons inspectors could have been increased, and UN military personnel could have been stationed at the sites the inspectors had already been to, to prevent the Iraqis using these again afterwards.

Minister refuses to prepare for arrival of war refugees (Nationen)

Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg is refusing to prepare for the arrival of refugees from the war in Iraq. Nor will she say how the Government will respond if the UN High Commissioner for Refugees asks for Norwegian help with a possible evacuation effort. Ms Solberg maintains that it sufficient to have an emergency response plan ready to be implemented if the question arises. She underlines the fact that it would be fundamentally wrong to spend vast sums to ship war refugees to Norway, when the money would be much better spent it in the region itself.

Valla under severe pressure (Dagens Næringsliv)

Jan Davidsen is threatening to take almost 290,000 union members out of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). Mr Davidsen is demanding that the LO’s new mega-union, dubbed The Trade Union, should be allowed to recruit employees in private companies working under contract to local authorities. At the end of June, Mr Davidsen, who currently leads the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees, will be elected president of the Norwegian union movement’s new juggernaut. The Trade Union is the result of a merger between the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees and the Norwegian Association of Health and Social Care Personnel, and will have around 290,000 members. The merger is an extremely important event for LO president Gerd-Liv Valla, but her satisfaction could be short-lived. The Trade Union has said it will sign up as an affiliate of the LO, but only for a trial period. If it is not satisfied with its membership by 2005, it could pull out of the LO altogether.

Bank merger attacked on two fronts (Aftenposten)

Norwegian small investors own more than five per cent of the shares in Gjensidige NOR. If the Norwegian Shareholders’ Association succeeds in mobilizing a lot of no-votes from these investors, it could decide the fate of the proposed merger with Den norske Bank (DnB). The merger is under attack on two fronts. Previously, several of Gjensidige NOR’s large foreign investors have expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed swap ratio. They have asked Pareto, a firm of stockbrokers, to coordinate the opposition of the company’s major shareholders.

Lindbæk hits back (Dagens Næringsliv)

DnB chairman Jannik Lindbæk has hit back at opponents of DnB NOR, stating that this is a merger not a takeover. According to Mr Lindbæk, Gjensidige NOR’s shareholders will gain more from the merger than they lose by having the state as the dominant owner of DnB NOR. Mr Lindbæk also believes that opposition to the merger based on the belief that Gjensidige NOR is being taken over by DnB is wrong. “The negotiations have produced a result that reflects the synergy effects we believe can be obtained, and how these should be allocated to the different shareholder groups,” he said.

Improved nursing home care would cost NOK 15 billion (Verdens Gang)

The Progress Party’s spokesman on the elderly, Jon Alvheim, has called for staffing levels at the country’s nursing homes to be increased by half a man-year per patient. The Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS) has worked out that this corresponds to 33,000 full-time jobs. Multiplied by a cost of NOK 450,000 per full-time job, the bill for Mr Alvheim’s proposal amounts to NOK 15 billion – half Norway’s defence budget. The KS claims that a staffing norm of that kind could only be achieved through the importation of around 30,000 foreign workers.

1. Worth Noting

  • The Directorate of Public Roads scarcely dares to mention it, but raising the speed limit from 90 to 100 km per hour on certain stretches of motorway has led to a sharp fall in the number of fatalities and serious traffic accidents. The Directorate puts this down to better traffic flow, with less braking and accelerating. Several more stretches of road are now to be analyzed with a view to raising the speed limit from 90 to 100 km per hour.

  • The Immigration Directorate (UDI) is installing a new computer system, and has warned that this could delay the processing of asylum applications. It will also be more difficult to get hold of UDI staff. “In the longer term the new system will help us to improve our immigration administration and increase our efficiency. However, the introduction of the new system has demanded significant resources in recent months, and there is still a fair way to go before the system is working optimally,” said UDI chief executive Trygve Nordby.

  • Norwegian companies receive NOK 349 million in state aid to set up operations abroad. According to the Bergen-based Institute for Research in Economics and Business Administration, which has calculated how much money the state spends on business development, the NOK 349 million is almost exclusively one-off assistance, such as loans, equity and guarantee schemes.

  • Ofotens Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskap (OVDS) is thinking of reflagging its coastal express ships (Hurtigruten) to Sweden or Denmark, reports the newspaper Avisa Nordland. “This is not a threat that we are making. It is the Norwegian business framework that is threatening us,” said Tor J. Strand in an interview with the paper.

  • “We must bring Norway’s differentiated employers’ national insurance contribution scheme before the EFTA court for a decision, and not trust the pro-EU membership politicians who say that we cannot win our case there,” said the Centre Party’s Marit Arnstad.

  • Fredric Hauge, of the environmental foundation Bellona, is heaping praise on the Conservative Party for its decision to end its long-standing energy pact with the Labour Party. “The Government’s deal with the Socialist Left Party over gas could salvage Norway’s environmental credibility,” said Mr Hauge

  • During the same period in which Opticom’s share price has lost 95 per cent of its value, company executives have received pay rises of 230 per cent. Over the past four years Thomas Fussel, Robert Keith and Hans Gude Gudesen have been paid more than NOK 50 million.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • Today, the Norwegian Bible Society is due to publish its revised version of the New Testament. Here the archaic word for body “legeme” has been replaced by the more modern term “kropp”.
    (Vårt Land)

2. Today’s comment from Aftenposten

The Government has taken a clear standpoint when it explains its lack of support for the war in Iraq with the fact that the military offensive has not been sanctioned by a second Security Council resolution. At the same time, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has given assurances that Norway will participate actively in humanitarian aid operations in Iraq, and that these efforts will be given whatever funding is required. There is broad agreement on this line. And with the exception of the Progress Party, the Government has solid support in the Storting for its position on the war itself. This is extremely positive for a small country facing a difficult international situation. But it is unfortunate that the opposition parties which support the Government are sowing doubts on the strength of the standpoint it has taken. Even more regrettable is the fact that the opposition has grounds for pointing out that the PM and Foreign Minister Jan Petersen are not in accord in their explanations of Norway’s position. The difference in phraseology is so noticeable that the Foreign Minister has raised doubts about whether he himself and the Conservative Party are standing firmly enough behind the Government’s policies as they were expressed in Mr Bondevik’s report to the Storting last week. A historically understandable knee-jerk reaction from a conservative party, that Norway must follow the USA, should not overshadow the Government’s right and duty to consider whether the USA is acting in accordance with those principles Norway wishes to uphold in international politics. This is something the PM has done in a way that has solid support among the Norwegian people. The Foreign Minister must also contribute to the Norwegian government speaking with one voice on this issue.