28 March 2003

Large majority behind Norway’s refusal to support to war (Aftenposten)

A week of war in Iraq has not led to major changes in the way it is perceived by Norwegian public opinion. A recent poll shows that 58 per cent of Norwegian voters feel it was wrong of the USA and Britain to launch a military offensive against Iraq. 25 per cent feel is was the right thing to do, while 17 per cent say they have no opinion on the matter. In a corresponding poll carried out immediately after the outbreak of hostilities last week, 64 per cent responded that they did not support the war, even if Saddam Hussein did not leave Iraq as demanded by the USA. A clear majority of voters from all parties, except the Progress Party, backs the Government’s decision, ranging from 65 per cent of Conservative voters to 91 per cent of Socialist Left Party voters.

Call for emergency measures to reduce unemployment (Dagsavisen)

“The war against Iraq is generating economic uncertainty. The need for government intervention to combat unemployment is therefore acute. The ripple effect of the war against Iraq, as well as the general downturn in the international and domestic economy, means that the Government and the Storting must quickly take responsibility for initiating an effective counter-cyclical policy,” said the Socialist Left Party’s economic policy spokesman Øystein Djupedal. Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg shares Mr Djupedal’s concerns about the war and unemployment. “The war could make an already serious problem even worse. But this is very uncertain at the moment. We do not know how long the war will last, or what direction it will take,” he said.

EEA Agreement has reduced Norway’s power, says PM (Dagsavisen)

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has admitted that the EEA Agreement has taken away more of Norway’s power than he thought it would before the agreement was signed. He said the EEA Agreement had worked well on the whole, because it has given Norwegian companies equal access to the EU’s single market. “The agreement’s weakness is largely that we have limited influence on the formation of EEA rules, because we do not participate in the Council of Europe or the European Parliament’s discussions on these directives. This means that we must work hard to defend our interests within the EEA system,” said Mr Bondevik. A new round of negotiations aimed at expanding the EEA Agreement to cover the new EU member states starts in Brussels on Monday.

Ruling coalition parties at rock bottom (Nationen)

Support for the Christian Democratic Party has plummeted to a new low of 6.1 per cent. The three ruling coalition parties, the Conservatives, Christian Democrats and Liberals, have lost over 380,000 votes since the general election, and are at their lowest level ever. According to the latest poll, the three together would have just 33 seats in the Storting, putting them in fourth place. According to political scientist Bernt Aardal, this kind of wear and tear on a ruling party is something we have seen many times before. “Holding government office is itself a major burden. Added to that are recent controversies over economic policy, local government funding, rising unemployment and closures in the manufacturing sector. It is also difficult to be a minority government without a stable platform of support in the Storting,” said Mr Aardal.

No boost to public spending from Labour (Aftenposten)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg does not want to spend more of the country’s oil wealth when the national budget comes up for revision in May. “With the economic situation as it is today, I do not think the revised national budget is the appropriate time to spend more of our oil revenues,” he said. The Labour leader’s comments mean that 92,500 on the dole at the end of February is not bad enough to warrant using the national budget to kick start the economy. “If the increase in unemployment comes from manufacturing industry, it is an indication that we should go for a cut in interest rates that will affect the exchange rate. If unemployment comes in sectors that are not subject to foreign competition, it is an indication that we should increase public spending,” said Mr Stoltenberg. Tomorrow, it is two years since Mr Stoltenberg first proposed the formula for calculating how much of Norway’s oil revenues should be included in the country’s national budget.

Government could face huge losses (Dagens Næringsliv)

The sharp fall in oil exploration activities on the Norwegian continental shelf will be extremely costly for the country. According to Knut Aaneland of the Federation of Norwegian Engineering Industries (TBL), the Government could lose out on annual revenues amounting to almost NOK 40 billion, as a result of the minimal level of oil exploration. “Unless more oil exploration is permitted, the welfare state will suffer dramatically. You can forget things like cheaper pre-school day-care facilities,” he said.

Foundation unlikely to sell off Gjensidige NOR (Aftenposten)

The foundation that owns 24 per cent of Gjensidige NOR’s shares is unlikely to sell them to a foreign bank. The foundation was set up when Gjensidige NOR was converted into a public limited company last year. According to its articles of association, the foundation shall “exercise a long-term and stable ownership position in Gjensidige NOR”. Per Otterdahl Møller, chairman of the foundation, is positive to the proposed merger between Gjensidige NOR and Den norske Bank (DnB). Under the proposal, the foundation would own just over 10 per cent of the merged company, DnB NOR, which would entitle it to call itself a savings bank.

Warning that day-trading could become addictive (Dagbladet)

Internet-based stock market speculation has claimed its first known Norwegian victim. Dr Hans Olav Fekjær fears that day-trading could become a new form of gambling addiction in Norway. Dr Fekjær is considered to be one of Norway’s leading experts on gambling addition. A day-trader is an investor who buys and sells equities in quick succession to take advantage of short-term trends, selling most if not all of his holdings before the end of the day. This is most often done using the internet. There are ten gamblers anonymous groups in Norway, but it is not known if any of their members is a share-oholic.

1. Worth Noting

  • A number of donor countries and humanitarian aid agencies have reacted sharply to the fact that the International Organization for Migrations (IOM) has been given the task of coordinating all humanitarian aid to internal refugees in Iraq. The USA is one of the organization’s largest contributors. The Norwegian Refugee Council says that the IOM lacks experience, and the Norwegian authorities now wants to know how the UN plans to allocate responsibility for humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

  • It now seems highly likely that the Government will stump up more cash for labour market schemes by the end of next week. “The Government is keeping the unemployment situation under constant review. The Prime Minister has also had talks with the parties represented in the Storting about possible solutions. With this as a basis, we would like to make some new proposals,” said State Secretary Lars Arne Ryssdal at the Ministry of Labour and Government Administration.

  • Christian Democratic Party chairwoman Valgerd Svarstad Haugland is disappointed over her party’s 6.1 per cent showing in the March poll. She blames the party’s recent poor poll performance on the wear and tear of holding government office.

  • The organization The Future in Our Hands has called on the Government to give its support as quickly as possible to a new EU environmental directive on national measures to reduce emissions of acid gases. The issue is particularly relevant because there is now talk of allowing the so-called National Ceiling Directive to become part of the EEA Agreement. This would also make the directive binding on Norway.

  • Subsidies to the tune of USD 15 billion a year are getting in the way of international fish trading, and are threatening marine resources. Norway provides very little in the way of state aid, because the fishing industry realizes the importance of having one’s own house in order when one is asking for fair market access. Norway exports fish to 150 countries and now wants the WTO to sort things out.

  • On Thursday, nine companies were offered production licences and shares in 15 blocks or parts of blocks in the North Sea.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • The airline Widerøe is turning its eyes to Europe. The plan is to win a share of the steadily growing cut-price market. Experts think that the market for cheap fares will skyrocket in the future. Widerøe’s management is not ruling out the establishment of foreign bases. Kiel and Rostock in Germany are two possible locations.

  • Norway has gone SMS-mad. Last year we sent each other around 2.5 billion text messages from our mobile phones, an increase of almost 600 million compared with the year before.
    (Verdens Gang)

  • SAS is not afraid that it will see a sudden drop in demand for direct flights between Oslo and New York as a result of the outbreak of war in Iraq.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • Dogs which attack children under 12 should be put down almost automatically. This is one of the main points in the Government’s proposed new dog legislation. However, Siri Relling, leader of the Norwegian Federation for Animal Protection’s secretariat, said that summary destruction should not become a tool with which to solve problematic dog ownership issues.

2. Today’s comment from Dagens Næringsliv

There is a family squabble going on in the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). Jan Davidsen, who leads the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees, is threatening to take almost 290,000 members out of the LO after his union merges with the Norwegian Association of Health and Social Care Personnel to form “The Trade Union”. This will happen if the new union is not allowed to recruit employees from private companies working under local authority contract. Mr Davidsen has made the threat because he is afraid of losing members – and power. When the buses are operated by private companies, their drivers may quickly come to feel that they would be more at home in the Norwegian Union of Transport Workers. Interestingly enough, Mr Davidsen’s starting point is that the wave of privatization and competitive tendering in the local government sector will continue. He is probably right. In recent years, even Labour-controlled councils have become less absolute about who delivers the services, as long as the services get delivered. What Mr Davidsen’s threat is worth is more doubtful. The Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees has something approaching a love-hate relationship with the union movement’s alliance with the Labour Party. The union’s leaders have been sharply critical of the Labour Party’s slide to the right over the past decade, but it continues to have significant influence through its collaboration at both local and central level. Most difficult of all, however, is to imagine socialist Jan Davidsen wanting to be remembered as the man who split the LO in two. His bark is almost certainly worse than his bite.