8 April 2003

Fears of 500 job-losses at SAS Greater public confidence in local mayors than in PM Telenor could take over Bravida in a crisisNOK 1.6 billion needed to secure EEA AgreementLabour and Socialist Left Party equally popularToday’s comment from Dagsavisen

Fears of 500 job-losses at SAS (Aftenposten)

Management and employees at SAS are engaged in tough negotiations about changes at the company. Union representatives fear that as many as 500 employees in Norway could lose their jobs. The negotiations have been underway almost without a break for over a week. “The most difficult issue is whether Norwegian employees should be included in the cabin crews on intercontinental flights. Management wants to drop Norwegian crewmembers from these flights, which would mean the loss of as many as 280-300 jobs. In addition, they want to move 51 per cent of production on the short-haul routes to Copenhagen, and keep 15 per cent in Norway. And that is not taking into account any decision on whether Braathens should take over the whole of the Norwegian domestic market. In fact we risk as many as 500 people, or maybe more, losing their jobs,” said John Lyng, an employee representative on SAS’s board of directors.

Greater public confidence in local mayors than in PM (Dagsavisen)

We have more confidence in our local mayor than in Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. But according to a recent survey, most people do not think it is important whether central or local government authorities are responsible for providing public services such as schools and hospitals. According to May-Bitt Nordli, of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS), there are several reasons why the majority of people trust local politicians most. “They are much closer to the voters, and their responsibility is much more direct. Local politicians meet the people who voted for them in their local shop. I think people feel cheated by national politicians’ promises. There is not so much party political gamesmanship at local level. I think local people feel their politicians are trying to get things done for the benefit of the local community,” said Ms Nordli.

Telenor could take over Bravida in a crisis (Aftenposten)

The emergency loan of NOK 150 million which Telenor granted to Bravida in February could be converted into shares if Bravida were to default on the loan. That would give Telenor a 55 per cent stake in the company. However, Telenor is reluctant to hold more than 50 per cent of Bravida’s shares again, since it would mean having to fully consolidate the loss-making Norwegian-Swedish telecommunications installation company into its own corporate accounts. Nevertheless, that could very quickly be the case unless Bravida manages to pay Telenor the NOK 150 million it owes when the loan falls due on 30 June. If it does not repay the loan, Telenor will increase its stake in the company to 55 per cent. Today, Telenor owns 46.5 per cent of Bravida.

NOK 1.6 billion needed to secure EEA Agreement (Dagens Næringsliv)

To secure an extension of the EEA Agreement to cover the 10 new EU member states, EFTA and Norway will have to pay at least NOK 1.6 billion a year as an “EEA membership fee”. In return, Norway will receive full compensation in the fisheries sector, including the abolition of import duties on certain herring products. Norway must pay a high price to reach an agreement with the European Commission on an extension of the EEA next year. Dagens Næringsliv is given to understand that the latest outline on the table last night involves EFTA paying at least EUR 200 million a year for economic equalization within the EU, most of which will come from Norway. Informal contacts continued last night between EU and EFTA negotiators. The aim is for any proposal to have been given political blessing before formal negotiations resume at a meeting on Thursday. An outline agreement will probably be put forward today.

Labour and Socialist Left Party equally popular (Verdens Gang)

Support for Kristin Halvorsen and the Socialist Left Party has skyrocketed. The party now stands neck-and-neck with Labour. The Socialist Left Party has the backing of a massive 21.5 per cent of the electorate, according to Norsk Gallup’s tracker poll for VG and TV2. This is a jump of 3.5 percentage points compared with last month. But that is not all. If there had been an election now, the Socialist Left Party would have been the largest party in the Storting with 41 seats, 22 more that the party has today and one more than the Labour Party would have had.

Worth Noting

  • The Government wants more disabled people in work. To do this they plan to cut the size of the incapacity benefit. The losers will be handicapped people and those with chronic illnesses that the labour market does not want. “This proposal will increase poverty, not the will to work. We will not help handicapped people to join the labour force by punishing them financially. On the contrary, more people will be forced onto social security,” said Liv Arum, general secretary of the Norwegian Federation of Organizations of Disabled People (FFO).

  • Norwegian ice-cream manufacturer Diplom-Is has acquired half the shares in its Swedish counterpart Triumf Glass AB. This acquisition makes Diplom-Is the largest ice-cream producer in Scandinavia.

  • Norwegian consumers ate their way through ready-meals worth NOK 25 billion in 2002, a rise of 9.5 per cent on the year before. If the trend continues we will buy frozen pizzas to the tune of more than NOK 1 billion this year.

  • Iver Neumann is to write a book about the Norwegian foreign service’s almost 100 year long history. He thinks it is a bad idea to show photos of different kinds of cocktail glasses in the book. “But there could be a photo of someone with a dry martini in their hand, because cocktail parties are an important arena for the exchange of information for some diplomats. In the same way that journalists do not go to Trostrupkjelleren just to slake their thirst, but also to swap news with fellow journalists and politicians,” said Mr Neumann.

Today’s comment from Dagsavisen

The Labour Party has opened its election campaign with accusations that the Bondevik-led coalition government represents the biggest swing to the right in Norwegian history. With broad brush strokes and without any reservations, Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg and party secretary Martin Kolberg have made more or less the same claims. Are they right? Are we witness to the most striking swing to the right since the second world war? It is relatively easy to demonstrate a move to the right in Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg’s policies affecting local authorities and Kristin Clemet’s education policy. The same is true for Victor D. Norman’s efforts to modernize the public sector and Ansgar Gabrielsen’s industrial and business policies. Privatization, competitive tendering and “markets” are tools being used in all these areas.

However, it is not quite so easy to discern “the greatest swing to the right in history” when it comes to Social Affairs Minister Ingjerd Schou or Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss, now that tax cuts have largely been put on ice until the economy picks up again. Environment Minister Børge Brende’s policies lie closer to the Liberals and the Christian Democrats than to the Conservative Party to which he belongs. Since, in these times of war, Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold are in a category of their own, and have the full backing of the Labour Party, it must be the policies pursued by Solberg, Clemet, Norman and Gabrielsen that the Labour leadership has in mind.

These ministers have put an unmistakably Conservative stamp on the Bondevik government. That stamp has also prompted Christian Democratic Party mayors to complain that the party has landed in bad political company. Party chairwoman Valgerd Svarstad Haugland has even threatened to pull out of the coalition government if local government funding is not given priority over Conservative tax cuts in next year’s budget.

If Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik does not manage to give the Government a more centrist political profile in the time ahead, it will fall easy prey to Labour’s opposition policies.