The European Commission and EFTA reached agreement yesterday morning on the framework for an expansion of the European Economic Area. But as the afternoon wore on, further drama ensued. DN has learned that the conflict was prompted once again by a tussle with Iceland over herring. And when one element of the agreement is up for discussion, there is often a tendency for even more money to be demanded in order to get the whole thing approved. The agreement reached by the two sides earlier in the day meant that EFTA and Norway would together contribute EUR 1.8 billion a year to social and economic equalization in an enlarged EU. In principle, the agreement also gave Norway and Iceland full compensation for the disappearance of the tree-trade agreements on fish which they currently have with the EU’s ten new member states. Most of this compensation will come in the form of duty-free quotas. But Norway also won acceptance for a substantial reduction in tariffs for processed herring, primarily herring filet. This was necessary to ensure that Norway did not end up paying most of the bill, while allowing Iceland to emerge with a better deal. From what DN understands, it was this last issue the final tussle was about.
Pupils given time off to demonstrate against war – ended in street fight (Aftenpsoten)
Parents have reacted strongly to the fact that some schools in Oslo gave pupils time off to demonstrate against the war in Iraq yesterday morning. The demonstration degenerated into street fighting between teenagers and the police. Well over 1,000 school pupils streamed into Oslo’s city centre to show their disgust at the war. It ended in a hail of stones being thrown at police officers who prevented the demonstrators from getting too close to the American Embassy. The lawful demonstration started quietly outside the Storting. But after a while some of the demonstrators began throwing objects at the Storting. However, the major confrontation did not take place before a couple of hundred demonstrators had approached the American Embassy, where they were met by barricades and police armed with riot shields and batons. A dozen or so demonstrators, several of them from the Middle East, responded by helping themselves from a rubbish skip nearby. Within minutes, stones and bits of wood were flying towards the police, who were obliged to call for reinforcements in order to bring the situation under control.
Storting takes its last drag (Dagsavisen)
Progress Party MP John Alvheim finally got his chance yesterday to rise in the Storting and say what he thinks about Health Minister Dagfinn Høybråten (Chr.Dem) and the Government’s new anti-smoking legislation. After that, the Storting put an end to smoking in cafes and bars. The Odelsting voted 60 to 15 to ban smoking in all bars, restaurants and cafes. It will not be until the spring of 2004 that bars and restaurants will become smoke-free for most people, but Mr Alvheim and other smokers could be ejected from the smoking room in the Storting’s own restaurant from the start of this autumn’s parliamentary session. “I have difficulty in finding words that are approved for use in the Storting to describe this decision. On the whole, one should not cast aspersions on people’s political motives. But I do in this case. This has nothing to do with the employees, it is an expression of overweening paternalism on the part of the Government and the Health Minister,” said Mr Alvheim in his speech.
NHO chief economist sees light at the end of the tunnel (Dagsavisen)
According to Tor Steig, chief economist at the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO), the outlook for the Norwegian economy could start looking up as early as next year. “If we are really lucky, the rise in unemployment that we are seeing today could be a temporary phenomenon,” said Mr Steig. He chose to focus on the opportunities rather than the problems facing Norwegian businesses when he presented the NHO’s half-year report yesterday. “This year looks miserable,” said Mr Steig. He believes that this year will see a slow down in the labour market and in the economy in general, though he feels that this will soon prove to be a passing phase. However, his optimism is based on two clear conditions: that other groups adopt similarly moderate wage settlements as that between the NHO and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), and that the politicians keep a tight rein on public spending both this year and next.
Parliamentary rematch over pre-school day-care fees (Dagsavisen)
The Government is to propose an alternative to the Storting’s price cap on pre-school day-care. Local authorities will be given far more responsibility, and nurseries will be funded in much the same way as schools are today. On Friday, the Government will present its proposal for ensuring pre-school day-care for all and lower prices. This could be the Government’s alternative to the Storting’s decision to impose a NOK 1,500 per month price cap and earmark central government grants specifically for pre-school day-care. Local authorities will themselves allocate money to pay for nursery places from the general central government financing allocation. There will be no price cap, but a sharp increase in the amount of public funding. Local authorities will have a duty to provide pre-school day-care, in the same way as they are obliged to provide every child with a place at school. Local authorities will therefore have a duty to establish sufficient nursery places, for which they will receive financial support. The model will be the same as when the school starting age was lowered to six.
- Around 40 per cent of the country’s industrial companies are considering moving all or part of their operations out of Norway, according to a survey carried out by the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO). The sector for which relocation abroad is most germane is the engineering industry based in the west country. Among those companies, as many as 67 per cent have recently considered relocation.
- Negotiations between management and employee representatives at SAS were still going on yesterday night. Some of the most difficult issues in Norway concern the allocation of Norwegian cabin crews on international flights. Today is the deadline for employees and management in the three Scandinavian countries which own SAS to come up with an agreement on measures to make the airline more efficient.
- During the first quarter this year, Norway exported seafood products to the value of NOK 6.4 billion. This is a drop of NOK 950 million compared to the same period last year. The 13 per cent reduction is primarily due to a drop in herring and mackerel exports.
- In an international ranking of 10-year-olds’ reading skills, Sweden heads the list, while Norway languishes in 25th place.
- According to Hilde Danielsen, who has investigated the various grants and financial support provided to Norwegian families with small children, the provisions are old-fashioned, unfair and discriminate against women. “Because of the way parental leave, the lump-sum maternity benefit, the transitional benefit for single parents and the additional cash benefit for children under three have been framed, women end up the losers – despite the fact that the intention was exactly the opposite, to make it easier for women to combine responsibility for children with participation in the labour force,” said Ms Danielsen.
- The obsession young people aged 15-24 have with their bodies is affecting their health. One in five youngsters wants to change their appearance by means of liposuction, cosmetic surgery or medication.
Today’s comment from Dagens Næringsliv
Power. That is what the current EEA Agreement negotiations have revolved around – power. How far can a large trade block squeeze a rich trading partner? How much is the fear of not having an agreement worth? What is wealthy Norway willing to pay for a myriad of cooperation agreements and a toehold within the EU system? The answer would prove to be NOK 1.8 billion a year. In relation to the changes that will happen as a result of EU enlargement, the price is incomprehensibly and unreasonably large. Fundamentally, what Norway had to do something about was a bill for NOK 130-150 million in import duties on Norwegian fish exported to the new EU member states. The EU negotiators realized that they could make this into a much bigger issue, which has resulted in Norway now having to pay more to the EU’s development areas than ordinary EU members are obliged to. Being an EFTA party to the EEA Agreement is much more expensive in relation to GDP than being an EU party to the same agreement. Nor is the increased Norwegian contribution in any way proportional to the increase in the EU’s total head of population.
On the other hand, it is nice to be able to help solve the problems facing the struggling economies which are about to join the EU. It would have been even better to have done it voluntarily and directly, rather than being forced to do it through the EU. But that is not how it worked this time.