Kristin Halvorsen is down-to-earth about the fact that she now leads Norways most popular party. Former party chairwoman Hanna Kvanmo is jubilant, but has warned party activists to adopt a more flexible position on EU membership so as not to put stumbling blocks in the path to government office. Ms Halvorsen reacted calmly to the news that for the first time ever an opinion poll puts the Socialist Left Party in first place, with 22.7 per cent of voters giving the party their support. “No, I am not going wild. I am glad that I have enough experience to keep my feet on the ground. But if this were the general election result in 2005, it would mean a Labour/Socialist Left Party government,” said Ms Halvorsen. According to the poll, support for Labour stands at 22 per cent, while the Progress Party is in third place with 21.5 per cent. “I think there is a mobilization of moral values among voters which they find reflected in our party programme. The war is one thing, but this is much bigger than that. It is a reaction against the primacy of the market, commercialization and the profit motive,” said Ms Halvorsen. Former Socialist Left Party leader Hanna Kvanmo is jubilant over the poll results. But she believes forming a coalition government with the Labour Party could be difficult because of the two parties differences over EU membership. “The Socialist Left Party must be more flexible over EU membership. It will be more and more difficult with an EU that has an almost hate-filled attitude to Norway. But it must surely be possible to negotiate a result that is acceptable to both sides,” she said.
EEA negotiators should have done a better job, says Arnstad (Klassekampen)
According to the Centre Partys Marit Arnstad, the Norwegian team negotiating an extension of the EEA Agreement should have put more effort into building alliances with countries like Poland. Poland and Norway have common interests in the EEA Agreement negotiations, she has claimed. “It is positive for Norway that Poland is willing to push harder for a better solution with regard to fish, In this area Poland and Norway have been fighting for the same demands,” said Ambassador Bjørn Grydeland, a member of the Norwegian delegation in Brussels. Marit Arnstad feels it is embarrassing for Norway that Poland has been forced to front the two countries common demands. “Our negotiators should have done a better job in this area,” she said. Ambassador Grydeland was at pains to point out that the EEA negotiations have not broken down. However, because no agreement was reached yesterday, it will be up to the European Commission to make another offer, though he thinks it unlikely that a solution will be arrived at before Easter.
No price cap on nursery fees (Aftenposten)
The most important elements in the Governments proposed package of measures to strengthen pre-school day-care include a speed-up in the construction of new nursery places, no price cap on fees, no tax exemption for nursery places paid for by parents employers and no legislated right to a nursery place. The feathers will fly when the Government lays its proposal before the Storting today. Preliminary skirmishing has already started , but Norwegian parents will have to wait until July before they find out what the outcome will be. Until then there will be a crisis in the Storting. The oppositions scheme has been rejected. “They did not know what they were proposing. There is a lot of good in the oppositions scheme, but we have carried out a number of analyses which we must take into consideration. I really do hope it will be possible to negotiate with the parliamentary majority,” said Children and Family Affairs Minister Laila Dåvøy.
Organizations queuing up to influence youngsters values (Vårt Land)
Organizations are queuing up to spread positive values in nurseries, schools and other arenas in which children and young people congregate. Yesterday saw the publication of the action plan designed to follow up the Governments anti-bullying manifesto. Student councils nationwide are to be in charge of the “Great Project” one of the new measures to combat bullying. The project involves, among other things, getting local community leaders to sign a local manifesto against bullying. Among those present when the anti-bullying plan was announced were Education Minister Kristin Clemet and Children and Family Affairs Minister Laila Dåvøy. According to the two ministers, the plan is intended to combat bullying in pre-school nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools, as well as sports clubs and other out-of-school activities for children and young people.
Health check scheme for asylum seekers at breaking point (Nationen)
The scheme to test asylum seekers for tuberculosis has reached breaking point. The system is characterized by stop-gap measures, unclear responsibilities and equipment that is not up to the job. “Between 60 and 200 people a day must be tested with the number of asylum seekers currently arriving. If the 10-year-old X-ray equipment breaks down, there is only one pensioner who used to work for the company that supplied it who can patch it up again. If the pensioner is unavailable, it is in practice impossible to carry out health checks and infection controls of newly arrived asylum seekers,” said Karin Rønning, Bærums chief medical officer. The Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) does not believe that such dilapidated X-ray equipment would be used by any other part of the national health service.
Majority backing for police certificates for voluntary workers (Dagsavisen)
A parliamentary majority is in favour of giving voluntary organizations the right to demand police clearance certificates from those working with children. “This is important to protect children from abuse,” said Marianne Borgen of Save the Children. Convicted paedophiles and those charged with sexual offences against children will not longer be permitted to work for voluntary, humanitarian organizations. A parliamentary majority made up of the Labour Party, Socialist Left Party and Progress Party is backing proposals to give such organizations the right to demand a police clearance certificate before they employ someone. Ms Borgen, who heads Save the Childrens rights centre hopes that a change in the legislation could be made quickly, so that efforts to protect children from abuse may be strengthened. “Today, people whose intention is to abuse children can find victims by joining voluntary organizations. This is something we wish to prevent,” said Ms Borgen.
- 45 civil service union representatives sent a letter to Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik yesterday, begging for his help. The union representatives are frustrated over the working methods of their boss, Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor D. Norman, who they accuse of making fun of government employees, concealing unpleasantnesses and refusing to provide information regarding important issues. Employees at several government agencies have been bemoaning Mr Normans methods for some time. Yesterday they got together to send a hard-hitting letter of complaint to the PM, demanding that he act to improve the situation.
- The National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime has promised speedy clarification of the criminal case against Mullah Krekar. Yesterday he denied any knowledge of poison gas experiments. The allegations that Krekars organization is linked to poison gas experiments in northern Iraq were published yesterday in the German weekly magazine Stern. At a hearing of the Oslo District Court yesterday, Krekar denied any knowledge of experiments with poisonous substances.
- Next week, Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagen will stage a series of revival meetings in two Spanish towns in an attempt to drum up support for the party among ex-pat Norwegians. Following Mr Hagens speeches local party branch organizations will be formed. Party membership will be arranged on the spot.
- Norwegian employees will be hardest hit when SAS axes 4,000 jobs in an effort to save SEK 6-8 billion. Norwegians spend too little time in the air and are too expensive, according to SAS management. The airline has made a loss for the past two years, which is why it must cut costs by up to SEK 8 billion. This means that 4,000 employees will lose their jobs, including several hundred Norwegian cabin staff.
Todays comment from Dagsavisen
Anyone who has followed negotiations in Brussels at close quarters knows that the deal is not done until all the signatures are on the dotted line. Negotiations on the expansion of the EEA Agreement should have been concluded last week. The final deadline was set for yesterday. Then Poland popped up and said no. Norways negotiations with the EU for a revision of the current EEA Agreement have mainly revolved around two issues: money and fish. The money is in place, but the fish has wriggled off the hook. Most people expected the EU to treat Norwegian fish with generosity, since Norway opened its cheque book and accepted a ten-fold increase in its EEA membership fee. The EU accepted the cash NOK 2 billion a year and returned the favour with duty-free quotas for herring and mackerel exports to Poland. It was not as good a deal as Norway had hoped for, but nevertheless better than no deal at all. EU member-in-waiting Poland is not particularly happy with the fish agreement either. Norwegian fish exports to Poland keep 25,000 people in work at 130 companies. One million Poles are in some way affected by the business generated by these companies. Today they buy Norwegian fish duty-free. When Poland becomes a member of the EU they will have to pay a small duty. But even a small duty could be a heavy burden for companies which are only barely breaking even.
That Poland, out of pure self-interest, has therefore protested while the negotiations have been underway, is understandable. But it is intolerable that the country should choose to block the agreement at the moment it is due to be signed. It smacks of bully-boy tactics. Poland has been marketing itself internationally as a new major power at the heart of Europe. As a new member of the EU and of Nato, Poland knows how to make its presence felt. The EEA Agreement gave Poland the opportunity to make a splash.