24 April 2003


PM told to ask Labour for help (Aftenposten)

Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagen’s advice to Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik is to get in touch with Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg if he wants help getting his revised national budget approved by the Storting. “The pair of them have the same views on the budget framework and what constitutes responsible government. Bondevik cannot treat us like an opposition party and still believe we will come to his aid whenever he needs it,” said Mr Hagen, who has great difficulty understanding the logic of the Government’s restrictive economic policies when over 90,000 people are out of work. “Labour will not contribute to an irresponsible economic policy. We have never done so, and will not do so in connection with the revised national budget,” said Labour’s deputy leader Hill-Marta Solberg.

PM draws the line on overspending (Aftenposten)

Yesterday, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik gave the parliamentary opposition parties his clearest warning so far that there is a limit to the spending excesses the Government is prepared to tolerate from the Storting in connection with the revised national budget. “A prime minister cannot sit idly by and watch while the Storting keeps adding to the budget to such an extent that the economy runs out of control,” said Mr Bondevik. He refused to specify exactly what the economic limits to responsible government are, but said that we must have a budget framework that does not reverse the downward trend in interest rates.

Labour softens position on day-care price cap (Verdens Gang)

Senior figures within the Labour Party have now indicated that they are interested in a broad-based settlement between the parliamentary opposition, which has voted through a controversial pre-school day-care reform package, and the Government, which is balking at implementing it. According to Labour’s proposed compromise, the creation of enough nursery places for all would come before the introduction of a price cap. At the same time, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has warned that he will demand a vote of confidence in the Government over the same issue. Well placed sources within the Labour Party have told VG that the party envisages a settlement with the Government in which the creation of sufficient nursery places for all is given a higher priority than the introduction of a maximum price for parents. Labour’s move comes less than a week after party leader Jens Stoltenberg, in an interview with this newspaper, denied that Labour would modify the agreement it had concluded with the Progress Party, Socialist Left Party and Centre Party in the Storting.

Bondevik gone by the summer, predicts Labour MP (Verdens Gang)

According to Jens Stoltenberg’s spokesperson on pre-school day-care, Karita Bekkemellem Orheim, Norway will soon have a purely Conservative government, which will lean on the Christian Democratic Party for support in the Storting. This is how she explained her surprise prediction about how the political crisis that has been prompted by the ruling coalition’s unwillingness to implement the Storting’s pre-school day-care reform package will be resolved: “I think Kjell Magne Bondevik will be gone before the summer holidays. He obviously feels the job is too much for him. He seems tired and fed up. He has not managed to steer his ship. He has lost control. There are many people within the Christian Democratic Party who feel that the party has not got enough out of its participation in a coalition with the Conservatives. Since Labour is not interested in taking office, my guess is that we will have a purely Conservative government before the summer.”

Conservatives plan ten-fold increase in privatization (Dagsavisen)

According to Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg (Con), not enough local authority contracts are being awarded on the basis of competitive tendering. She wants local government services to the tune of NOK 40 billion put out to tender. Ms Solberg has said that having private companies take over the provision of services is not a goal in itself. “The goal of getting more for the money spent, is not only about cheaper services, but also about better services. We want to give people more freedom of choice. But it does not matter if a tender is won by a private or a publicly-owned enterprise,” said Ms Solberg. The Conservative Party wants to repeal the ban on building shopping complexes outside town centre areas, but fellow coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, would prefer to keep the current regulations.

Call for Finance Minister to demand EU rethink (Dagsavisen)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has called on Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss to go back to the EU in an effort to keep differentiated employers’ national insurance contributions for a larger part of the country than just North Troms and Finnmark. “The Government has not done enough to look after our interests. When Norway was negotiating terms for joining the EU, we won acceptance for defining the whole country as an arctic region in terms of agriculture. It should have been possible to gain acceptance for differentiated employers’ national insurance contributions being a lawful regional policy measure in a country with Norway’s geography,” said Mr Stoltenberg.

Poll results show new parliamentary majority (Dagsavisen)

If there had been an election today, the ruling coalition government would have been swept away by the Labour Party, Socialist Left Party and Centre Party, according to the latest poll. Labour would have won 43 seats, the Socialist Left Party 42 and the Centre Party 8 seats, according to calculations based on the poll results. The new centre-left alliance would have won 93 of the Storting’s 165 seats. But Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has made it clear that he would prefer to include at least one centrist party in any government of his, even if Labour and the Socialist Left Party were to achieve a majority by themselves.

Public sector fears huge pay settlement for low-paid workers (Aftenposten)

Hospitals and local authorities fear that low-paid workers will demand the same large pay rises that as those which the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) achieved for industrial workers in its negotiations with the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO). The problem for hospitals and local authorities is that they have a far higher proportion of employees on low wages than in the industrial sector. And they are annoyed that the NHO agreed to give low-paid industrial workers such large pay rises. This year’s pay settlement for retail and office workers has now gone to arbitration. If these groups do as well as their industrial colleagues, the LO-affiliated unions representing hospital and local authority employees could demand the same. This would push salary growth in the local government sector up towards six per cent.

More non-western candidates apply to join the police (Vårt Land)

The number of people with non-western backgrounds who have applied for a place at the National Police Academy this year is 80 per cent higher than last. Four per cent of the just over 2,000 applicants come from such a background. The Academy’s leaders believe the increase is due to a conscious recruitment drive that has been going on over several years. “Our efforts are finally paying off,” said Hans-Petter Horne, a member of the admissions board. He is hopeful that the trend will continue. Mr Horne is particularly pleased that many of the applicants are second-generation immigrants, and that many of them come from Oslo. Previously, applicants were almost exclusively first-generation immigrants. 37 per cent of applicants to the Police Academy are women.

1. Worth Noting

  • Neither Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik nor Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold believes that a UN mandate is an absolute requirement for Norwegian troops to be sent to Iraq.

  • Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik is not digging in his heels over the price cap on nursery fees, but over the granting of tax exemption for nursery places paid for by parents’ employers and the substantial increases in public spending included in the revised national budget.

  • “I am concerned for an industry that has given itself the world’s highest salary levels. We cannot stand six, soon seven, years of wage settlements, each one better than the last. This trend has to be reversed,” said Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss yesterday.

  • 20 schools have been selected to become Education Minister Kristin Clemet’s ‘model schools’, examples for other schools to follow. 164 schools had applied to become model schools.

  • Roar Flåthen, vice president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), has admitted that the pay rise awarded to the chief executive of Kongsberg Gruppen was not in line with the LO’s pay policy. But he does not regret voting to give the CEO a pay rise of NOK 667,000.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • Interpreters who do not pass the Immigration Directorate’s test can still work for the courts and the police. Neither the Police Directorate nor the Courts Administration Department have quality criteria for the interpreters they use. “Language difficulties without any doubt contribute to incorrect verdicts,” said professor Kristian Andenæs.

  • While the Government is planning to move central government jobs out of the capital, Kristin Clemet’s Education Ministry is heading in the opposite direction. It has been decided to locate the new Education Directorate in Oslo.

  • Last year Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor Norman terminated the state’s preferred customer agreement with SAS, and allowed government employees to choose between seven different airlines when they travel abroad. The majority still fly with SAS – now without any discount. The Norwegian state could have lost as much as NOK 150 million.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

2. Today’s comment from Aftenposten

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s comments yesterday indicate that the Government could demand a vote of confidence as a way to resolve the parliamentary conflict over this spring’s revised national budget and the opposition parties’ controversial pre-school day-care reform package. Evidence that a crisis is looming has been growing day by day. Normally a prime minister would have been at pains to smooth things over. Since Mr Bondevik deliberately chose to add fuel to the flames rather than tone down the differences between the ruling coalition and the opposition parties, he is clearly mentally prepared for the Government’s resignation. Perhaps that is also what he wants. The opposition, too, has seen the writing on the wall, but is not running scared. The attempt by Centre Party leader Åslaug Haga to encourage a more compromising tone only led the supporters of the pre-school day-care reform package to dig themselves deeper into their trenches. Shouldn’t the two sides be able to find a solution to the day-care conflict? Seen in isolation, the answer must be yes. The gap between them is not that great. But pre-school day-care is just one part of the battle for which the various parties are now positioning themselves. At the moment, they are fighting to determine whose vision of reality is correct and to resolve what the coming clash in the Storting is actually about – who runs the country. For the Labour Party, Socialist Left Party and Progress Party it is about respect for a decision approved by the majority in the Storting. For Mr Bondevik it is about the Government’s authority to govern, and about the possibility of pursuing a responsible economic policy. Not about price caps and sandpits, but lower interest rates, more jobs and a better standard of living. Only one important factor is missing from the equation – who wants to take over their reins of government, and who is in a position to do so? Most people would point to Labour. But the party is certainly not thirsting for office right now, and has said it would only do so if the Christian Democrats switch sides and give the Labour Party a parliamentary majority. This is something Mr Bondevik is almost certainly not ready to do. Perhaps Mr Bondevik is gambling that the fear of having government office dumped in their laps is greater for Labour, and now the Socialist Left Party as well, than the cost of backing down.