28 April 2003

Conservatives fire broadside at Socialist Left Party Unrest smouldering under PetersenPM to stand down if he does not receive the Storting’s full backing Labour leader does not foresee change of government Labour rules out budget dealGetting ready for Government’s resignationNorway will get new Nato command centre Norway pleads for boat peopleNorwegian lawyers could face international competition Fraud detectives search for evidence in northern IraqToday’s comment from Dagbladet

Conservatives fire broadside at Socialist Left Party (Aftenposten/Saturday)

Jan Petersen and the Conservative Party are bringing all their heavy guns to bear in an effort to ‘unmask’ the Socialist Left Party, but have let Carl I. Hagen and the Progress Party off the hook. The Conservatives’ main rival on the political right-wing, the Progress Party, was barely mentioned when party chairman Jan Petersen addressed the Conservatives’ annual conference yesterday. The party is now launching an all-out attack on the Socialist Left Party and its ‘auld enemy’, the Labour Party. “In reality, the Socialist Left Party, the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees and a newly radicalized Labour Party make up a blood-red alliance that is bent on fighting modernization and progress, on preventing tax-payers’ money being spent more effectively, and on blocking vital measures to renew the public sector,” thundered Mr Petersen. Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg, the party’s deputy leader, followed up in an interview with Aftenposten by attacking the Socialist Left Party from another angle. “They are trying to steal our political standpoint by talking about the freedom of the individual and more freedom for local councils,” she said.

Unrest smouldering under Petersen (Dagbladet/Saturday)

Only a good election result can save Jan Petersen from being forced to resign as leader of the Conservative Party next year, if he does not go voluntarily. At the same time, Mr Petersen’s supposed dream candidate, Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold, has refused point blank to take over. Mr Petersen has brought the Conservative Party into government office. But at the party’s annual conference yesterday, he did not say a word about the fact that the Conservatives have been losing ground almost continually for the past 12 months – from a stable 20-plus per cent, to a position holding steady at under 15 per cent, according to political scientist Bent Aardal, whose figures are based on the results of opinion polls carried out by seven different market research companies.

PM to stand down if he does not receive the Storting’s full backing (Verdens Gang)

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (Chr.Dem) has decided to stand up and fight, as this spring’s power struggle between the Government and the Storting reaches its climax. According to highly placed sources in the Government, Mr Bondevik has long felt that he does not have the elbow room a prime minister needs to govern. They also say that Mr Bondevik is 100 per cent motivated to resign if he does not receive clear guarantees of support from the Storting before the summer recess. The feeling of frustration within the Government at losing steadily more power to the Storting comes not only as a result of the row over pre-school day-care, but also from the reluctance on all sides to back the Government’s budget proposal. If the Government does not receive the support of the Storting now, ministers believe, it will be powerless when negotiations on next year’s national budget start this autumn.

Labour leader does not foresee change of government (Aftenposten)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has warned Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (Chr.Dem) to stop threatening to demand a vote of confidence whenever the going gets tough. For his part, said Mr Stoltenberg, he did not think the Government would resign. “After a bit of sound and fury, the Government and the Progress Party will once again reach agreement on the budget,” said Mr Stoltenberg, adding that he was tired of the Government painting the picture blacker than it really was. “We do not need a prime minister that whips up a mood of crisis so early on,” said Mr Stoltenberg.

Labour rules out budget deal (Verdens Gang/Sunday)

Three weeks before the revised national budget is due to be published, Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has made it clear that he will not do a deal with the minority coalition government over the budget this spring. Mr Stoltenberg reacted sharply to the direct invitation to collaborate with the Government on the budget, which Conservative Party deputy leader Erna Solberg issued at the party’s annual conference in Stavanger. “I call on the Labour Party to collaborate with us, because Labour has traditionally stood for a responsible economic policy,” said Ms Solberg in an interview with VG. Mr Stoltenberg responded by saying: “The budget which is now up for revision was put together by the Bondevik government with the help of the Progress Party. The only correct thing to do is for the Government to ask for Carl I. Hagen’s help to revise the budget the two of them originally created.”

Getting ready for Government’s resignation (tv2.no)

The Government’s resignation seems to have come a step closer after Carl I. Hagen, chairman of the Progress Party, made it clear this weekend that he did not intend to come to Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s rescue once more. At the Conservative Party’s annual conference this weekend, party leader Jan Petersen appealed to the opposition to act responsibly. However, Mr Petersen’s arguments seem to have fallen on deaf ears. On Sunday, Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with Verdens Gang that the Government should turn to the Progress Party for support in getting its budget adopted, since it was the Progress Party that helped the Government into office in the first place. But the Progress Party is not particularly keen to help the ruling coalition. Mr Hagen has made it crystal clear that he does not intend to come to the Bondevik government’s rescue yet again, and has said he believes Mr Bondevik has had more than enough of being prime minister.

Norway will get new Nato command centre (NTB/Saturday)

Norway no longer has any challengers in the contest to decide where the new Nato command centre should be located. Jåttå in Stavanger is therefore set to become a Nato command centre at the highest level. The issue was last discussed by Nato’s Senior Official Group on Thursday, according to Stavanger Aftenblad. At the meeting it became clear that Poland and Spain were no longer in the running for the new headquarters. The military headquarters at Jåttånuten therefore looks set to become Nato’s European centre for training, planning, transformation and organization, the Joint Warfare Centre. “It is extremely important for Norway to get this command centre. It means that we retain the influence we have within the Nato alliance,” said Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold.

Norway pleads for boat people (Aftenposten)

Norway believes that coastal countries should pledge to accept shipwrecked boat people in order to avoid future crises like the one involving the Norwegian ship Tampa, off the coast of Australia 18 months ago. At that time, the Tampa’s captain, Arne F. Rinnan, was refused permission to land 433 refugees he and his crew had rescued when their boat sank. In a proposal to be presented to the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) in May, Norway says that a ship’s captain should be allowed to put refugees ashore in the coastal state which lies closest to the place they were picked up, or in another coastal country along the ship’s route. However, the Norwegian proposal has been met with strong opposition from, among others, Australia and the USA. Norway fears that its proposal will not be adopted. “We see a danger that ships which rescue boat people, could themselves end up having to take responsibility for the problem,” said Trygve Scheel of the Norwegian Maritime Directorate.

Norwegian lawyers could face international competition (Aftenposten/Sunday)

Unlike the rest of Europe, international legal practices are absent from the Norwegian market. However, a publicly appointed commission has now called for foreigners to be allowed to buy their way into Norwegian law firms. The commission’s report was published last October. The commission is unanimous in its support for one law firm being allowed to own shares in another. To avoid discrimination, this means that foreign law firms will also be able to acquire a stake in Norwegian law firms. “I think this could have a positive effect on competition by stimulating the establishment of new firms and the development of new services,” said professor Einar Hope, who led the commission.

Fraud detectives search for evidence in northern Iraq (nrk.no)

A former associate of Mullah Krekar claimed yesterday that Krekar had contacts with Osama bin Laden and had received money from al-Qaida. The man is currently being held in jail in Birara, northern Iraq, where he was interviewed by a team from Norwegian broadcaster NRK. The man, who agreed to be interviewed under the name Anas, said that Mullah Krekar had repeatedly called for his supporters to carry out acts of terrorism. Krekar’s attorney, Brynjar Meling, has rejected these allegations. According to Mr Meling, the man is currently being held in jail by the Kurdish liberation organization, PUK, and has most probably been tortured. “If these allegations are to have any significance in the legal proceedings against Mullah Krekar, a hearing of evidence must be carried out so that they can be put into the legal framework that a trial in Norway demands. The National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime is planning to send officers to Iraq before investigations into the case are concluded.

1. Worth Noting

  • The Conservative Party will pursue an active policy with regard to Norwegian membership of the EU. In his address to the Conservative Party conference, party leader Jan Petersen declared that Norway’s place was within the EU. “The Conservative Party is the only party in Norway which is unambiguously in favour of EU membership. Norway must join the EU as soon as possible,” he said to loud applause from conference delegates.

  • According to the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS), the proposal to grant tax exemption for pre-school nursery fees paid for by parents’ employers is a gift for those parents who qualify. The gift could be worth upwards of NOK 1 billion.

  • Civil service unions receive over NOK 100 million each year from the state to fund training courses for elected union officials. Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor D. Norman wants an end to this practice. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) have threatened to take strike action if Mr Norman goes ahead with plans to abolish this generous subsidy.
    (Dagens Næringsliv/Saturday)

  • Norwegian hospitals waste NOK 100 million a year because patients do not turn up for scheduled appointments. Time and resources which could have been spent helping other patients are therefore squandered away.

  • The daughter of a Pakistani diplomat is seeking asylum in Norway. Pakistan’s ambassador is extremely unhappy that the media have learned of the young woman’s defection. The 20-year-old is the eldest daughter of a high-ranking diplomat at the Pakistani embassy in Oslo. She applied for asylum after Easter, and is now staying at a women’s refuge.

  • Crown Prince Haakon and his wife Crown Princess Mette-Marit have had enough of the German scandal press’s extensive and highly fanciful rumour-mongering. Yesterday, the Palace issued a sharp rebuke to the weekly magazines concerned. If this does not help, a lawsuit may be the only alternative, according to Wenche Rasch, head of communications at the Palace.
    (Verdens Gang/Saturday)

  • According to veteran radio and television reporter, NRK’s former Berlin correspondent, Jahn Otto Johansen, it was “extraordinarily unwise” of the Palace to threaten to take Germany’s scandal sheets to court. “If the Palace does venture out onto legal thin ice in Germany, it will result in the biggest media happening for many years,” he said.

2. Today’s comment from Dagbladet

Conservative Party leader Jan Petersen has a united and exhilarated party behind him as the political spring session gets underway. This weekend’s annual conference was full of harmony and good humour. Whatever conflicts there were barely made it to the surface. Delegates vied with each other to brag about the party’s cabinet ministers, who were lauded time and again for their performance in office and their conference speeches. One should always be wary of placing too much emphasis on the atmosphere at such gatherings. It says as much about developments in party democracy as about a party’s internal life. Annual conferences used to be political workshops and arenas for political power struggles. But in recent years they have become nothing more than showroom windows, where the important issue is to create the impression of pastoral idyll. Of course there are conflicts and divergences rumbling away under the surface of a party that has lost 40 per cent of its voters in the past year, according to the opinion polls. Jan Petersen and his possible successors now face a thrilling spring session in the Storting, with voting on the revised national budget as its dramatic climax. It could end in the Government’s resignation, though not many believe it will actually come to that. Mr Petersen himself says he is looking forward to what he describes as an “interesting and rumbustious process”. As soon as the tension surrounding the budget is over, campaigning for this autumn’s local elections gets underway. More than anything else, the party conference was marked by its repeated attacks on the Socialist Left Party. In doing so, the Conservative Party wanted to heighten the ideological conflict between two political alternatives. Neither the party nor the voters have anything to lose by such a tactic. If, at the same time, the debate makes the voters see that the coming elections have some meaning for them, it could generate renewed interest in local politics.