A parliamentary majority wants the energy utility Hafslund to come under public ownership. But it is uncertain whether the opposition parties can unite behind a specific solution. However, one thing is clear; Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagens idea that the Storting should create a state-controlled structural fund to acquire shares in Norwegian companies such as Hafslund has not won sufficient backing to be put into effect. When the Storting debated the Governments business ownership report last year, the Socialist Left Party did a deal with the ruling coalition parties that prevents the establishment of any kind of state-controlled investment fund. Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg described Mr Hagens investment fund idea as “the worst model”, and claimed that Labour has not said it wants a structural fund, it simply wants the idea properly evaluated.
Christian Democrats keen to stop Hafslund sale (Dagsavisen)
Jon Lilletun, leader of the Christian Democratic Partys parliamentary group, has signalled that the party could break with its coalition partners, the Conservatives, and thereby halt the controversial sale of Hafslund, the countrys largest power company. “It is extremely important to prevent such a large and important power company as Hafslund from being transferred into foreign hands. It is therefore not unlikely that the Storting will find another solution if the Oslo City Council goes ahead with the sale of its shares in the company,” said Mr Lilletun. The issue has therefore taken an unexpected turn. If the Labour Party, the Christian Democratic Party and the Socialist Left Party join forces in a parliamentary majority to stop the sale of Hafslund, the Progress Party and its chairman Carl I. Hagen will find themselves completely sidelined.
Partial victory in sight for Hagen (Verdens Gang)
Carl I. Hagen may win a partial victory in the political cut-and-thrust surrounding the proposed sale of Hafslund. The Socialist Left Party has given the thumbs down to the gigantic state-controlled structural fund which is Mr Hagens primary objective. But Marit Arnstad, leader of the Centre Partys parliamentary group, has outlined a possible compromise. “A solution that both the Socialist Left Party and the Progress Party should be able to unite behind would be to create a smaller structural fund aimed specifically at the energy market. In that case, the Socialist Left Party would not be breaking any agreement,” said Ms Arnstad.
Progress Party not looking to topple Government (Aftenposten/Saturday)
There was not a harsh word about his political opponents from Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagen yesterday. In fact, Mr Hagen did not mention Kjell Magne Bondevik, Jan Petersen, Jens Stoltenberg or any other opponents at all during his conference speech. However, at the end of the conferences evening get-together, Mr Hagen did make this plea to Prime Minister Bondevik: “Please stop threatening to demand a vote of confidence. We in the Progress Party are ready to find a solution, and we do not like sabre rattling. But we must have a budget that reflects current realities, not the reality that the armchair theoreticians came up with last November.
Call for creation of huge clean-up fund (Aftenposten/Sunday)
The Norwegian coast could be hit by an oil pollution disaster of enormous proportions if an oil tanker were to have an accident. The Norwegian state risks having to foot the bill, which could amount to billions of kroner, if an accident were to happen along our extensive coastline. Norwegian authorities want oil importers throughout the world to contribute to a NOK 8 billion clean-up fund. Ruined fishing grounds and black oil slicks rolling onto the beaches, while thousands of seabirds die. This is the nightmare scenario. A number of countries are now voicing support for a clean-up fund.
Telemark Battalion could be stuck in Norway (Aftenposten)
The Telemark Battalion is supposed to be Norways contribution to international military operations. In theory the unit should be ready for deployment from 1 July this year, and its creation would be particularly timely should the Government decide to send troops to Iraq. However, that mission could be cancelled because the army does not have enough people to maintain the battalions equipment. “The situation is extremely serious. If you are going to operate abroad over the long term, you are dependent on keeping your technical equipment up to scratch. Mechanics repair the vehicles and weapons right on the front line. Without these people, the unit can only operate in Norway,” said Brigadier Jon Lilleland, commander of the armys rapid deployment force.
Norsk Hydro and ABB look to Iraq (Aftenposten/Saturday)
Iraq has the worlds second largest oil reserves. Norwegian oil companies have now indicated their interest in competing for a piece of Iraqs black gold. Norsk Hydro and ABB Oil and Gas are the two companies most eager to participate in the reconstruction of the oil industry after the collapse of Saddam Husseins regime. “We are looking at the business opportunities,” said a spokesman for Norsk Hydro. The company already has operations in Iran, near the border with Iraq. ABB is planning to send a delegation from Norway in the near future to evaluate the business opportunities in Iraq. According to Rasmus Sunde, chief executive of ABB Offshore Systems, the company has plans for the area.
Upper secondary school drop-outs (Dagbladet)
All Norwegian youngsters have the right to three years of upper secondary school education. Figures show that more than 12,000 teenagers dropped out of upper secondary school during the 2001/2002 school year. Figures also show that only 57 per cent of students complete their upper secondary school education within the allotted time. “The transition from lower to upper secondary school can be difficult from both an academic and social point of view. This could be one reason why so many choose to drop out,” said Ole Kristian Aakre, head of the admissions office for Nordland County. Nordland is one of the counties with the highest upper secondary school drop-out rate. Nationwide, around one in twenty students chooses to drop out of school.
Two out of three people back fur farming (Nationen)
Despite a large amount of bad press, the fur farming industry in Norway has broad support among both town and country dwellers. Two out of three people think that fur farming should remain legal in Norway. According to a recent survey, the higher the respondents income and level of education, the more positive they are to keeping animals in cages and using their fur. “This shows that even people who are not familiar with animal husbandry have seen through the disinformation coming from animal rights activists,” said fur farmer Olav Arne Sønderland.
Norwegians barred from moving abroad (Dagsavisen)
Several hundred Norwegians notified the authorities that they had moved abroad last year, but did not manage to convince the taxman of that fact. “In 2002, 2,200 people notified us that they had moved from Norway to a country outside the Nordic region. We did not accept that this was true in around 140 of these cases,” said Inger-Berit Andersen, Oslos chief inspector of taxes. In recent years around 300-400 people whose cases have been turned down by the local tax authorities have appealed to the Directorate of Taxes. 15-20 per cent of these have had their appeals upheld.
Protest at plans to sell off Royal Norwegian Mint (Aftenposten/Saturday)
The Royal Norwegian Mint at Kongsberg makes a nice profit, yet Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss still wants to get rid of it. Labour and the Socialist Left Party, on the other hand, do not. “Unless the Finance Minister puts a stop to this, the Storting will have to be involved. I will take this up with the Finance Minister immediately,” said Øystein Djupedal, deputy leader of the Socialist Left Party.
1. Worth Noting
- According to André Støylen (Con), Oslo City Councils Municipal Commissioner for Finance, the countrys national politicians should take care not to act in such a way that foreign companies are frightened out of doing anything in Norway. Mr Støylen says that Oslos Municipal Executive Board is planning to keep its shares in Hafslund up for sale “until the summer holidays”.
- Hafslunds board of directors, led by Jens P. Heyerdahl, was last night considering whether to resign, but decided to do battle with the Oslo City Council at todays annual general meeting.
- A clear majority of Oslos voters are opposed to the privatization of Hafslund, which owns the citys electricity grid. Even among Conservative and Progress Party voters, a majority is opposed to the councils proposed sale of its shares in the electricity company.
- The current Sars epidemic could put a halt to planned adoptions from China. The Norwegian adoption authorities are thinking of imposing a temporary ban on prospective parents bringing children back from China. In May, 38 families in Norway are due to collect adopted children from China.
- The Bondevik-led coalition government is standing in the way of the Progress Partys ambition of taking office after the 2005 general elections. For this reason the Government must be forced to resign. This is the conclusion of Progress Party deputy leader Jon Alvheim.
- According to the Christian Democratic Partys proposed new manifesto, private schools could cause problems for the state education system. Party chairwoman Valgerd Svarstad Haugland agrees.
- “It is just a matter of time before liberalism disappears completely from the Progress Partys programme of principles,” said Per Aage Pleym Christiansen, who recently resigned as leader of the partys Akershus branch.
- “The Progress Party has made a complete about face in its views on the role of the state in Norwegian business and industry. In doing so, the party has become a competitor of the Labour Party,” said political science commentator Frank Aarebrot. “Carl I. Hagen still has the ability to surprise. Unless this is simply a gimmick, it represents a complete rewriting of the partys economic policy,” he added.
- Police officers on bodyguard duty in Oslo can claim overtime while they sleep. For this reason some of them earn more than the VIPs they are guarding. The Office of the Auditor General raised the alarm last year, after it became known that police officers in Oslo claimed overtime to the tune of more than NOK 100 million.
2. Todays comment from Aftenposten
The Progress Party pushed the boat out this weekend to celebrate its first 30 years as a political movement and party chairman Carl I. Hagens 25 years at the helm. It is a celebration that both the party and its chairman deserve. Carl I. Hagen has been through almost everything during his years as party leader. His sheer endurance is impressive, and he has already managed to write his way into our political history. It is no coincidence that Mr Hagens political opponents showed him considerable respect in their greetings, published in the book of homage which was the Progress Partys anniversary gift to its own chairman. They also say something about our countrys political landscape. In many ways the Progress Party is a party at peace with itself. There is no real discussion about who Carl I. Hagens successor might be, there is less internal hullabaloo than there has often been. Nevertheless, this weekends annual conference revealed that, in important areas, there are fundamental disagreements within the party. The party leadership suffered a defeat on the issue of state funding for after-school child care, and there was disagreement in the debate on state capitalism, which is an extremely important policy area for the Progress Party. Carl I. Hagens dream of government office is barely a secret. Normally, an uncontroversial annual conference would have made an effective contribution to the Progress Partys efforts to cultivate its image as an attractive coalition partner. But we do not think it will happen. Mr Hagens political volte-face on the issue of a dramatically more active role for the state in Norwegian business life will probably have the opposite effect. Once again he has demonstrated an unpredictability that gives potential allies the chills.