Sad that it should end this way, said Hafslunds outgoing chairman, Bjørn Eidem, as he shook hands with André Støylen, the Oslo City Councils Municipal Commissioner for Finance. With 60 per cent of the vote in his pocket, Mr Støylen had just ensured that Hafslund would get a whole new board of directors. This was done to make it easier for the Oslo City Council to sell its shares in the company. The Finnish energy concern, Fortum, has a 25 per cent stake in Hafslund but did not win a seat on the board because the company is considered the most likely candidate to purchase the councils shares. Last autumn, Fortum sold all its shares in the Norwegian offshore industry. The company received more than NOK 7 billion from the Italian corporation Eni (Agip). Todays share price gives Hafslund a market value of just over NOK 7 billion. The Oslo City Council owns slightly more than 50 per cent of the companys shares.
Government divided in battle for Hafslund (Dagsavisen)
The Government is divided in its response to the possible sale of Hafslund to foreign investors. The Christian Democrats in the Government are fighting to retain national control, but Conservative ministers Per-Kristian Foss and Ansgar Gabrielsen have nothing against the company being acquired by a foreign corporation. In the course of a few days, the Hafslund controversy has developed from ordinary local council business to an issue of explosive national importance. “The Government is not going to make any kind of bid for Hafslund, to put it that way. I cannot see any weighty reasons for the Government to get involved in Hafslund,” said Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss.
NHO fears state-owned Hafslund (Dagsavisen)
The Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO) has warned the Storting not to intervene to stop the sale of Hafslund to a foreign investor. The NHO is predicting that such intervention would frighten away potential foreign investors. “The Storting needs to be careful not to mess things up. If we put ourselves in the position of being perceived as a country that deviates from the norm, it could have significant consequences on foreign investment in Norway. We are already seeing that Norway is not perceived as an attractive country in which to invest, and that the level of investment has declined in recent years. This is a frightening development,” said Tor Steig, the NHOs chief economist.
Call for ban on large cash transactions (Aftenposten)
Norway should ban cash payments for items costing more than NOK 10,000, according to Rune Grunderkjøn, a special adviser at the Banking, Insurance and Securities Commission. Large transactions should be paid for using a credit card, and if payment is split into several smaller amounts, it is the total sum that should count. Mr Grunderkjøns proposal aims to combat the use of cash transactions as a money laundering technique. It is thought that NOK 7 billion is currently in circulation in Norway, without the Norwegian Central Bank being able to find them.
Opponents of EU membership losing ground (Nationen)
There has been no spring upswing for those who do not want Norway to join the EU. Opposition to EU membership has fallen by 1.5 percentage points, and now stands at 36.4 per cent, while support for EU membership has risen by 0.4 points to 49.9 per cent. Earlier this year, opposition to EU membership had strengthened, as previously undecided voters were won over. That trend has now fizzled out. Of those who have made up their minds on this issue, 58 per cent say yes to EU membership, while 42 per cent say no. However, opposition to EU membership is stronger among women and young voters than it was before. The record level of support for EU membership is down to the countrys middle-aged men. 59 per cent of men want Norway to join the EU, compared with 57 per cent in March.
Stoltenberg back in front (Verdens Gang)
Labours Jens Stoltenberg once again leads the countrys most popular party, while the Socialist Left Party and its leader Kristin Halvorsen are starting to struggle. According to the latest tracker poll, support for the Labour Party has gone up by 2.5 percentage points since last month, to 24 per cent. The Socialist Left Party drops 3 percentage points to 18.5 per cent. “This is an opinion poll, and they are always uncertain, but it is nice to be the most popular, and it is nice that Labour is gaining ground. This is because people want more community thinking and less Conservative politics,” said Mr Stoltenberg. The same poll shows support for the Conservative Party is up by 2 percentage points.
Defence Minister unlikely to be new Nato leader, says Labour MP (Aftenposten)
According to Labours Marit Nybakk, chairwoman of the Stortings Defence Committee, the fact that Norway is not a member of the EU could weaken a Norwegian candidates chances of becoming the next Nato Secretary General after the UKs Lord George Robertson. Ms Nybakk is one of Norways leading defence politicians, and her comments reveal that the Norwegian fronts support for its candidate is crumbling. This could weaken Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devolds unofficial candidacy for the post. Nato has not published any official list of candidates.
Call for Gjedrem to appear before parliamentary hearing (Dagens Næringsliv)
Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss has proposed a number of changes and simplifications to the Central Bank Act and associated legislation covering monetary and credit issues, including amendments to the way the Norwegian Central Banks executive board is appointed. When the issue is debated in the Storting, Progress Party economic policy spokesperson Siv Jensen will propose the creation of a permanent scheme whereby the Governor of the Norwegian Central Bank is obliged to appear before an open parliamentary hearing on the implementation of monetary policy. It is a proposal that will probably win majority backing. “The Storting is ultimately responsible, so we must find a way in which to exercise that responsibility,” said Ms Jensen.
- The Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party could prevent the Oslo City Council from selling its shares in Hafslund. The two junior partners in Oslos centre-right administration held a joint meeting of councillors yesterday evening. Both parties are sceptical to the idea that the Oslo City Council should sell its shares at least while Hafslunds share price is as low as it is now.
- Hafslunds annual general meeting voted yesterday to oust its entire board of directors. The decision came as a shock to board members. In an address to the AGM, Mikael Lilius, chief executive of Hafslunds second largest shareholder, Fortum, voiced his opposition to the move.
- Ahead of its annual conference this weekend, voter support for the Christian Democratic Party is at a record low. Four cuts in interest rates have not boosted the partys standing in the polls. The Christian Democrats currently have 22 seats in the Storting. If there had been an election in April, 11 of its MPs would have had to find something else to do.
- According to Labour activist Svein Roald Hansen, who was recently elected leader of the European Movement in Norway, the EUs fisheries policy is not good enough for Norway to join the EU. But he firmly believes Norway would be able to change the system at the negotiating table.
- For the first time ever, the Norwegian Armed Forces have published an annual report. Up to now, details of what the Armed Forces spend the taxpayers money on have been a closely guarded secret. The report has been published by the armys 6th Division, which numbers 1,200 non-combatants and 3,000 soldiers.
- Three years ago, Heidi M. Petersen bought Kværners oil and gas business in Sandefjord for just NOK 1. She is now selling the company for a price which values the whole enterprise at almost NOK 70 million.
- SAS Technical Services has been ordered to save SEK 1 billion a year by improving the efficiency of the airlines aircraft maintenance operations. Up to SEK 300 million can be saved by pooling the airlines maintenance operations in Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen.
- A quarter of the alcohol consumed in Norway is drunk in connection with work, according to a survey of 1,250 employees at 77 private companies. Experts have now warned against too liberal attitudes to the serving of alcohol during courses and seminars, and at after-work get-togethers.
Todays comment from Dagbladet
Last year, more than 12,000 teenagers dropped out of upper secondary school without graduating. This should make both politicians and education authorities sit up and take note. School is not for everyone, regardless of the current legislation and the intentions behind Reform 94. A substantial minority of students choose to drop out. Many leave because they cannot take the demands and the reward systems operating in todays schools. Research from the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Research and Higher Education (NIFU) show that many of those who drop out of upper secondary school had a high level of absenteeism, poor grades and were generally unhappy at the lower secondary level. Everyone has a right to three years of upper secondary education. But for many youngsters that right feels more like a duty, since upper secondary school is the basic platform on which almost all vocational training is built. The labour market no longer has the same need for unskilled workers as it had before. The right to three years of upper secondary education is a significant step forward. No one wants a return to the days when many people were cut off from this opportunity because their grades were not good enough. The education offered by schools must be shaped in such a way that students with different levels of ability and different interests feel they are getting something out of it. For many, todays upper secondary education is a huge disappointment, where their only reward is to be ranked at the bottom of the grade scale after years of effort and humiliation.