8 May 2003


Christian Democrats could break with Conservatives in 2005 (Aftenposten)

Valgerd Svarstad Haugland, chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Party, has admitted that her party could part company with their Conservative Party coalition partners after the next general election in 2005. “It will depend on whether we remain in power, and on how much we feel we have achieved by participating in the coalition government, compared to what we could have achieved if we had not been in office. Anyway, we have no guarantee of remaining in power until the next election. I feel we are living in a strange country, when those who are not in office loudly and publicly sit and speculate about when it would be most profitable to topple the Government – even if they do not have an issue on which to attack us. When they add that they must get rid of the Government early enough for Labour to make a fool of itself, I hope that even Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg can see the way the wind is blowing,” she said.

Labour wants to outbid the Finns (Aftenposten)

The struggle for control of Hafslund is about whether Norway’s electricity sector should be reduced to the status of multinational subsidiary, along with many other Norwegian businesses. That is why Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg intends to give the Government a blank cheque with which to outbid Finland’s Fortum. “I am strongly opposed to the Storting intervening in commercial decisions. But we could be forced to do so to prevent the wholesale acquisition of Norwegian electricity companies by foreign investors,” he said. Mr Stoltenberg still believes that the best and simplest solution to the row over Hafslund would be for the Oslo City Council to shelve its plans to sell its majority interest in the company. If not, he is willing to dig deep into the Norwegian state’s financial reserves to ensure that Hafslund remains in Norwegian hands.

Government would rather resign than be dictated to (Verdens Gang)

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and his coalition government would rather resign that allow the Storting to force it to purchase the Oslo City Council’s shares in Hafslund, according to high-ranking government sources. The Government will not put up with being dictated to by the opposition and forced to pursue a policy it does not agree with when it comes to state ownership. “If the opposition parties want to force the Government into a solution based on state intervention, in direct contravention of its stated policy on business ownership, they themselves will have to take responsibility for the consequences,” said a senior government source. However, that same source does not think the Hafslund controversy will actually become a matter for the Storting.

Hafslund controversy is alarming Norwegian buyers, it is claimed (Dagbladet)

Hafslund’s employees now feel that the company’s days in Norwegian hands are numbered. Yesterday evening, André Støylen, Oslo City Council’s municipal commissioner for finance, got what he wanted. Nothing now stands in the way of the council selling its shares in Hafslund to the highest bidder. “Fortum is just hair’s breadth away from having enough shares to take control of Hafslund. Our fear is that, together with all the controversy surrounding the company, this will frighten any other buyers away,” said Jan Torstensen, senior union representative and employee member of Hafslund’s board of directors.

Foreign investors shun Norwegian companies (Aftenposten)

The Finnish energy concern, Fortum, is bucking the trend in its attempts to acquire the Norwegian electricity company, Hafslund. Foreign investors are growing less and less interested in acquiring Norwegian companies or investing in any new business ventures in Norway. Norwegian politicians who are concerned to secure national ownership should sleep more soundly in their beds than they have for many a year. Last year foreign direct investment in Norway was at its lowest level since 1994, which is the Norwegian Central Bank’s first year of statistics. Foreign investors’ total direct investments amounted to just NOK 6 billion.

Labour selling off electricity shares (Dagsavisen)

Just one week before the Finnish company Fortum became a symbol of ‘foreign capital’ in connection with the Hafslund controversy, it became the sole owner of Østfold Energi Nett AS, located in Labour controlled Østfold County. The company supplies electricity to 90,000 customers. Labour-controlled councils nationwide have been the most eager to sell their shares in local electricity utilities to foreign investors. They have had no qualms about doing so because neither the waterfalls used to produce hydro-electric power nor the power lines used to distribute it can be moved out of the country.

Minister defends SAS cost-cutting exercise (Dagsavisen)

Trade and Industry Minister Ansgar Gabrielsen has written to the Storting, saying that SAS’s management must be allowed to axe 4,000 jobs in peace. This has prompted the Socialist Left Party to demand a full explanation from the minister, at the latest during the debate on the revised national budget. “The Trade and Industry Minister is completely absent from the process, it is an incredibly passive attitude. Both Mr Gabrielsen and SAS chairman Egil Myklebust say that we must not stick our noses into this business, but that is something we most certainly intend to do,” said a furious Geir-Kjetil Hansen, who represents the Socialist Left Party on the Storting’s Transport Committee.

Mercury could halt whaling (Aftenposten)

If the mercury levels contained in whale meat are considered too high, the whaling industry could be brought to a complete halt. On 12 May, the same day that this year’s whaling season is due to begin, the Norwegian Food Control Authority’s scientific committee will meet to decide whether whale meat should be defined as a risk food, or whether consumption restrictions should be imposed. Whalers are threatening to file criminal charges against those who use science to try and stop whaling.

Additional NOK 300 million in public charges (Nationen)

In its proposal for how the new food watchdog should be financed, the Ministry of Agriculture says that as must as 90 per cent of the Food Authority’s expenses should be paid for by those who use its services. Today, only around 60 per cent of these services are paid for by users, and the new plan would entail an increase in charges of around NOK 300 million. The farming industry has reacted sharply to the Government’s proposal.

Additional cash benefit leads to drop in birthrate (Verdens Gang)

The additional cash benefit for children under the age of three has made Norwegian women give birth to fewer children than they would otherwise have done. Researcher Ines Hardoy is due to defend this claim today. Her explanation is that women must work for six of the last ten months before they give birth in order to qualify for maternity leave. If women decide to stay at home and receive the additional cash benefit, it takes longer before they return to work and can earn a further maternity leave entitlement.

1. Worth Noting

  • Norway’s Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold (Con) is currently one of two serious candidates for the post of Nato Secretary General, according to highly placed sources in several Nato countries. The other candidate is Portuguese European Commissioner Antonio Vitorino.

  • Rune Gerhardsen, Labour’s candidate as chairman of the Oslo City Council’s Municipal Executive Board, has called for the city’s inhabitants to decide whether the council should retain its shares in Hafslund, and is proposing there be a referendum on the issue.

  • The Finnish company Fortum has acquired such a large stake in Hafslund that it is close to having negative control of the company, and can block any other potential purchaser. The Oslo City Council hoped to get more than NOK 5 billion for its shares, but will now probably have to settle for a lot less.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)

  • Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was yesterday forced into a damage-limitation exercise after Trade and Industry Minister Ansgar Gabrielsen (Con) and Petroleum and Energy Minister Einar Steensnæs (Chr.Dem) revealed that the Government was divided in its response to the Hafslund row. According to Mr Bondevik, the tensions between the two sides were “no greater than we can live with”.

  • Norway’s cultural life is suffering because Valgerd Svarstad Haugland is the minister responsible for both cultural affairs and church matters at the same time as she is chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Party. So claims Ms Svarstad Haugland’s fellow Christian Democrat and member of the Storting’s Cultural Affairs Committee, Ola T. Lånke. He also said that he counted on Ms Svarstad Haugland presenting “a series of major cultural policy visions” during the speech she will give to the party’s annual conference tomorrow in her capacity as party leader.

  • Local politicians will not be allowed to block the establishment of private schools in their local areas, even if local authority-run village schools are threatened with closure, according to Education Minister Kristin Clemet (Con).

  • The country’s police forces need a total of NOK 235 million in additional funding to maintain last year’s level of policing, according to a report published by the Norwegian Police Union. “If more money is not provided, it will have a major impact on the fight against crime,” said Arne Johannessen, leader of the Police Union.

  • Norway’s top business leaders earn a lot of money, but not as much as senior executives in other countries. According to the international employers’ organization, the Federation of European Employment, the difference in salaries between managers and employees is smaller in Norway than in other countries.

  • It is about time that the Norwegian state apologized for the witch hunts that took place in this country 400 years ago, according to professor Arnljot Strømme Svendsen. “If the authorities do not now clearly express their regret for the witch hunts, it must be perceived as an indirect confirmation of the verdicts that sent hundreds of innocent people to a gruesome death by fire,” said the professor.
    (Vårt Land)

2. Today’s comment from Aftenposten

The Norwegian armed forces are more than just bullets and guns, tanks and missile launchers, supersonic jet fighters and deep-sea submarines. The armed forces are part of Norwegian history, part of Norwegian culture – from the Viking era to the present day. Today, on the anniversary of Norway’s liberation at the end of the second world war, it seems appropriate to remember this. Without the armed forces, Norwegian history would have been very different. It is therefore extremely fitting that the Storting will now vote not to sell off the Oscarsborg Fortress, as will happen to so many other properties owned by the armed forces. On 9 April 1940, the German invasion suffered a crucial setback as the officers and men stationed at Oscarsborg used the fortress’s antiquated cannons, Moses and Aron, and its torpedo battery to sink the pride of Nazi Germany’s navy, the Blücher, allowing the Norwegian King and the government to escape from Oslo and mobilize the country’s defence. The Norwegian armed forces are currently engaged in a fundamental restructuring process. Defence budgets are not getting any bigger, new technology and a new international political situation demand new solutions. The armed forces cannot afford to live in the past or look constantly to past glories. But nor can they survive without history and tradition, just like the rest of society. The preservation of Oscarsborg shows that the Storting has recognized that fact.