15 May 2003


Foss in financial straits – spending Petroleum Fund revenues (Aftenposten)

In 2002 around four of every 10 kroner of Petroleum Fund earnings was used to fill the gap between income and expenditures in the government budget. Only twice in the past 20 years has a finance minister needed to dig as deeply into the Petroleum Fund as Per-Kristian Foss. At the same time, expenditures are on the rise. The wage settlement, for example, cost an arm and a leg. Using this back door into the Petroleum Fund to alleviate the current situation is eliminating the danger of the Storting having to make draconian cuts in total expenditures, according to Aftenposten’s financial editor, Ola Storeng.

Eight government agencies and 900 jobs to vanish from Oslo (NTB)

The government coalition parties and the opposition parties, Labour and the Socialist Left, reached agreement on Wednesday to move eight government agencies out of Oslo. These agencies are the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, the Norwegian Competition Authority, the Norwegian Maritime Directorate, the Civil Aviation Authority – Norway, the Norwegian Media Authority, the Norwegian Post and Telecommunication Authority, the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Defence and Emergency Planning, and the Norwegian Petroleum Authority. This decision means that a total of 900 jobs will be moved out of Oslo. “We will make sure that the rights of the employees are safeguarded. We want as many employees as possible to make the move together with the agencies. The agreement ensures that the employees who don’t want to move will receive active assistance in finding a new job in the Oslo area,” said spokespersons Ola T. Lånke (Christian Democratic Party) and Olemic Thommesen (Conservative Party) of the Storting’s Standing Committee on Family, Cultural Affairs and Government Administration in a press release.

Government will support elimination of electricity tax for businesses (Nationen)

In the revised government budget for 2003 the Government supports the elimination of the electricity tax for the business sector. This is bad news for everyone who is trying to compete with the electricity sector by supplying alternative sources of energy. The Norwegian District Heating Association claims that its sector will lose hundreds of millions of kroner. Businesses currently pay an electricity tax of 9.5 øre per kWh for the electricity they use. However, energy-intensive manufacturing industries are exempt from this tax. This kind of preferential treatment is in violation of the EEA Agreement. Minister of Finance Per-Kristian Foss has already announced that he is prepared to eliminate the tax for the entire business sector in order to comply with EU rules.

Municipalities will receive more money (Aftenposten)

There is good news for the Norwegian municipalities that are struggling with economic problems: next year they will have NOK 4 billion more to spend. Half of this sum will be earmarked for measures for the elderly and psychiatric services, while two billion is to be used at the discretion of the municipalities themselves. This increase means a doubling of growth in 2003.

Norway has weakest competitive ability of Nordic countries (NTB/Dagsavisen)

The business college IMD in Switzerland presents an annual ranking list of the relative competitive ability of countries all over the world. Finland is this year’s winner among 29 countries with fewer than 20 million inhabitants, while Norway is in twelfth place. The other three Nordic countries are further up the list than Norway, with Iceland in ninth place, Sweden in seventh and Denmark in third. In the view of the IMD, Norway must keep its wage level more in line with the rest of Europe, and must modernize its public sector, if it is to become more competitive. Other measures Norway could take include increasing the supply of labour by reforming the tax system, and improving the country’s infrastructure.

Shopping in Sweden still on the rise (Nationen)

Yesterday the HSH (the Federation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises) and Nordea presented figures showing that even more Norwegians are doing their shopping in Sweden. During the first four months of this year the increase was 14 per cent over the same period last year. This means that shopping in Sweden is increasing even more quickly than it did last year, when the increase was “only” 10 per cent. Half of all Norwegians who go on shopping trips to Sweden are Progress Party voters. These shopping trips are the right-wingers’ way of dodging the high taxes in Norway, according to a recent report.

1. Worth noting:

  • UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has accepted an invitation to open a conference on terrorism that Kjell Magne Bondevik is arranging in New York on 22 September this year. US President George W. Bush is also invited. “We have invited state leaders, experts and writers from different countries and regions,” said Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. (Aftenposten)

  • Swedish police believe that they, together with the NCIS (the National Criminal Investigation Service), have uncovered one of history’s largest child pornography rings on the Internet. A Swedish national in his 40s is suspected of filming, photographing and abusing his own daughter, several of her friends, and other children. The NCIS believes that a Norwegian in his 30s played a major role in the distribution of the Swedish pictures to people all over the world. Yesterday the Norwegian, from Østfold, was remanded in custody for two weeks. (Aftenposten)

  • The National Veterinary Institute has received funding from the Research Council of Norway to examine a piece of genetic material that has been discovered in the SARS virus. In 1998 the Norwegian-French scientist Christine Monceyron Jonassen accidentally discovered this material. Because of her discovery, American scientists managed to identify SARS rapidly as a new strain of the Corona virus family. The Corona virus is common in both animals and humans. The SARS virus contains genetic material that is only related to genetic material in birds. (NTB/Aftenposten)

  • Seven of ten medical practitioners are satisfied with the regular GP scheme. They feel that they have better medical control, broader responsibility for their patients, and better financial conditions. Only 15 per cent are dissatisfied with the scheme. These are the results of a study published in the Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association on Thursday. (NTB/Dagbladet)

2. Today’s comment from Dagsavisen:

The Government is taking a surprisingly radical approach in its plan to strengthen local democracy. As early as next year the Government wants more than half the currently earmarked grants to municipalities to take the form of lump-sum payments. The disappearance of earmarked grants is occurring at the same time as the rules governing the municipal sector are in the process of being simplified. The municipalities will eventually be completely free to determine how they will use their funds, without the supervision of the national authorities. This is a truly democratic reform. The trend during the past 10 to 15 years has been towards constantly greater national supervision and control. The reason for this has been a more or less well-grounded fear in the Storting and the Government that local politicians would not follow up decisions taken at national level. There are good examples of situations in which earmarking has been necessary. But, as we all know, everything can be taken to excess. When it comes to earmarking, the various governments have gone too far in the service of a good cause.