19 May 2003


Poll results a disaster for Centre Party (NTB)

Vårt Land’s opinion poll for May shows that support for the Centre Party has fallen to half its previous level. The party scored just 2.6 per cent in the poll, a drop of 2.4 percentage points. On the other hand, the Labour Party reinforces its position as the country’s most popular political party with a gain of 2.8 percentage points. Labour now stands at 26.7 per cent. The Progress Party comes in second place, moving ahead 0.9 points to 23.8 per cent. The Socialist Left Party has to content itself with third place, sliding 0.9 points to 19.6 per cent. According to the poll, the Christian Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, both part of the ruling coalition, have lost support. The Christian Democrats have lost 0.6 points to end on 6.1 per cent, while the Liberals lose 1.6 points, putting them at 1.3 per cent. However, the third coalition partner, the Conservative Party, made solid gains. Support for the party has risen0 by 1.5 points to 16.1 per cent.

Weapons exports at record levels (Nationen)

Norwegian weapons exports rose by 40 per cent from 2001 to 2002. Weapons systems totalling NOK 2.4 billion were sold abroad last year. According to the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Norwegian weapons exports violate international agreements on weapons exports. Among other things, PRIO claims that weapons are sold to countries responsible for human rights violations. A total of 30 companies reported exports of weapons, explosives, components and weapons parts in 2002. The bulk of the weapons and ammunition are sent to Turkey, the USA, Australia, Greece, Sweden and Switzerland, according to figures included in the report to the Storting on the export of defence materiel compiled by the Foreign Ministry. Brazil and South Africa are among the countries that bought ammunition and explosives from Norwegian manufacturers last year. According to Amnesty International’s annual report, the use of torture is widespread in the Brazilian legal system. South Africa is also regularly accused of using torture and force.

Minister to change asylum rules (Vårt Land)

The Government wants to make it easier for people who are persecuted because of their gender or sexual orientation to be granted asylum in Norway. This week, she will start the consultation process on a proposed amendment to the rules about who may be considered a refugee, and therefore who has the right to asylum. Today’s legislation defines a refugee in the same way as the international convention on refugees, which acknowledges five reasons for persecution: race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social groups or political persuasion. Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg now wants to pay greater attention to gender and age in the evaluation of refugees. She has also promised that asylum seekers will be interviewed by a person of the same sex.

Navy’s new frigates could blow budget out of the water (Klassekampen)

The new frigates commissioned by the Royal Norwegian Navy will be NOK 5-10 billion more expensive than planned, according to weapons expert John Berg. The Government and Storting were in for a surprise, said Mr Berg, the frigates were not finished. Five new “Fridtjof Nansen class” frigates, which the Navy has purchased from the Spanish shipyard, Izar, are now beginning to take shape. They will soon be filled with high-tech equipment, which has mainly been purchased from US weapons manufacturers. Specifically, Mr Berg believes the weapons budget has the following main weaknesses: The frigates are to be equipped with NSM (new sea missile) rockets, which are currently under development and come with an extremely uncertain price tag. Anti-air missiles are being kept out of the budget, but will nevertheless be installed. The most likely solution is to equip the ships with ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow) missiles. The wording on the choice of torpedoes and ammunition, etc, is vague. Lt. Commander Per Erik Gøransson of the Royal Norwegian Navy denied there was any truth in Mr Berg’s predictions of colossal budget overruns, saying: “The criticism is wrong, but not new.”

Fax scandal – Victor Norman apologises (NTB/Dagsavisen)

Labour and Government Affairs Minister Victor D. Norman (Con) has apologised unreservedly for throwing away a fax from Tore Tønne regarding the merger between Aker and Kværner. The fax should have been logged in the Ministry’s archives, he admitted. The scandal centres on a fax sent by former Health Minister Tore Tønne, now deceased, to Mr Norman during the autumn of 2001, two months after the fall of the Labour government in which Mr Tønne had served. At that time Mr Tønne was working as a consultant for Aker RGI, a company owned by industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke, which was attempting to engineer a merger with Kværner. In the fax, Mr Tønne asks Mr Norman to ensure that the merger was evaluated by the Norwegian authorities rather than the European Commission, which the Norwegian Competition Authority wanted. Mr Norman threw away the fax and has since claimed he considered it to be a ‘personal request’. “With hindsight I see that the fax should have been placed on public record,” said Mr Norman. Marit Haukom, leader of the Norwegian Editors’ Association, said on Sunday that the Minister should be prosecuted for violating public records legislation.

Worth Noting

  • If there had been a referendum today, 64 per cent of the electorate would have voted in favour of Norway joining the EU. Support for EU membership has grown by 6 percentage points since April, according to a poll carried out by Opinion on behalf of Aftenposten and NRK. Opposition to EU membership has fallen by the same amount in the past month. Almost one in four of those who voted against EU membership at the last referendum in 1994, 22.7 per cent, have now changed their minds.
  • Heart disease has long been the most important cause of death for men. But in the UK it is now cancer that kills most men, and the trend is the same in Norway. According to Frøydis Langmark of the Cancer Registry of Norway, on the basis of calculations from 1995 to 2020, there will be a 40 per cent increase in cases of cancer among men. Ms Langmark puts this dramatic increase down to the fact that the population is getting older. There will be more and more old people, which increases the risk of developing cancer.
    (Verdens Gang)
  • Safety routines failed on 17 May, when 200 passengers had to be evacuated from Oslo’s underground metro trains as a result of a fire in one of the tunnels. The fire broke out in a carriage travelling underground between the Grønland and Jernbanetorget stations at 8.30 pm. Anxious passengers fled into the tunnels and walked along the lines between the stations. Oslo Sporveier, the public transport company that runs the metro system, has been severely criticized by the police and fire services after the incident. If the fire had been more serious, people could have died in the tunnels, according to Rune Sikkerbøl a senior fire officer.
  • In order to meet the needs of the growing population of elderly people, taxes should be raised by NOK 50-75 billion, starting this year. New figures from the Ministry of Finance show that the boom in the number of elderly people will be even larger than previously estimated, and that the country’s national budget is heading for disaster. New population forecasts from Statistics Norway show that there will be even more elderly people than previous analyses have predicted. “I believe that people will show solidarity. The cost of looking after elderly people is something every society must bear,” said student Mari Nordmo (21).

Today’s comment from Dagens Næringsliv

Former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, chairman of the EU’s ‘convention’ that is developing a constitution for the European Union, is faced with a difficult task. While the proposal that he and his team are putting together is due to be voted on at the end of June 2003, they are having to deal with 1,600 proposed amendments to the initial constitutional text that was published last month. The 105 members of the convention are pulling in all directions – which was, in a way, the idea. While major EU reforms were previously negotiated behind closed doors by political leaders, civil servants and diplomats, the convention was set up as an open forum. Politicians, civil servants and diplomats are included, but so are representatives from business and industry, trades unions and voluntary organizations. There are many areas of conflict. Those who want more power to be centralized to the EU’s key institutions against those who want as much power as possible in the hands of national governments. However, a more important dispute is that between the EU’s small nations and its large ones. The large countries have signalled sympathy for strengthening the Council of Europe, which is made up of representatives of the EU’s member governments, preferably under an EU president. The small countries are afraid that this will weaken the influence they have today through the executive body, the European Commission, and the directly elected European Parliament. There are strong indications that it will take longer than planned to reach agreement, but that a compromise solution will be in place before the accession of the EU’s new member states next year.