21 May 2003


Labour promises caution over public spending (Aftenposten)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has promised not to spend a penny more in the revised national budget for 2003 than Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss has proposed. “We are a responsible party, and we do not want to spend more money than the Government has proposed. But we do want to spend it differently,” said Mr Stoltenberg, at a party/trade union conference that he attended together with Gerd-Liv Valla, president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). Low interest rates and a lower exchange rate are important elements in the battle against unemployment. Among the measures Mr Stoltenberg is proposing, are an increase in grants and support for new businesses, through the Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund (SND) and local and regional business development funds; additional measures to help vulnerable industries, such as the shipbuilding and engineering sectors; investments to increase the output of existing North Sea oil wells; cash for gas ferries, modernizing the fishing fleet, the tourist industry and the furniture industry; an expansion in measures to help job seekers; and measures to boost the building and construction industry.

Fire service let Oslo Sporveier off the hook (Dagsavisen)

The fire service has deliberately not carried out inspections of Oslo’s underground metro service since May last year. As a result, there have been a record number of fires. At the same time, the Norwegian Railway Inspectorate is furious over Oslo Sporveier’s repeated non-compliance with safety agreements and deadlines. An emergency meeting has now been called. 250,000 passengers use the Oslo metro every day. “We wanted to give Oslo Sporveier some peace and quiet in which to carry out a whole raft of improvements,” said Kjetil Brattlie, a spokesman for the Oslo Fire and Rescue Service. He admitted that the fire service had chosen not to issue warnings in connection with fires and smoke emissions on the metro over the past year. Erik Ø. Johansen, chief executive of the Norwegian Railway Inspectorate, is not happy about the situation. “It is strange that the fire service has not been exerting pressure on Oslo Sporveier to get them to straighten things out when violations have been discovered,” he said. A record total of 71 fires of varying degrees of severity have been recorded during last year and so far this year.

High winds greet royal couple in Belgium (Aftenposten)

When King Harald and Queen Sonja arrived in Belgium yesterday for the start of a state visit, they were met by wild weather, but a warm welcome from the Belgian royal family. The first state visit to Belgium for 40 years got off to a windy start. “This is a different kind of state visit for me,” said King Harald. “Here I am the guest of my closest family. King Albert is my cousin, our mothers were sisters. That makes it all the more pleasant for me.” The Norwegian royal couple were shown around Brussels’ town hall, which is considered to be one of the world’s finest examples of gothic architecture. The square in front of the town hall, Grand Place, is surrounded by historic buildings.

Clerics’ union to get first woman leader (Vårt Land)

For the first time ever, two women are fighting it out for the leadership of the Association of Ministers of the Church of Norway (PF). The two are curate Brita Hardeberg from Trondheim and curate Ingeborg Midttømme from Oslo. Ms Midttømme has been first deputy leader of the PF for the past three years. Ms Hardeberg, who is originally from Grimstad, has previously served on the PF’s executive committee. The leadership election takes place during the PF’s annual general meeting in Hamar at the beginning of September. The current leader, Morten Fleischer, cannot be re-elected because he has already held the office for six years.

Worth Noting

  • The Special Police Investigation Commission (SEFO) is investigating police officers from Namsos in the wake of a blasting accident on 7 February 2003. Only hours before the accident, which left one person dead and four injured, the Namsos district police station had received reports of a blasting accident at the same site, but no officers were dispatched to investigate the incident. The SEFO has now decided to launch an investigation. At around 11 o’clock on the same day as the fatal accident, the Namsos and Fosnes district police station received two reports from private citizens saying that flying stones from a construction site had been thrown over a wide area. The police were told that a car adjacent to the construction site had been badly damaged as a result. “We have decided to investigate the incident to determine whether the district police have done what they should have done,” said Øyvind Hoel, leader of SEFO’s Trøndelag office. Mr Hoel’s decision to launch an investigation was prompted by a request from an acquaintance of Johannes Lindsetmo, who was killed in the accident.
  • The new unemployment benefit rules, whereby the unemployed are transferred onto social security benefits after two years, will cost the country’s local authorities around NOK 200 million a year, writes the newspaper Nationen. Under the previous scheme, those out of work were entitled to unemployment benefit for a period of three years. While unemployment benefit is paid for by the state, social security benefit is a local authority responsibility. The change will therefore impose additional costs of around NOK 200 million a year on local authorities, according to calculations made by the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS). According to Magne Hustad, a consultant with the KS, the figure of NOK 200 million is just a rough estimate. The new scheme only applies to those who signed on as unemployed after 1 January this year.
  • The leak from the Draugen field is under control. In the past few days, Norske Shell has pumped up most of the oil that has leaked from the pipeline leading from the Draugen platform in the North Sea. However, the platform remains out of production. “We believe around 100 cubic metres of oil have leaked out. Most of this oil has now been collected with the help of oil containment booms and oil skimmers, which suck up the oil,” said Svein Ildgruben, of Norske Shell’s corporate communications department. The oil company has not yet located the leak. Shell normally produces round 200,000 barrels of oil a day at its Draugen platform. The Draugen field is located at Haltenbanken, 150 km west of Kristiansund. The oil leak was discovered on Monday evening.
  • Prison sentences are handed out far more often in Norway than in the other Nordic countries. Finland, Sweden and Denmark all use alternative penalties to a much greater extent, according to a report from the Swedish Prison and Probation Service. The report shows that our Nordic neighbours imposed non-custodial sentences far more often in 2001. 28 per cent of offenders in Norway received non-custodial sentences, while in Sweden 65 per cent received an alternative form of punishment. “We definitely want the prosecution service to make more use of compulsory community service,” said public prosecutor Morten Holmboe from the office of the Director General of Public Prosecutions. The new legislation regulating the enforcement of penal sentences, which came into force a year ago, permits the use of so-called compulsory community service. According to the new legislation, offenders may be sentenced to compulsory community service for offences carrying a maximum prison term of up to six years.

Today’s comment from Dagbladet

Israel is putting pressure on foreign leaders not to meet Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The Israeli government is refusing to hold talks with foreign leaders who meet Mr Arafat. This has put Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen in a difficult position, according to the Foreign Ministry. Mr Petersen is shortly due to visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told Aftenposten that a Norwegian foreign minister could not let other countries dictate who he could or could not meet, but added that Mr Petersen would have to decide who it was useful to meet. In our opinion the matter is an open and shut case. Israel has now made it impossible for a Norwegian foreign minister not to meet Mr Arafat. Norway still has a symbolic importance in the Middle East. If a Norwegian government allows itself to be dictated to by Israel, it would be a significant victory for Israel’s extreme right-wing government. The Palestinians have an autonomous ruling authority, and Norway has a particular responsibility to protect its integrity. After all, it was in Oslo that the first Palestinian Authority was born. The Palestinian Authority has been practically blown to pieces by Israel, but it is still a negotiating partner in the new efforts to reach a peace agreement that are being led by the USA. To cancel Mr Petersen’s visit out of fear of a boycott, would be to legitimize Israel’s bully-boy tactics.