28 May 2003


Progress Party demands NOK 3 billion increase in public spending (Aftenposten)

When the tug-of-war over this year’s revised national budget got underway yesterday, it became clear that there is a huge gulf between the Progress Party and the ruling coalition parties. The Progress Party wants to increase public spending by NOK 3-4 billion, while the Government is sticking firmly to its objective of balancing the budget. “It sounds like a lot of money,” was the cautious response from Jan Tore Sanner, the Conservative Party’s economic policy spokesman, when his Progress Party counterpart, Siv Jensen, handed over the party’s extensive list of demands yesterday. However, according to Ms Jensen, it makes political sense to spend a couple of extra billions on roads and construction projects to boost economic activity and get the unemployed back to work. “We are not talking about consumption. This is an investment,” she said.

Labour looking for revenue raisers (Aftenposten)

Among the steps the Labour Party is looking at to pay for measures to cut unemployment and boost local government finances are funding cuts for private schools, a halving of the additional cash benefit for children under three, an increase in VAT on food, and higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco. The Labour Party’s entire parliamentary group is actively engaged in the development of an alternative budget that both keeps within the Government’s original framework and gives room for the party’s promised increases for pensioners, local councils and the unemployed.

Young Labour steamrollered over HEP (Dagbladet)

The Labour Party’s parliamentary group decided yesterday to back a major expansion of hydro-electric power production on the Sauda river system. Labour wants much more of the Sauda river system to be channelled into hydro-electric power stations. Gry Larsen, leader of Labour’s youth wing, the AUF, was almost shaking with fury and disappointment after the two-hour meeting of Labour MPs yesterday, during which the expansion of HEP production at Sauda was approved by an overwhelming majority. “Jens Stoltenberg has gone back on Labour’s manifesto and what he himself has previously said. Now we are going even further than the Government! This is completely tragic,” said a furious Ms Larsen. Labour spokesman Rolf Terje Klungland, however, described the development plans as “not very big”, and said that this was the best solution in relation to the environment and the country’s need for electric power. Frederic Hauge, leader of the environmental foundation Bellona, said in an interview with Dagbladet that the Labour Party had joined the Progress Party as Norway’s environmental laggards.

Labour veteran attacks Stoltenberg (NRK)

Former Environment Minister Torbjørn Berntsen has attacked Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg, accusing him of breaking promises over the construction of new hydro-electric power plants. “I thought we had finished competing with each other over who could construct the most hydro-electric power plants. We have to look at the other end of things – at electricity consumption. That is where the real problem lies, not building power stations on more and more river systems. That won’t to anything to solve our long-term energy problems,” said Mr Berntsen.

Union bosses at odds with Labour leadership over EU (Dagsavisen)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has made it clear that a Norwegian application to join the EU is more important than putting together a centre-left coalition government after the general election in 2005. Opponents of EU membership among the leadership of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) have told Mr Stoltenberg in no uncertain terms that he should put away any thought of an application for EU membership and concentrate on building a centre-left coalition government instead. According to Gerd-Liv Valla, president of the LO, there is no conflict between forming a new government and applying for EU membership. “Based on my understanding of the comments made by Socialist Left Party leader Kristin Halvorsen, it would be possible to form a government under any circumstances. However, it remains to be seen what kind of solution it might involve – whether the Socialist Left Party joins a coalition government or supports it from the outside on the basis of a political agreement,” said Ms Valla. Per Østvold, leader of the Norwegian Union of Transport Workers, said: “The Labour Party must put away its EU project in order to ensure the formation of a left-wing government.” Mr Østvold is himself a Socialist Left Party activist.

Bureaucrats invade Norway’s hospitals (Aftenposten)

In the past five years, the number of administrative staff at Norwegian hospitals has risen by 30 per cent, to almost 10,000. Today, one in six hospital employees has administrative duties. By comparison, the number of employees treating patients rose by 10 per cent from 1998 to 2002. The delegation of responsibility to the various hospital departments has not led to fewer employees at senior management level, rather the reverse, according to professor Terje P. Hagen at the University of Oslo. “Hospitals are getting less healthcare out of each krone than they did before. At the same time, we are getting more healthcare from each hospital employee,” he said.

Glimmer of hope for SAS’s Norwegian employees (Dagsavisen)

Management at the airline SAS is offering to retain the 3-2-2 split between Swedish, Norwegian and Danish cabin crew members. The 3-2-2 scheme ensures that there are three Swedish, two Norwegian and two Danish crew members on each long-haul flight. In its offer to employees, SAS management is proposing that the current scheme be continued until 2007, which would safeguard 284 Norwegian jobs. But after that, the scheme will be discontinued. Negotiations between the two sides have ground to a halt, but have not broken down entirely.

Complete standstill in Norway (Dagens Næringsliv)

Norsk Hydro has called off all new industrial investment in Norway. “We are investing heavily in Norway at present, in an attempt to develop what is already established. But new industrial investments will be made outside Norway. I feel no confidence in the country’s politicians. That is why we must look at other investment opportunities outside Norway,” said Norsk Hydro’s chief executive, Eivind Reiten. Helge Lund, chief executive of Aker Kværner said he agreed entirely with Mr Reiten’s views.

Consumers believe food is more expensive than it really is (Nationen)

Norwegian consumers believe that food is much more expensive than it really is. Over half of us believe we spend more than 20 per cent of our household incomes on food. In reality, we spend only 11.9 per cent, according to a recent survey. One of the survey’s surprising results is that the gap between consumer perceptions and actual consumption has increased.

New dog legislation adopted last night (Verdens Gang)

The Storting voted last night to adopt a new dog law. No less than eleven different proposals had been tabled, but this is how the new legislation finally looks: dogs that injure people will, in most cases, be put down. The definition of injury to people will be the same as the penal code’s specification of actual bodily harm. The Storting did not ban certain named breeds of dog. Instead, the ministry will be able to ban specific dog breeds by means of statutory instruments. The pitbull is currently banned in this way.

Worth Noting

  • The Government could spend NOK 10-15 billion more of the country’s oil revenues without pushing up interest rates, according to some economists. In this way the Government could meet the Progress Party’s demands for increased public spending in the revised national budget and still reach its target of low interest rates.
  • According to union leader John Lyng, unlawful industrial action by employees of the beleaguered airline SAS would be like shooting oneself in the foot. This view was supported by members of the union representing the airline’s Norwegian cabin crews when they met last night.
    (Verdens Gang)
  • Only 16.6 per cent of Oslo’s voters want the city council to sell its shares in the power utility, Hafslund. As many as 83.4 per cent oppose such a sale. The poll shows that the sale of the council’s Hafslund shares is also opposed by a majority of Progress Party and Conservative voters.
  • In future, when cohabiting couples split up, fathers will have visitation and access rights to their children. This was decided after MPs from the Labour Party, Socialist Left Party and Progress Party joined forces to form a parliamentary majority in favour of an amendment to the current Children’s Act.
  • A joke currently circulating on the internet about Tony Blair and George W. Bush is among the evidence the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime has put forward in support of its case against Mullah Krekar.
  • Norway is taking a big gamble in its attempts to sideline the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) in the battle over Norwegian regional policy. Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss is planning to use a “right of veto” included in the EEA Agreement, but never before exercised. It is highly uncertain whether the veto will succeed.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • Meddling politicians and a high proportion of state ownership on the Oslo Stock Exchange mean that Norwegian companies’ share prices are 20 to 40 per cent lower than they would otherwise be, according to Eivind Reiten, Norsk Hydro’s chief executive.
  • No matter how much the Church of Norway may want potential employees to present a police certificate of good conduct, the police themselves will not issue one. The police only issue certificates of good conduct for purposes stipulated by law. And the employment of church workers is not one of those purposes specifically named in the legislation.
    (Vårt Land)

Today’s comment from Aftenposten

Six months after Aftenposten first turned the spotlight on the extremely liberal way the Storting’s “waiting pay” scheme for former MPs was being practiced, the Storting is to tighten up the rules. In a few days, the recommendations of a committee led by Berit Brørby, president of the Odelsting, will be published. According to informed sources, the recommendations will eliminate the scheme’s worst excesses. And not a minute too soon. Politicians’ standing with ordinary people will not support arrangements whereby MPs who fail to win re-election can study for years at the Storting’s expense, while other employees who need retraining or further education are obliged to finance themselves by taking out a student loan. The main problem has not been the actual rules regulating MPs’ “waiting pay”. The need to ensure that MPs represent a cross-section of society demands that they should not end up in permanent financial difficulties, should they not be re-elected. The Brørby committee attacks way the the rules are practiced, and restricts the scheme to those who have real difficulties returning to the labour market after their term as the people’s elected representative has come to an end. For most people, being elected to the Storting does not involve financial loss. But nor should it confer hidden financial benefits that do not stand up to public scrutiny.