2 June 2003


Flow of asylum seekers to Norway dries up (Aftenposten/Saturday)

The flow of asylum seekers whose applications are assumed to be groundless has almost dried up. In the first four months of the year, 475 such ‘bogus’ asylum seekers arrived in Norway. This is 75 per cent fewer than last year. Officials at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Affairs believe the documentary programme showing conditions at Norwegian refugee reception centres has lessened potential asylum seekers’ interest in coming to this country. Last year, both Russian and Ukrainian television stations showed a documentary on conditions for asylum seekers at Norwegian reception centres. The television programme was sponsored by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Affairs, and its intention was to deter people from travelling to Norway to seek asylum. The total number of asylum seekers has also fallen. A record number of people applied for asylum last year, while the figure so far this year is 15 per cent lower. At the same time there is a growing backlog of failed asylum seekers who are waiting to be sent out of the country. The police forecast that there will be 15,000 people awaiting deportation by the end of the year.

Stock market up NOK 120 billion (Aftenposten)

The value of shares quoted on the Oslo Stock Exchange has risen by 26 per cent since its all-time low at the end of February. With extremely sharp rises in April and May, the Oslo Stock Exchange is among the most buoyant in Europe. According to Peter Hermanrud of the stock broking firm First Securities, there are three main reasons for the upturn: an end to war fears, fresh money from dividends and major acquisitions, and a positive trend in the profits of Norwegian and international companies. However, stock market experts are far from unanimous in their views of what will happen next. Optimists forecast a further 10-15 per cent increase in share prices this year, while pessimists believe the February downturn will return.

Government not taking Progress Party demands seriously (Dagsavisen)

The ruling coalition parties will today ask the Progress Party to present more realistic demands at the start of negotiations on the revised national budget. The Progress Party’s wish-list is long and expensive. Dagsavisen is given to understand that the coalition parties will propose that negotiations be entered into with the Progress Party and they are waiting for the Progress Party to table specific demands. The coalition parties think the proposals so far from the Progress Party represent something more akin to a wish-list, and feel that most of them do not belong in negotiations to revise the 2003 national budget. The Progress Party has publicly estimated that its proposals to reduce unemployment, and strengthen the police and health service would cost NOK 3-4 billion. Although several leading economists have said that the Storting could increase public spending to a level greater than that proposed by the Government without weakening the chance of a further cut in interest rates, the ruling coalition parties are still keen to maintain a tight budget.

Socialist Left Party embarks on EU debate (Klassekampen)

While a recent opinion poll shows that support for EU membership has risen to a record 51.9 per cent, the Socialist Left Party will today embark on a debate on whether or not Norway should join the European Union. The debate will continue within the party until 2005, when the next general elections are due to be held. According to a recent poll carried out by Sentio-Norsk Statistikk on behalf of Klassekampen, Nationen and Dagen, support for Norwegian membership of the EU is at a record high, with 51.9 per cent of voters in favour. 38.2 per cent oppose membership, while as many as 9.9 per cent say that they do not know what they would have voted if there had been a referendum on EU membership today.

Consultants getting rich on hospital reform (Aftenposten/Saturday)

While the Ministry of Health’s budget for consultancy services last year amounted to NOK 8.2 million, the final bill totalled NOK 147.2 million. However, senior ministry officials deny that spending was out of control. Last year, government ministries entered into a total of 45 consultancy services agreements, according to a survey carried out by the Office of the Auditor General. The Auditor General has withheld their replies from public scrutiny, but by seeking information from the ministries themselves, Aftenposten has analyzed the amount of external consulting used by 12 out of 17 ministries. The 12 purchased consultancy services to the tune of NOK 275.7 million last year. The Ministry of Health is far and away the biggest consumer of such services. According to Jan O. Larsen, assistant director general at the Ministry of Health, most of their expenses are directly linked to last year’s hospital reform process.

Norwegians not wanted (Dagbladet/Saturday)

The USA and Britain have shown no interest in Norway’s offer to send weapons inspectors to Iraq. In mid-May, Norway offered to help the occupying forces in Iraq by sending military engineers, medical personnel and weapons inspectors. The Norwegian Armed Forces leadership is now working flat out to ready a company of military engineers for service in the British zone in southern Iraq. But Dagbladet has learned from highly placed military sources that there has been no interest in Norway’s offer of six experts on weapons of mass destruction. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Lenge Dale Sandsten said that it remained to be clarified whether Norway would send weapons inspectors to Iraq.

Use of credit cards abroad to be put under surveillance (Aftenposten)

With the help of advanced electronics, a new surveillance body will keep a daily track of Norwegians’ use of credit cards abroad and foreigners’ use of payment cards in this country. The authorities now want to put in place a common system to coordinate the surveillance of all money transfers and foreign exchange transactions, both from private individuals and companies, into and out of Norway. This has emerged from a consultation paper sent out by the Finance Ministry on 28 May. The system will be used as a weapon in the battle against financial crime and international money laundering.

Fotum ready with bid for Hafslund (Dagens Næringsliv/Saturday)

The giant Finnish energy consortium, Fortum, is planning to make a bid for Oslo City Council’s shares in Hafslund either during the weekend or early next week. Fortum will probably be the only bidder. It is not known what Fortum will bid for Oslo City Council’s Hafslund shares. However, after Hafslund’s dramatic annual general meeting at the beginning of May, Fortum purchased a number of small tranches of shares in the open market. The Finns paid NOK 40 per A-share and NOK 37.50 per B-share. Fortum now owns 31.99 per cent of Hafslund’s A-shares and 35.99 per cent of its B-shares. The question is how much Fortum is willing to put on the table to secure the rest of the company’s shares.

Financial hardship for newly qualified (Dagsavisen/Saturday)

At the end of 2002, a total of 11,896 newly qualified people had not found a job and had been granted a deferment of their student loan repayments by the State Educational Loan Fund because they were unemployed. So far this year, almost 50,000 people have applied for repayment of their student loans to be deferred. This is 2,735 more than at the same time last year, according to figures Dagsavisen has gathered from the State Educational Loan Fund. Applicants state various grounds for wanting deferment, but unemployment is a main reason.

Student loans used as a form of social security (nrk.no)

In a report published today by the OECD, a group of economists say they are concerned that Norwegian students are abusing student funding schemes and are choosing to study subjects that do not meet the needs of the labour market. According to Per Rikard Johansen, an economist at Statistics Norway, the problem is due to the fact that education in Norway is free-of-charge. “We will say yes to anything that is free. If it had cost something, we would have thought about it more carefully,” said Mr Johansen in an interview with NRK. To solve the problem, Mr Johansen suggests that students pay a fee for their higher education.

Petrol station groceries expensive but popular (Nationen)

While the complaints about the cost of Norwegian food grow louder and louder, a growing number of people are buying their bread and milk from petrol stations and convenience stores at sky-high prices. The industry estimates that sales rose by five per cent last year to NOK 16-17 billion. And the trend is continuing this year. More and more people are also buying their lunches and dinners from petrol stations.

Worth Noting

  • In the first four months of the year, Norwegian hotels lost almost NOK 500 million in turnover. Hotel occupancy in Aust-Agder was 20 per cent down on the same period last year. There were 330,000 fewer overnight visitors. According to Statistics Norway, this is the status of the hotel industry at the end of April.
    (Dagens Næringsliv/Saturday)
  • While Norwegian salmon river owners sell fishing licences for NOK 400, other countries are taking Norway’s place as the El Dorado for salmon fishermen. Norwegian salmon tourism is still living in the seventies, according to some experts. The summer’s cheapest river adventure starts tonight.
  • If the police have to turn out to a stag night you are attending, you may in future be landed with the bill for the cost of police time and other public expenses. According to Christian Democratic Party chairwoman Valgerd Svarstad Haugland, a stop must be put to the worst excesses of stag night drunkenness.
    (Verdens Gang)
  • Several thousand Norwegians work as shop spies. At the request of shop management, they check up on how their staff are treating customers. The number of mystery shoppers has increased sharply. The major international specialists in this field are now on their way into Norway.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • Who has not given up in their attempts to complain to insurance companies, banks or power companies? The Norwegian Consumer Council has now published 90 standard letters of complaint on its website. The complaints guidelines are part of what Erik Lund-Isaksen, head of the Consumer Council, calls the 24-hour electronic public administration.
  • The general assembly of the Norwegian Olympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (NIF) voted by a narrow majority yesterday to ban Norwegian sportsmen and women from using high altitude houses. Despite the fact that NIF’s executive committee supported the retention of the current regulations, 77 delegates voted in favour of the ban, while 73 voted against.

Today’s comment from Aftenposten

Recent figures from the Immigration Directorate (UDI), showing that the flow of bogus asylum seekers has almost dried up, are both interesting and welcome. Compared with last year, the number of asylum seekers from countries where there is no need for protection has fallen sharply. There are several reasons for this, but part of the reduction must be ascribed to the fact that both Russian and Ukrainian television stations showed documentary programmes focusing on conditions for asylum seekers at Norwegian reception centres. The programmes show a completely different and sober reality, compared with the story cynical “people traffickers” paint of the situation in Norway tell to desperate people searching for a new and better future. Shorter processing times and less generous benefits accorded to asylum seekers while they wait for a final decision are further reasons why the flow of applicants from some eastern European countries has almost come to a halt. This is an important development. It is not difficult to understand people’s dream of creating a new life for themselves and their families in one of the world’s richest countries. Nor is it difficult to understand that many people want to flee from poverty and degradation. But at the same time we must acknowledge that it is impossible for Norway to open its borders for the unbelievably large numbers of people who are not entitled to protection. This is a difficult area, which requires quality both in the work carried out by the UDI and in the formation of Norway’s asylum policies. A quality which ensures that those who really need help are given it, while those whose applications for asylum are groundless are quickly rejected. We hope this weekend’s figures indicate that we are moving in the right direction.