4 June 2003


NOK 500 million boost for pensioners (Aftenposten)

A majority of MPs will vote in the Storting to force the Government to raise pensions by NOK 500 million more than its original proposal. “It is quite out of the question for pensioners to be given just 4 per cent, as indicated by Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor Norman,” said Labour’s social policy spokesman Bjarne Håkon Hanssen. According to Mr Hanssen, the opposition could be prepared to discuss whether pensions should rise by 4.4 or 4.5 per cent, depending on details in the calculation. But no matter what, pensioners can look forward to a rise of at least 0.4 per cent more than the Government’s proposal.

Labour leader accuses Government of shilly-shallying and muddle (Verdens Gang)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has accused the Government of shilly-shallying and muddle over its proposals for additional pension allocations. “This shows the Government had not intended to increase pensions. Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss was right and Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was wrong. They say different things every other week. When the Government has difficulty understanding its own policies, it is not surprising if others do too,” said Mr Stoltenberg. The Government is making unnecessary problems for itself in relation to the Storting, and creating uncertainty for pensioners. “The aim of the National Insurance Scheme is to create security. It is sad to see a government shilly-shallying and making such a muddle out of something which affects the lives of a million people,” he said.

Government turns to Labour for help (Dagsavisen)

The ruling coalition parties are attempting to reach an agreement with the Labour Party on the revised national budget. Few MPs think they will succeed. “We must roll our sleeves up and make a real effort to bring down unemployment. And the country’s pensioners must be given what they have been promised,” said Labour deputy leader Hill-Marta Solberg. Yesterday, she received a visit from Conservative chief negotiator Jan Tore Sanner. The two agreed to meet again today, to find out if there is a basis for further negotiation. The Labour Party will announce five specific demands on Wednesday. The party’s two main demands alone would cost over NOK 2 billion.

Complete confusion over Nato top job (Dagbladet)

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and Foreign Minister Jan Petersen have completely different views on how to secure the position as Nato Secretary General for Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold. “We would very much like to see a Norwegian as Secretary General of Nato, and we have a very good candidate in Kristin Krohn Devold,” responded the PM when questioned on the matter. Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, however, has said that an election campaign would be counter-productive. Mr Bondevik’s reply is in sharp contrast to the low-key probing of support for Ms Krohn Devold that the Foreign Ministry is currently engaged in.

Calling all opponents of EU membership (Nationen)

Sigbjørn Gjelsvik, leader of the organization No to the EU, has called on all opponents of Norwegian membership to mobilize. The organization has almost run out of money, and needs financial assistance to stop the growth in support for EU membership. “After the previous referendum on EU membership, the agricultural sector has not contributed any large sums to the fight. The thinking has probably been that it was unnecessary to use up all one’s ammunition too early, but that they would join the battle when needed. That time has come. In the meantime the European Movement in Norway has received an estimated NOK 25 million from the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO),” said Mr Gjelsvik.

Interest rates heading for 3 per cent (Dagens Næringsliv)

When Svein Gjedrem, governor of the Norwegian Central Bank, said yesterday that the Executive Board of the Norwegian Central Bank will carefully consider whether it would be “appropriate to change the interest rate in larger steps”, his audience almost jumped out of their seats in surprise. Up until now Mr Gjedrem has placed enormous emphasis on cutting interest rates in small steps, which has meant, as a rule, changing rates by one half percentage point at a time. Economists now envisage a minimum lending rate down towards three per cent, which could mean mortgage rates of between four and five per cent.

Consumer Council welcomes foreign ownership in power industry (NRK)

A parliamentary majority, made up of the Labour Party, Progress Party, Socialist Left Party and Centre Party, decided on Tuesday to back plans to change Norway’s competition laws to allow state-owned power utility Statkraft to buy Oslo City Council’s shares in Hafslund, should the local authority decide to sell. “The aim of the parliamentary majority is to make it easier for Statkraft to establish itself as a major player in the Nordic electricity market,” said Marit Arnstad, leader of the Centre Party’s parliamentary group. However, according to Erik Lunde, head of the Consumer Council, while “national pride and a perception of the importance of Norwegian ownership are part of Norwegian culture, seen cynically through consumer eyes, there is no great difference in the nationality of company ownership”.

Down, down, down for Progress Party (Dagens Næringsliv)

The Progress Party is losing support every single month. Since October last year, the party has lost one in three of its voters. “The trend is always the same – down, down, down. But the Progress Party has not been weakened to such an extent that it is about to collapse altogether, according to political scientist Bernt Aardal. He believes the Progress Party has lost support because the Socialist Left Party and the Labour Party have managed to make themselves more visible as opposition parties. “This weakens the Progress Party’s chances of presenting itself as the only alternative,” said Mr Aardal.

Call for recreational boat licence for teens (Dagsavisen)

A substantial number of boat users feel that 16-year-olds should have to pass a test and get a boat licence before they are allowed to take the helm of a boat. Recent figures show that as many as eight out of ten people support such a scheme. “This at least shows that boating people would welcome such a scheme, and that is something we will take with us into our examination of the proposal,” said Tore Kamfjord, of the Norwegian Maritime Directorate.

More elderly people lose driving licence (Aftenposten)

The Directorate of Public Roads wants to prevent those elderly people who are no longer safe to drive from getting behind the wheel. The Directorate has now said it wants to tighten up the requirements for doctors who issue health certificates to drivers over the age of 70. Only doctors who have completed special courses should be allowed to issue such certificates, according to proposals announced by the Directorate as part of the Revised National Transport Plan. Today, 240,000 people over 70 have a valid driving licence.

Worth Noting

  • If there had been local elections tomorrow, the Labour Party would have won 30 per cent of the vote. “That would have been an important psychological breakthrough for the party, and would have reversed a downward trend,” said political scientist Bernt Aardal.
  • Norway should say yes to the UN’s request for help and send troops to the Congo, according to Gry Larsen, leader of the Labour Party’s youth wing, the AUF. “In keeping with Sweden, which is sending 90 soldiers, Norway should send a UN contingent which could either participate in the French-led operation or become part of the UN observer corps,” she said.
  • Today sees the publication of a complete overview of women on the boards and in management positions at the country’s 250 largest companies. It will probably make gloomy reading for Trade and Industry Minister Ansgar Gabrielsen. His objective is for 20 per cent of company directors to be women by the end of the year.
  • The value of the Norwegian krone fell sharply after central bank governor Svein Gjedrem’s comments on interest rates yesterday. And senior economists believe the effect will last. “There is no doubt that the Norwegian Central Bank wants a lower exchange rate, and it will do what is necessary to reduce the value of the Norwegian currency,” said Knut Anton Mork, chief economist at Handelsbanken.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • The Norwegian Immigration Directorate (UDI) has admitted that it knew an Iraqi refugee living in Risør had been recruited by the USA to take part in the war in Iraq. The UDI had previously claimed it knew nothing about the man’s recruitment and is considering revoking the his status as a refugee because he returned to his homeland.
  • Construction projects costing NOK 3.4 billion could be started up this autumn if the Storting were prepared to allocate NOK 1 billion, according to figures released by the Government. This would lead to improvements in school buildings, better railways and the speeding up of road building projects.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • Singer Mari Boine is planning to buy herself a riverboat. Her Sámi heart has yearned for such a boat, and yesterday she was suddenly able to afford it. The Nordic Council announced that it had awarded her this year’s music prize, along with DEK 350,000.

Today’s comment from Aftenposten

The ruling coalition parties and the Labour Party are due to meet tomorrow for negotiations on the revised national budget. Both sides say they will make a real effort to reach agreement on a comprehensive package deal, but neither of them is particularly hopeful that it will be possible. Unfortunately, we do not think much of their chances either; despite the fact that we are convinced that such an agreement would be in the best interests of the country and the reputations of those engaged in politics themselves. The breakdown of talks with the Progress Party after just one 20-minute meeting was as predictable as it was necessary. To demand, as the Progress Party did, an increase in public expenditure of around NOK 5-6 billion in a budget that already depends on spending far more of our oil wealth than is specified in the rules governing the amount of oil revenue that can be pumped into the Norwegian economy, is not a realistic starting point from which a solution can be reached. With the Labour Party, things are fundamentally different because the party agrees with the Government on the overall public spending limit. What the two sides disagree on amounts to less than one per cent of the total national budget. But when a minority government is forced to seek support for its budget proposals first from one opposition party then the next, it is usually easier to increase public spending than raise the revenues needed to pay for it. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the ruling coalition parties and the Labour Party can agree on some ground rules which can stop the Government’s political slaloming from crashing through acceptable economic limits. A solution of that kind would also provide a decisive contribution to avoiding a government crisis that no one wants, and that the voters would not understand.