6 June 2003


NOK 1.8 billion tax demand follows Hafslund sale (Dagens Næringsliv)

Akershus Energi, Energiselskapet Buskerud and Østfold Energi are offering NOK 4.5 billion for Hafslund’s power stations. But the biggest obstacle to a sale is a huge tax liability. If their bid is accepted, the three will become Norway’s second largest power utility, with a total output of around 9.2 TWh. If Hafslund says yes to the bid, however, it would incur a NOK 1.8 billion tax demand from the state. This is confirmed by the three bidders’ financial adviser, Bernt Stilluf Karlsen of Procorp. It will be up to the Ministry of Finance to decide whether to hit Hafslund with a tax demand amounting to billions of kroner.

Gains for Labour and Progress Party, downturn for coalition parties (Aftenposten)

According to Opinion’s June tracker poll for Aftenposten and NRK, the Labour Party has made the strongest gains, while the Socialist Left Party slides back for the third consecutive month. With a gain of 3.6 percentage points, putting it on 26.4 per cent, the Labour Party can look forward to this autumn’s local election campaign in a slightly more optimistic frame of mind than just a couple of months ago. The party is now 2 points ahead of its 2001 general election result, but almost equally as far under its share of the vote in the 1999 county council elections. Both these elections were disastrous for the Labour Party. Much of Labour’s progress has been at the expense of the Socialist Left Party, which has lost 4.5 per cent of the vote since March. The Progress Party is once again the country’s second most popular party, with the backing of 22 per cent of the voters. Support for the Christian Democrats slides 2 percentage points to 6.6 per cent, while the Conservatives drop 1.1 point to end on 17.8 per cent.

Equal pay for MPs to be abandoned (Aftenposten)

The principle of equal pay for all representatives in the Storting is on its way out. MPs with a heavy workload should be given a pay rise, it has been proposed. It is not only teachers who are rapidly abandoning the principle of equal pay for all. Now it is the turn of the Storting. Under the current system, all MPs receive the same salary, NOK 545,000, regardless of whether they have much responsibility or little, whether they work long hours or short. But in future, responsibility and hard work will be rewarded. A commission, established by the presidency of the Storting after Aftenposten highlighted the Storting’s generous ‘waiting pay’ scheme for former MPs, has now published a series of proposals on MPs’ salaries.

As bad as the eighties (Dagens Næringsliv)

The Norwegian economy is now in as bad a way as during the crisis years of the late eighties. The crisis is mainly affecting the wood processing, chemicals, metal and graphic industries, where jobs have been disappearing at record speed. According to the American definition, the Norwegian economy is technically in recession. The country’s GDP has fallen for two consecutive quarters. When Statistics Norway yesterday published Norway’s national accounts for the first quarter 2003, the figures were surprisingly bad. GDP for mainland Norway fell by 0.6 per cent in the first quarter this year. And as if that were not enough, a revision of previously published figures shows that developments in the fourth quarter last year were even worse than first thought, with a drop in GDP of 0.6 per cent.

Spain bans Norwegian ships (Aftenposten)

Two Bergesen-owned ships have been banned from sailing in Spanish waters. The Norwegian authorities have lodged a formal complaint to Spain, alleging it has breached international regulations. Following the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige, Spain and France have banned single-hulled tankers from entering their 200 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Prestige disaster left the Spanish coast badly polluted with oil. So far the Norwegian Foreign Ministry has not received any reply to its protest, but expects to hear from the Spanish in the near future, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Karsten Klepsvik. Officials at the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association are pleased that the Norwegian authorities have lodged an official complaint.

Proposal to abolish special needs teaching in schools (Vårt Land)

The Quality Commission set up by Education Minister Kristin Clemet has published 117 proposals for educational reform. Among other things, the commission wants an end to special needs teaching in Norwegian schools. Other proposals include daily physical education classes, more maths and language teaching, free nursery places for five-year-olds and the opportunity to take university courses at upper secondary schools. The 16-member commission has been at work for a year and a half, and chairwoman Astrid Søgnen yesterday handed over its recommendations to an expectant Education Minister. In addition to the 117 specific proposals, the commission’s report includes a detailed analysis of the Norwegian education system. The abolition of almost all special needs teaching is among the commission’s most controversial proposals.

Government refuses to cut electricity tax (Dagens Næringsliv)

Following pressure from the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), the Government has indicated it wants to change the electricity tax system. The ESA dislikes the fact that industrial consumers do not have to pay the tax, while all other businesses are obliged to. The Government has proposed that all commercial consumers be exempted from the tax, but Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg is refusing to back the idea. He fears that a wholesale tax exemption would worsen the country’s electricity supply situation and have a negative impact on the construction of environmentally friendly energy sources. The business sector would save NOK 1.8-1.9 billion a year if all commercial consumers were exempt from electricity tax.

Night train dearer than travelling by air, bus or car (Dagsavisen)

NSB’s night trains are much more expensive than travelling by plane, twice as dear as taking the bus and three times more costly than using one’s own car. But despite this, the Norwegian state railway company NSB has no difficulty in defending its prices. The company is losing hundreds of millions of kroner a year on its night train service. If the service is to survive and fares reduced, the state must open its purse strings. At NSB’s board meeting yesterday it was concluded that if the state does not provide the railway company with financial assistance or public purchasing commitments, the night train services on the Dovre, Bergen and Southern lines will be axed as of January 2004. Arnfinn Ellingsen (Lib), State Secretary at the Transport Ministry, declined to promise NSB more money now, and called on passengers to take the train if they were interested in keeping the current night train service alive. “We already spend NOK 6 billion a year on the railways. And we purchase services from NSB to the tune of NOK 1.4 billion a year,” said Mr Ellingsen in an interview with NTB.

Worth Noting

  • Both the Government and the opposition parties have warmly welcomed the bid from three local authority-owned power utilities for Hafslund. “I think it is both interesting and positive that Norwegian investors have announced their interest. But, of course, it must be up to Oslo City Council to make an overall evaluation of the offer,” said Petroleum and Energy Minister Einar Steensnæs.
  • E.ON-owned Ruhrgas has acquired a 15 per cent stake in the Njord gas field from the US company Conoco Phillips. Yet another gas customer has therefore become a producer on the Norwegian continental shelf.
  • Unemployment continues to rise. At the end of May, a total of 87,000 were registered as completely out of work. 3.7 per cent of the workforce is now without a job of any kind.
  • In the space of just one year 36 per cent more young people have become unemployed. “Unacceptable and shameful,” was Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg’s response. He is now demanding a guarantee for the young.
    (Verdens Gang)
  • According to the OECD’s annual international survey of state subsidies to the agricultural sector, Norwegian farmers have climbed to second place, beaten only by Switzerland. At the end of the 1980s, Norway was in fourth place.
  • Norwegian tourists are abandoning domestic holiday destinations. This year, only one in four of us will probably choose to holiday in our own country. The Norwegian tourist industry is trying to reverse this trend, but is facing an uphill struggle. Instead, we are tempted by foreign package holidays at rock-bottom prices, leading many to decide against holidaying at home.
  • The Oslo City Council could yesterday celebrate the fact that Oslo had been named European Sustainable City of the Year. The city’s victory was secured by its surrounding forests, the fjord and much-vilified public transport company, Oslo Sporveier. Oslo was one of 12 candidates for the award, which is part of the EU’s efforts to develop sustainable cities in Europe. More than 1,860 European cities took part in the campaign.

Today’s comment from Klassekampen

The Foreign Ministry has not made up its mind about whether Norway should send military personnel under UN command to Congo-Kinshasa. At the same time, Foreign Minister Jan Petersen is keen to position the country within Nato by proposing, among other things, to send a rapid deployment force to the Middle East. It is obviously more appealing to serve under the Nato flag in the occupied territories, for example, than to have to take orders from the UN in a country out of the media’s gaze. Like Norway, many countries in the northern hemisphere have cut their contributions to the UN’s peacekeeping efforts. When our nearest neighbours decide to make a contribution in Congo-Kinshasa, it is not under the UN flag. They have chosen instead to operate under the EU flag. Norway should say yes to Kofi Annan’s request to send military personnel to Congo-Kinshasa, if for no other reason than because the UN’s emergency forces need strengthening. Despite individual mistakes, UN troops are still the most neutral emergency forces the world has. Neither Nato, the EU nor local emergency forces can take over the UN’s peacekeeping operations. Rather than contributing to world peace, Norway is in danger of undermining it by choosing to drop participation in UN-led operations.