10 June 2003


EU membership key issue for 2005 election campaign, says Jagland (Aftenposten)

“Obviously, when Poland – one of the largest countries in Europe – votes to join the EU, it will have an impact on the Norwegian debate,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, leader of the Storting’s Foreign Affairs Committee and former leader of the Labour Party. He believes EU membership will be a key issue in the next general election campaign. Sigbjørn Gjelsvik, leader of the organization No to the EU, disagrees. “When Sweden’s decision to join the EU did not lead to a rise in the number of Norwegians in favour of EU membership, Poland’s decision will not have any effect either,” he said. 64 per cent of those who have made up their minds want Norway to join the EU, according to Opinion’s June tracker poll for Aftenposten and NRK. Even when the undecided voters are factored in, 55 per cent of the electorate now supports EU membership.

Foreign Minister thinks Poland’s yes will boost support for Norwegian membership (Dagsavisen)

Foreign Minister Jan Petersen (Con) believes that the referenda on EU membership being held in Poland and other eastern European countries will strengthen support in this country for Norwegian membership. He has now challenged the Labour Party to clarify its position on EU membership. In 1994, supporters of EU membership were convinced that a Swedish decision to join would tip the majority in Norway over on the side of EU membership. The plan failed. But now Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, leader of the Conservative Party, is putting his faith in the influence of eastern Europe. He believes that the series of referenda in eastern and central Europe, and the accession of ten new member states next year, will boost support for Norwegian membership.

Government may be forced into NOK 1 billion public spending increase (Aftenposten/ Saturday)

The Government will probably be forced to spend an additional NOK 1 billion if it is to get its revised national budget adopted by the Storting. Yesterday, it became clear that there would be no deal with the Labour Party. Talks with the Progress Party had broken down earlier. But the tone between the negotiating partners seemed more positive this time, mainly because Labour agrees with the Government on the necessity of maintaining a tight budget. “I am certain that we will arrive at a responsible budget,” said the ruling coalition parties’ chief negotiator Jan Tore Sanner (Con), after it became clear yesterday that it would not be possible to reach an agreement with the Labour Party. He seemed therefore to be indicating that by seeking alternating majority support for each budget item separately, the Government can make sure that the increase in public spending is not too great. At the same time, winning alternating majority support will entail expenditure growth that the Government will have difficulty in funding through budget cuts elsewhere, without taking too big a bite out of its own key policy measures.

Stoltenberg accuses Government of conning pensioners (Verdens Gang/Saturday)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has accused Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik of conning the country’s pensioners. Mr Stoltenberg says he is now fed up to the back teeth of the Government fiddling the figures, as he puts it. He has now declared, in no uncertain terms, that the Labour Party will not move an inch if the ruling coalition parties approach them for new talks on pensions. Yesterday, Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor D. Norman (Con) announced his proposal for the 2003 adjustment in pensions and social security benefits. Mr Norman is offering pensioners a 4 per cent rise this year. They had been demanding a 4.5 per cent increase.

Krekar to stay in Norway (Aftenposten/Saturday)

The Government’s decision to expel Mullah Krekar now looks as if it is going to be difficult to put into effect. Several experts on refugee law and international affairs believe it will be almost impossible for Norway to get rid of Krekar. Nevertheless, Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg (Con) has told Aftenposten that her ministry is working on moves to “effectuate the expulsion order”. The expulsion order assumes that Krekar will be sent to the small enclave in northern Iraq that he and his organization, Ansar al-Islam, had control over. Following the war in Iraq, however, Ansar al-Islam has been spread to the four winds, and its sworn enemy, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PUK), has taken control.

Pay cuts will save regional jobs (Nationen/Saturday)

In an effort to solve the dispute with the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) over Norway’s differentiated employers’ national insurance contributions, Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss has come up with an new proposal. Instead of businesses being hit immediately by a rise in their national insurance contributions, employees will be given time to compensate for the extra costs this will generate by demanding lower pay rises than they would otherwise have done in the next round of wage negotiations. The ESA is demanding that employers’ national insurance contributions for all companies should be raised to 14.1 per cent from the start of next year. This represents a dramatic increase from 12.5 to 13.9 per cent in the areas stretching from South Troms to South Trøndelag.

Røkke could lose NOK 750 million (Dagsavisen/Saturday)

Norway Seafoods’ small investors were celebrating yesterday after the Supreme Court upheld their claim that the value of a company’s shares should be based on the real value of the company itself. Investors forced to sell their shares in Aker RGI and Aker Maritime after a compulsory buy-out are now ready to take up arms. If they win, it could cost Kjell Inge Røkke up to NOK 750 million. “This is a happy day for shareholder democracy and the minority’s right to protection. We have won a complete victory for our view that shares should be valued on the basis of the real value of the company itself, not the shares’ stock market price. It will now no longer be possible to acquire shares at a discount during a compulsory buy-out,” said a triumphant Knut T. Traaseth, chief executive of the Norwegian Shareholders’ Association after the Supreme Court ruling.

Car ferry safety improvements could cost NOK 6.6 billion (Aftenposten)

The Directorate of Public Roads fears that safety standards imposed by the EU will force it to commission 97 new car ferries to replace those currently in operation linking together the country’s network of main roads. The Directorate of Public Roads is interpreting the EU rules to the effect that the “little” ferry chugging back and forth across the fjord at Leka, and certified to carry 100 passengers, will have to comply with the same rules as Color Line’s latest cruise ferry, certified for 2,770 passengers. “I admit that it is not easy to understand, but it has become part of our everyday lives as a result of the EEA Agreement,” said the directorate’s chief executive Olav Søfteland. Among other things, the new safety regulations specify how stable the ferry must be if it starts taking in water, what kind of fire extinguishing equipment must be installed on board and the age of the vessels themselves. The EU adopted the new rules five years ago, and they must all be implemented by 2010. The Maritime Directorate has rejected the Directorate of Public Roads’ estimates and says it does not recognize the situation described by Mr Søfteland.

Worth Noting

  • Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Red Cross, was yesterday appointed UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Humanitarian Relief Coordinator. Mr Egeland will have responsibility for coordinating the UN’s entire humanitarian and relief efforts. He will be one of Secretary General Kofi Annan’s closest advisers. The department Mr Egeland is to lead has headquarters in New York and Geneva, and has 40 offices spread throughout the world.
  • The ruling coalition and opposition parties will meet this morning for further negotiations on the proposed reform of pre-school day care. After weeks of disagreement, the two sides now hope they are close to a solution.
  • Norwegian police could be given greater powers to incite criminal offences and to infiltrate criminal gangs. The need for such powers is currently being evaluated by the Ministry of Justice. Police ‘sting’ operations would be used mostly in connection with drug offences, during the investigation of child pornography and cases involving serious financial crime.
  • Norwegian companies are too short-term in their thinking, and do not take care of their older employees, according to a recent report from the Centre for Economic Analysis (ECON). The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO), the Government and almost 4,000 companies have committed themselves to looking after elderly employees through the agreement on “an inclusive workplace”.
  • Every day during the month of June, 200 more people become unemployed, according to figures gathered by NRK. One of the opposition parties’ demands in their negotiations on the revised national budget is that the Government do more to cut unemployment.
  • Egil Myklebust, chairman of the airline SAS, has received the full support of the Ministry of Justice for his interpretation of the SAS agreement, after ministry officials took a closer look at it. The company is supposed to be run according to commercial principles. The allocation of business activities between the three countries (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) must take second place.
    (Dagens Næringsliv/Saturday)
  • The 24 Slovakians who sought asylum in Norway last Thursday have already had their applications denied and are ready to be deported. Fast processing times and rapid deportation are important signals, according to the Immigration Directorate.
  • The Storting voted by a substantial majority yesterday to relocate a number of government agencies and directorates out of Oslo. The employees have given up the fight, and the decision was taken without protest action.

Today’s comment from Aftenposten

Ten days before the Storting starts its summer recess, the political situation has rarely been so chaotic as it is this year. The Government has no possibility of winning support for its revised national budget as a whole, and no one knows how an item by item majority can be put together without completely smashing the spending limits it has set. It is already clear that the Government will have to pay around NOK 500 million more in pensions than it feels the economy as a whole can stand. The parliamentary majority lacks the political courage needed to set limits for a group who are making strong demands on behalf of the country’s elderly, both those who need and deserve a financial boost and the vast majority of pensioners who are already well off. An agreement on pre-school day-care reform has still not been finalized, even though the two sides say they are getting closer to each other. But this is an issue in which both the Government and the opposition parties have invested far too much prestige, given the fact that they all agree on the main goals – nursery places for all and reduced fees. So nothing is clear until the last item is in place. The common underlying problem in these and other issues is that the opposition is far too keen to run roughshod over a weak minority coalition, but without the opposition parties themselves being capable of putting together a strong alternative government. As long as this situation exists, there is no reason to provoke a change of government. That should therefore not be the result of an end-of-session flurry of activity in which everything remains up in the air.