17 June 2003


Socialist Left Party deeply divided over EU (Dagsavisen)

The Socialist Left Party’s goal is a change of government after the 2005 general elections. The new government would be supported by a parliamentary majority made up of the Labour Party, Socialist Left Party and Centre Party. The only problem is that Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg is in a hurry for Norway to join the EU. The Socialist Left Party’s new deputy leader, Henriette Westhrin, has now said that it would be out of the question to commit to long-term cooperation with the Labour Party if Mr Stoltenberg leads his party in another application for EU membership. Ms Westhrin is only prepared to cooperate on a case by case basis with any future Labour government that applies to join the EU, even though, in her eyes, that would be better than the current coalition government.

No renaissance for Social Democrats Against the EU (Nationen)

Despite the fact that supporters of EU membership within the Labour Party are on the offensive, there are no plans to breathe new live into the organization Social Democrats Against the EU (SME). “Those who are opposed to EU membership have not mobilized and have not sharpened their arguments,” former Labour leader Gro Harlem Brundtland has warned. But Hallvard Bakke, who led the SME in 1994 when Norway last held a referendum on EU membership, has ruled out a renaissance for the organization. “Remember that the SME was not established until after the general election in 1993. The SME was a resistance movement, and it costs a lot of time and money to keep that kind of operation going over the long term,” he said.

200,000 pull the plug on fixed telephones (Aftenposten)

The old-style telephone is losing its appeal. In the course of three years, 200,000 households and companies have gone over to a wireless existence. In 2002, 2.4 million subscribers were connected to the traditional fixed phone network. This year, the stationary phone companies will probably earn NOK 2 billion less than three years ago. Norway leads the field in mobile phone usage. Around 80 per cent of the country’s population has a mobile phone subscription. “Around 3.7 million people in Norway have a mobile phone subscription. Nowadays it is pretty well only children under the age of 12 and a steadily shrinking number of those over 60-70 who do not have a mobile phone. For that reason the mobile phone market does not have much more room for growth,” said Tore Aarønes of Norsk Telecom.

Stoltenberg worried about newspaper closures (Aftenposten)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg is concerned that many newspapers will be forced to close down if the Bondevik government continues along the same lines as today. “If the most recent cut in press subsidies is the start of more of what we saw during Kjell Magne Bondevik’s first government, it is serious indeed. It would mean that we will see the closure of newspapers representing particular special interests such as Vårt Land, Nationen and Dagsavisen, and, not least, many, many local newspapers,” warned Mr Stoltenberg.

Must speak Norwegian to get a passport (Vårt Land)

Immigrants will have to pass an test of spoken Norwegian before they are granted citizenship. In addition, all new Norwegians will have to attend 300 hours of Norwegian language tuition. A bill to this effect will be tabled sometime around the end of the year, and could come into effect a year later. “We want this to be introduced in a non-bureaucratic and achievable way,” said Kristin Ørmen Johnsen, State Secretary at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Affairs. The new law will not apply to people who come to this country under the rules of family reunification, but the ministry wants to introduce a separate law that guarantees the rights of these individuals too.

Defence Ministry not well enough prepared, report claims (Dagbladet)

According to a report published by the Pentagon at the beginning of May, the political leadership of the Norwegian Defence Ministry was not as well prepared to fight on behalf of national industrial interests as the Netherlands and Canada. “I dislike very strongly the fact that the Ministry of Defence has provided the Americans with information before the Storting has received the same information,” said Marit Nybakk (Lab), who chairs the Storting’s Defence Committee. Under normal circumstances, Norwegian defence contracts should bring substantial benefits to Norwegian manufacturers and suppliers. This has not happened in the case of the new combat aircraft, even though the purchase of combat aircraft amounts to NOK 40-50 billion – the largest defence investment ever.

Labour’s Oslo branch refuses to cooperate with new public service super-union (Dagsavisen)

At a national conference, which opens today, the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees and the Norwegian Association of Health and Social Care Personnel (NHS) with formally amalgamate into a new super-union. The Trade Union, as it will be called, will be Norway’s largest trade union, with almost 300,000 members. Jan Davidsen has been elected president. He has announced that the cooperation agreement between the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees and the Labour Party, which was renewed a month ago, will continue under the new union. But the Labour Party’s Oslo branch is refusing to follow up the agreement between the municipal employees’ union and the Labour Party’s central office. “The new union’s leaders must make up their own minds about this agreement and about formalized cooperation with political parties,” said the Trade Union’s vice president, Tove Stangnes.

Braathens must save NOK 450 million (Verdens Gang)

Braathens must save NOK 450 million; several hundred jobs could therefore be at risk. At a board meeting this coming Friday, the airline’s management will ask the board’s permission to make sweeping changes in the company. Management wants pilots to fly more, there will be cuts in the service provided on domestic flights, and international operations will be ‘simplified’. “We aim to implement a wide-ranging profit improvement programme, which will give full effect in 2004,” said chief executive Knut A. Solberg.

Huge contracts awarded without competitive tendering (Dagens Næringsliv)

In the past two years Norway Post has purchased NOK 2 billion worth of IT services from its wholly-owned subsidiary Ergo Group – without putting the contracts out to competitive tender. Norway Post is subject to legislation regulating public purchasing and the EU’s purchasing directive. “If a public company does not put a contract out to competitive tender, but does a deal directly with a subsidiary that is also operating in the private sector, it is an unlawful direct purchase,” said Erik Eidem, an adviser with the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA).

Fish quotas worth billions changing hands (Aftenposten)

Up until now Norway’s fishermen have not been allowed to sell the fish quotas that they have received from the Norwegian authorities free of charge. But calculations made by professor Torbjørn Trondsen tell a different story. For a number of years, quotas have been changing hands for sums ranging from tens to hundreds of millions of kroner. Fish quotas with a market value totalling NOK 47 billion have been bought and sold. The Storting voted yesterday to make it easier for owners of smaller fishing boats to sell their allotted quotas.

Worth Noting

  • Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagen’s proposal that Bill Clinton should become the next Nato secretary general is being viewed as an attention-getting stunt – and a way of weakening Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold’s chances.
  • The Government spends 40 times more on the oil and agriculture industries than on information and communications technology (ICT). “This is dramatic,” said Endre Rangnes, chairman of industry organization ICT-Norway.
  • The Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees has been at the forefront of the battle against public service privatization. The new, amalgamated union will continue that battle, promised union president Jan Davidsen when the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees was disbanded yesterday.
  • In the aftermath of the Tore Tønne case, a charitable foundation has been established to undertake research into the media, examine controversial cases, and – not least – act as a helpline for people who find themselves in the glare of the media spotlight. The foundation is backed by a number of well-known business leaders and has resources of NOK 10 million at its disposal. Both the Norwegian Press Association and the Association of Norwegian Editors are sceptical.
  • One in three of Oslo’s inhabitants believes that house prices will fall in the coming year. People in Oslo do not think property prices will rise in the longer term either, according to a major survey carried out by MMI on behalf of Den norske Bank (DnB) in the last week in May.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • The Oslo City Council has caved in to pressure from the US State Department and will give the go-ahead for the construction of a three-metre-high wall around the American Embassy in Oslo.

Today’s comment from Aftenposten

Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss is demanding a report from Svein Gjedrem, governor of the Norwegian Central Bank, after the Bank missed its target of maintaining a stable, low rate of inflation. Following several years in which interest rates in Norway were higher than elsewhere, we have a situation in which inflation has fallen too low. Mr Gjedrem’s economic brakes may have been too effective. Today’s record low inflation rate is seen as proof of how wrong Mr Gjedrem was last year when the Norwegian Central Bank drove the value of the Norwegian krone to heights that significantly damaged the competitiveness of the country’s export industries. The situation shows how difficult it is to manage the economy according to the inflation rate, and how important it is to balance the desire for economic efficiency with the objective of democratic responsibility. An awareness of this challenge must be second nature to all those in power, regardless of how they are measured in the short term. The governor of the Norwegian Central Bank has not been successful in his management of interest rates over the past year. Fortunately, however, he has now changed tack. The challenge is to find a better balance between ‘ full steam ahead’ and ‘dead slow’.