20 June 2003


Socialist Left Party will accept people’s decision on EU membership (Aftenposten)

Even if a referendum results in just a slim majority in favour of EU membership, Socialist Left Party leader Kristin Halvorsen will bow to the people’s decision. At the time of the last referendum on the issue, in 1994, the party’s willingness to do so was conditional. Now Ms Halvorsen believes it would be politically impossible to flout a popular majority. “In my opinion, if you ask the people for advice, you have to tell them that their advice will be adhered to,” she said. “I see it as being completely impossible for supporters of EU membership to win by a narrow margin and then accept that the Storting votes against. I think we would immediately be plunged into a rematch, and the only people who will suffer are those who refuse to bow to the will of the people.” At the same time, she has warned Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg that the question of EU membership will lead to the Socialist Left Party pulling out of any coalition agreement with Labour.

Researchers claim we need neither EU nor EEA (Dagsavisen)

Most people would hardly notice the difference if Norway joined the EU, kept the EEA Agreement or pulled out of both, concludes a recent research report on Norway’s relations with the EU, which the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) will publish today. The researchers behind the report underline that their purpose is not to say what would be best for Norway. Nevertheless, they indicate what impact the three alternatives they have analyzed would have on ten political areas. According to the researchers, the choice of whether or not to join the EU is primarily a political and not an economic decision.

NOK 60 million discrepancy in weapons exports figures (Nationen)

Norway has exported weapons and ammunition worth NOK 600 million more than the Government has told the Storting about, according to figures from Statistics Norway. Nor are three shipments of weapons and weapons accessories to Israel mentioned in the Government’s report to the Storting, according to a study by the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO). The PRIO has asked the Foreign Ministry to explain why the exports to Israel were not mentioned. According to the ministry’s response, the shipments related to the return of weapons used during training exercises in Norway.

Stoltenberg sweet talks the Trade Union (Aftenposten)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has warned state enrolled nurses and other local government employees not to be too pernickety in their choice of partner, whether it be a long-term political relationship or just a mild flirtation they are looking for. They could end up sitting at home all by themselves. Mr Stoltenberg came to the newly formed super-union, the Trade Union, to win the support of union activists representing 300,000 employees. “Some people are opposed to the close ties between the union movement and the labour movement because they are opposed to the Labour Party itself, but if you wait for Mr Perfect to come along, you will die of loneliness,” he warned. Tove Stangnes, the union’s newly elected first vice president, who has been critical of a formalized cooperation agreement with the Labour Party, seemed mollified by the speech. “The party has finally made its position clearer on important issues, such as privatization. I am pragmatic,” she said.

Disappointed despite Labour leader’s advances (Dagens Næringsliv)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg pulled out all the stops yesterday during his almost hour-long speech to the Trade Union, newly formed super-union within the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). But despite his uninhibited flirtation, the Trade Union’s newly elected leadership team was not entirely satisfied. “I thought he would say something about the conflict surrounding the local government pension fund, KLP. We had said beforehand that something about that issue should be said,” commented union president Jan Davidsen. The Trade Union is currently fighting a fierce battle to prevent the country’s largest pension fund, KLP, from being turned into a limited company.

111,000 unemployed next year (Dagsavisen)

Unemployment continues to rise. Statistics Norway is forecasting 111,000 out of work next year. “Fewer people register as unemployed when times are hard. The real level of unemployment is therefore higher, probably at least one per cent above the figure we are quoting,” said Svein Longva, chief executive of Statistics Norway. According to Statistics Norway, things will not improve until 2005, when the average rate of unemployment will have fallen back to this year’s level.

Economy is turning around, says Finance Minister (Dagens Næringsliv)

Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss believes the economic downturn is over. “All the indications point to us having reached bottom, but it is too early to identify any clear trend in the way the economic cycle is moving. We should be cautious about placing too much emphasis on a few good months on the stock exchange. We are in a phase in which things are gradually turning around. The question is how long it will take. Norway’s problem is bigger because we have built up a high level of costs over a number of years. It is important to underline that this is not something that can be changed in a six-month period. Wage settlements in 2004 will also need to help boost export industries’ competitiveness,” said Mr Foss.

Biggest gains for Progress Party in latest poll (Klassekampen/Nationen)

Support for the Labour Party has fallen by 1.4 percentage points to 23.8 per cent. It retains its position as the country’s most popular party, but only just. The Socialist Left Party has also lost support since the last poll, down 1.3 percentage points to 20.4 per cent. Converted into parliamentary seats, however, the poll would still give the Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party a combined majority in the Storting.

Telenor makes mint on mobile phones (Aftenposten)

Telecoms analyst Tore Aarønæs dislikes the huge profits being made by Telenor’s mobile phone business. Telenor makes a 64.7 per cent return on investment in this area. According to Mr Aarønæs, the company is violating the maximum limit stipulated by the authorities for this business, which is subject to a government operating licence. “Telenor is whizzing off at 150 in a 50 zone. The Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority is too passive,” he said.

Worth Noting

  • The ruling coalition parties have lost one in three of their voters since the start of the year. “But we are delivering the goods,” they said yesterday. They are happy to have survived a tough political winter.
  • According to Statistics Norway, Norwegian Central Bank governor Svein Gjedrem did industry a disservice last summer when he indicated that interest rates in this country would remain high. “The psychological expectations which were generated at that time are a more important factor in explaining the substantial increase in the value of the Norwegian krone than the 0.5 percentage point rise in interest rates in July last year,” said Per Richard Johansen, head of research at Statistics Norway.
  • Six out of ten pregnant teenagers have an abortion. The proportion of those choosing abortion has not been higher since the introduction of the Abortion Act in 1979. Over the past twenty years, however, the number of teenagers getting pregnant has fallen sharply. The drop in teenage pregnancies is ascribed to greater knowledge of, access to and use of contraception.
  • Norsk Hydro’s agricultural division, Hydro Agri, is worth NOK 20-30 billion. It has now been decided to spin off the business into a separate company listed on the stock market. Assets worth billions of kroner will be brought out into the open. The stock market exulted at the news, sending Norsk Hydro’s shares up by 10.5 per cent.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • Norsk Hydro may be denying that the company will be split up even further, but the stock market is already anticipating the next spin-off announcement. “It would be natural for aluminium to be spun off from Norsk Hydro as well,” said Martin Mølsæter, an analyst at DnB Markets.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • The Norwegian state will not give up its hold on Hydro Agri, Norsk Hydro’s agricultural division. MPs high up in the ruling coalition parties are convinced that the state should remain a major shareholder in the company, even after it has been spun off. The Oslo Stock Exchange could therefore see the addition of yet another large, state-dominated company.
  • 100,000 people gave up smoking during this winter’s controversial anti-smoking campaign. Tobacco sales have fallen by 4.5 per cent, and the proportion of smokers in the population is now down to 26 per cent.
  • Here is some good news for those of you who are planning to leave for a car touring holiday today. Almost all the oil companies operating in Norway have announced that they will cut the price of petrol and diesel, either today or in the next few days.
  • The additional cash benefit for children under the age of three has not led to fathers spending more time with their children. Mothers, on the other hand, do spend longer hours alone with their children, according to a new time usage study.

Today’s comment from Nationen

The pendulum swings in Norway’s foreign aid policy. Where before there was much naivety and blue-eyed innocence, there is now a clear demand for realism and control. This is good, as long as care is taken not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We hope there will always be an element of altruism in Norway’s policies towards poor countries. But good will is not enough. That has been proved by the first analysis of Norwegian development assistance policy to be  carried out by a group of professional historians. Norway has spent NOK 170 billion on development assistance over the past fifty years, but it is not clear whether the money has actually helped alleviate poverty. There are, however, clear examples of ideological blindness and Norwegian self-righteousness. But it is no good dwelling on past errors. The point now is to do things better, and strengthen the foundations on which Norwegian public opinion’s support for aid to the world’s poor is based. To do that requires painstaking accuracy when it comes to routines and controls. People must be certain that money allocated, really does end up where it should.