23 June 2003


Christian Democrats block sale of Oslo’s shares in Hafslund (Dagens Næringsliv/Saturday)

Hans Olav Syversen, leader of the Christian Democratic Party’s representatives on the Oslo City Council, has told André Støylen (Con), Oslo’s municipal commissioner for financial affairs, that the Christian Democrats do not want the council to sell its stake in the power utility Hafslund to Fortum, the Finnish energy company. Mr Syversen confirmed as much to DN’s reporter. For his part, Mr Støylen has said that he has so far not received any bid which is high enough for him to recommend a sale. DN is given to understand that negotiations with Fortum have broken down. However, regardless of whether Fortum puts more money on the table, a sale could be practically impossible now that the Christian Democrats have declared their opposition. A council majority previously voted to grant the municipal executive board the authority to go ahead with a sale. With the Christian Democrats’ change of heart about selling the council’s shares to Fortum, this majority has in effect evaporated.

Call for NOK 2.2 billion in tax increases (Verdens Gang/Sunday)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has reacted strongly to the large dividend payouts received by shareholders last year, and has said that this autumn he will resume his battle for tax increases amounting to billions of kroner. According to Mr Stoltenberg, many people feel that last year’s tax-free dividend bonanza undermines the welfare state’s principle of solidarity. He therefore wants to raise taxes by NOK 2.2 billion next year. The provisional tax figures for last year show that several of the country’s wealthiest people awarded themselves substantial tax-free dividend payouts. “This is the result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Government. Together with the Progress Party, the Bondevik government has been a prime mover in driving holes through the tax system,” said Mr Stoltenberg.

Petroleum Fund to finance pensions (Aftenposten)

Sibjørn Johnsen, leader of the Pensions Commission, is busy preparing the biggest reform of the Norwegian welfare state ever undertaken. This autumn he will present the Pensions Commission’s final report, which will contain recommendations for modernizing the country’s national insurance system to prepare it for the upsurge in the number of elderly people, compared to the number of those in the workforce, that is expected from 2010. The commission’s recommendations include converting the Petroleum Fund and the National Insurance Scheme Fund into pension funds. The National Insurance Scheme will continue to exist, but in a much modified form. There will be an end to the provision of a standard basic state pension for all; the size of pensions paid out by the National Insurance Scheme will vary much more. And the retirement age will be more flexible.

No warnings given about dangerous asylum seekers (Aftenposten/Saturday)

The Immigration Directorate (UDI) has no rules or routines to ensure that the police and local refugee reception centres are warned about potentially dangerous asylum seekers. “We are now developing proposals which can rectify this situation,” said Trygve G. Nordby, head of the UDI. Three murders committed by asylum seekers in the course of a few short months begs the question: what is being done to prevent asylum seekers with criminal records from committing acts of violence while they are waiting for a decision on their application for asylum?

Killers abroad, free men in Norway (Dagsavisen/Saturday)

The Norwegian authorities have no idea how many murderers are living in refugee reception centres up and down the country, or how many have been granted a residence permit. Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg now wants to tighten up the notification procedures at the Immigration Directorate (UDI). Ms Solberg has said she does not want compulsory notification of all information that may emerge during confidential interviews with asylum seekers. But she said that guidelines should be drawn up on what information should be passed on. The UDI has confirmed to Dagsavisen that the country’s refugee reception centres are unwittingly home to asylum seekers who have killed someone abroad, since the UDI is today not permitted to notify them of such matters.

Minister rejects creation of camps for asylum seekers (Dagsavisen)

Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg wants Norway to pull out of European efforts to set up joint refugee reception centres outside the Schengen area. The creation of such camps was discussed at the EU summit in Salonika at the end of last week, but the EU heads of government were unable to reach agreement on the issue. Denmark and Britain have said they will press ahead with the idea on their own. Ms Solberg, who previously supported the concept of creating joint refugee reception centres, does not now think that Norway should go ahead with an evaluation of such a scheme, whose aim would have been to rapidly weed out those whose applications were obviously groundless, and ensure that as few people as possible spend years seeking asylum in first one country and then another. “As long as this does not look like being a scheme for the whole of Europe, there is little point in Norway taking part,” said Ms Solberg.

Union delegates vote overwhelmingly against formal ties with Labour (Klassekampen/Saturday)

An overwhelming majority of delegates attending the inaugural conference of Norway’s new public service super-union, the Trade Union, yesterday voted against a formal cooperation agreement with the Labour Party. According to the proposal, which was tabled by the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees in South Trøndelag, “the Trade Union is dependent on formalized cooperation with political parties in order to achieve its goals. For this reason the Trade Union will contact the Labour Party’s central office in order to put in place a national cooperation agreement on local government policy”. It is only two months since the Norwegian Union of Municipal Employees renewed its cooperation agreement with the Labour Party. On Tuesday, the union merged with the Norwegian Association of Health and Social Care Personnel (NHS) to form the Trade Union. The new union’s inaugural national conference concluded yesterday with a lengthy round of voting on numerous resolutions.

Fears of new battle over sick pay scheme (Dagsavisen)

Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg has attacked what he sees as government threats to cut sick pay. He warned the Government not to use the agreement on an inclusive working life to weaken the current sick pay scheme. The agreement comes up for review this autumn, which is halfway through its four-year term. Government spokesmen have hinted several times that it would also be a suitable time to re-evaluate the sick pay scheme. Mr Stoltenberg now fears that the Government is planning to launch another attack on sick pay, because this autumn’s evaluation will show that employers and unions have fallen far short of the targeted 20 per cent reduction in illness-related absenteeism. The Labour leader has warned the Government not to use the agreement on an inclusive working life as a lever with which to force through cuts in the sick pay scheme.

Worth Noting

  • Environment Minister Børge Brende (Con) is extremely happy that the British authorities have decided to halt radioactive emissions from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. “This is a tremendous victory for the people living along the coast of Norway,” said Mr Brende in an interview with NRK. The Environment Minister was notified of the decision by his British counterpart, Margaret Beckett, on Friday evening.
  • Mullah Krekar could be subpoenaed as a witness in the trial of several suspected al-Qaida terrorists, which is due to start in Milan, Italy, in October.
    (Verdens Gang/Saturday)
  • Mullah Krekar has said he is willing to be interviewed by Italian police in connection with the trial of suspected members of the al-Qaida terrorist network in Italy.
  • A commission is proposing several measures to prevent unsuitable foreign medical personnel from being employed at Norwegian healthcare institutions. At the same time, it will become easier for foreign medical personnel to get their medical qualifications recognized and approved in Norway.
  • According to MMI’s EU tracker poll for June, 45 per cent of those polled want Norway to join the EU, compared with 48 per cent in May. Opposition to EU membership has fallen from 35 per cent to 31 per cent, while the number of people who are undecided has risen from 17 per cent to 24 per cent.
  • The Labour Party’s education policy does not make the grade. The party is accused of standing on the sidelines, without a relevant programme and without influence. Helga Hjetland, leader of the Union of Education Norway, says that the Labour Party has been parked “a fairly long way out on the sidelines” when it comes to educational policy.
  • Sales of mobile phones have skyrocketed. 2003 looks like being a record year. One in three people in Norway will buy a mobile phone this year. Almost 1.6 million mobile phones are expected to be sold this year.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • If you have bought cheap frozen fillet steak from Brazil, you are in good company. So far this year, Norway has imported twice as much meat as at the same point last year. “The supermarket chains are building up import channels which could be difficult to close when Norwegian meat production increases,” said Olaf Godli of the Norwegian Farmers and Smallholders’ Union.
  • While the usual tourists are staying away from Norway, cruise liners are coming into port as never before. This year looks like setting a record. The floating hotels will dock 1,300 times during the season. And the experts believe the next decade will be even better. These tourists leave behind NOK 750-900 million kroner, when everything from harbour fees to shopping trips is added up.

Today’s comment from Dagbladet

The decision by the British Department of the Environment to halt all radioactive emissions from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant is some of the best news the Norwegian environment has received for a long time. A long succession of Norwegian environment ministers has put pressure on the British authorities, to no avail. It is therefore a feather in the cap of Norway’s current environment minister, Børge Brende, that he has now received a positive response from his British counterpart. He has been tireless in his efforts to persuade the British that they must do something. The contribution made by the environmental foundation Bellona to achieving a temporary halt in emissions from Sellafield should also be remembered. Bellona has recommended a solution for storing the radioactive substance technetium, which the political authorities in Britain now want to test. It looks, therefore, as through the British authorities have accepted all of Norway’s viewpoints. This is truly a major step forward in a dispute that has been deadlocked for more than a decade.