24 June 2003


Conservative voters defect to Socialist Left Party (Aftenposten)

In the course of one year, the Conservative Party has lost 16,000 voters to the Socialist Left Party, according to Opinion’s voters’ panel for Aftenposten. The poll shows that the left is winning voters at the expense of all three ruling coalition parties. This is gloomy news indeed, on the day Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik presents the Government’s political half-year results. The poll shows that all three ruling coalition parties have lost voters over the past year, primarily to the Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party. Trond Hole, general secretary of the Conservative Party, believes the war in Iraq may have provided a boost to the Socialist Left Party. Professor Hanne Marthe Narud points to the planned sale of Oslo City Council’s shares in Hafslund as an issue that could benefit the left. She believes that rising unemployment still leads to increased support for the Labour Party.

Conservatives’ EU dreams shattered by Christian Democrat leader (Dagsavisen)

Christian Democratic Party chairwoman Valgerd Svarstad Haugland wants the Government’s ‘suicide pact’ to remain in place after the 2005 general elections. If Ms Svarstad Haugland sticks to this view after the elections, it could be an obstacle to the present government continuing in office. Conservative Party members are dreaming that the Government can remain in power after the 2005 general election, at the same time as the Christian Democrats accept another Norwegian application for EU membership. Erna Solberg, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, says the timing of any discussion about a new suicide pact is all wrong. Ms Solberg has made it clear that if they have to choose, the Conservatives prefer EU membership to government office.

Christian Democrats claim they are achieving more now than in previous coalition government (Aftenposten)

According to the Christian Democratic Party’s leader, the party is achieving more in this government than it did in the previous Bondevik-led coalition. Even though the voters have not recognized the fact, the Government has implemented more of the Christian Democrats’ key policies than ever before. But the results are drowned out in the noise coming from the opposition parties. This was the Christian Democratic leadership’s main argument when party chairwoman Valgerd Svarstad Haugland and Jon Lilletun, leader of the party’s parliamentary group, yesterday summed up the Storting’s spring session.

Valgerd fails to make the grade (Dagbladet)

Only eight per cent of the country’s voters feel Valgerd Svarstad Haugland is doing a good job as Cultural Affairs Minister. Ms Svarstad Haugland had little to say when she was confronted with the figures. According to MMI’s tracker poll of politicians’ standing, commissioned by Dagbladet, 49 per cent think she is doing a poor job as Cultural Affairs Minister. Things are going from bad to worse for the minister. In a corresponding poll in March, 12 per cent said they thought she was doing a good job, while 45 per cent thought her performance was poor. Jon Lilletun, leader of the Christian Democratic Party’s parliamentary group, blames the media for the fact that she is not more popular. “Valgerd is a capable politician, and as Cultural Affairs Minister her proposals receive a large measure of acceptance in the Government,” he said.

Senior police officer calls for tougher immigration restrictions (Dagbladet)

Arne Huuse, head of the National Bureau of Crime Investigation, has launched a fierce attack on the country’s immigration policies. According to Mr Huuse, Norway needs to restrict immigration in order to stem the rising tide of crime. “We are constantly talking about integrating our new countrymen, but when they refuse to follow Norwegian norms and rules, it becomes a problem,” said Mr Huuse. “It is the responsibility of central and local government to make sure our new countrymen are well integrated in society,” said Mr Huuse, who makes no effort to conceal his belief that many mistakes have been made in this area, and that this is an important factor behind his call for tougher immigration restrictions.

Statoil invests in Algerian gas fields (Aftenposten)

Statoil is planning to invest around NOK 15 billion to acquire and develop shares in two new gas fields in Algeria. The acquisition of the two Algerian fields is the latest in a long line of investments Statoil has made in politically sensitive areas. The two gas fields that Statoil has spent NOK 5.2 billion to acquire a stake in, lie in the middle of the Sahara desert. The company’s management does not hide the fact that the investment poses major security challenges. “The biggest security problems in Algeria are in the north, along the coast. We will be operating this business as if it were offshore. Our people will be flown directly in and out of the installations down there,” explained senior company executive Richard Hubbard at yesterday’s press conference.

Banks forced to pay up (nrk.no)

Den norske Bank (DnB) and Gjensidige NOR will have to pay back NOK 53 million because they put up interest rates without notifying their customers in the proper way. The Consumer Council has now decided that the banks’ customers must be compensated for this failure to inform, and have forced the banks into a voluntary settlement. The banks did not notify their customers because they felt the rise in interest rates was so small that it would not make much difference. Erik Lund Isaksen, head of the Consumer Council, can now confirm that when interest rates are at the level we are talking about here, the banks are obliged to give their customers the six weeks notice they have a right to.

Lundestad calls on Government not to forget troops for UN ops (Vårt Land)

Norway has sent 100,000 soldiers to serve abroad since the end of the second world war. Geir Lundestad, head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, has now called on the Government not to forget the UN when it sets its priorities for participation in foreign operations. “What we are seeing now represents a dramatic shift. Norway is increasingly tying itself to American strategies by the Government sending troops to participate in Nato and coalition forces. And when the UN asks Norway for support, our reply is: ‘Sorry, we do not have any soldiers left to send’,” said Mr Lundestad. According to Forsvarets Forum, the Norwegian armed forces’ magazine, 40,000 Norwegian soldiers have taken part in 30 UN-led operations since 1953, while 60,000 soldiers have been placed under Nato or coalition command.

Worth Noting

  • Oslo City Council’s attempt to sell off its shares in the power utility Hafslund has collapsed. André Støylen, municipal commissioner for financial affairs, has denied that political pressure is the reason the sale has now been shelved. However, he refused to say how much the council has been offered for its Hafslund shares.
  • Norway’s salmon industry is now suffering from a new, dramatic and completely unexpected drop in prices. Salmon is being sold at less than cost price, which could result in more producers throwing in the towel.
  • Once again, the price of salmon fell dramatically yesterday. But the Norwegian Seafood Export Council is responding with a NOK 65 million marketing campaign. By the end of the year, people in France, Japan, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Germany will know all there is to know about how good Norwegian salmon is – and what it can be used for.
  • Statoil has been granted a licence by the Norwegian Water Resource and Energy Administration (NVE) to build and operate a gas-fired combined heat and power facility at Melkøya near Hammerfest. The combined heat and power facility will supply Statoil with electricity and heat for the production of gas from the Snow White field.
  • The organization No to the EU needs NOK 20 million to win the next battle over EU membership, and has asked the country’s farmers, fishermen and union members to open their wallets.
  • Den norske Bank, the country’s largest bank by far, has confirmed that it is thinking of putting up its bank charges. DnB made a NOK 2.3 billion profit last year. The Norwegian Central Bank will probably cut interest rates tomorrow, but the banks could claw back part of the cut in increased charges.
    (Verdens Gang)
  • When Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik attends the annual conference of the Norwegian Farmers’ Union tomorrow, it will be the first time for 25 years that the farmers’ annual conference hosts a prime minister.

Today’s comment from Dagens Næringsliv

Norway does not need EU membership or the EEA Agreement – most people would not notice any great difference if we joined the European Union as a full member, stayed right out or kept the half-in, half-out solution we have at the moment, according to researchers at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI). Centre Party leader Åslaug Haga has welcomed the report with open arms, while the European Commission’s ambassador to Norway, Gerhard Sabathil, dismissed the analysis as an “academic exercise”. The most interesting insight contained in the NUPI report is that other, weightier political forces guide social developments than way we organize our affiliation with the EU. This may be a healthy starting point for any new debate on EU membership. The doomsday scenarios that both sides have served up in previous rounds of debate on membership have been of little benefit. But Mr Sabathil is probably right in saying the report reflects the fact that it was written in Oslo and not Brussels. Norway would not meet a sympathetically inclined opposite number if we were to terminate the EEA Agreement and attempt to negotiate terms that were more or less as good, but sheltered us from the disadvantages of being run from Brussels. It took Switzerland ten years to negotiate a deal with the EU, and Norway is not Switzerland. You only have to look at a map. Norway is on the European periphery. We have oil and fish, but that is all we have. Pulling out of the EEA Agreement is therefore possible, but extremely risky. Only the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party want to take that chance. For the foreseeable future, Norway’s choice will be between full membership of the EU and the EEA Agreement. Going solo could be a theoretically interesting alternative – but not much more.