25 June 2003


Bondevik believes brighter days are on their way (Dagsavisen)

Despite the storm clouds hanging low overhead, the prime minister was in optimistic mood yesterday when he met the press at Sem Gjestegård to sum up his government’s first eighteen months in office. “We are now able to see the glimmer of brighter days on the horizon,” said Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. The PM is worried that unemployment will continue to rise somewhat before levelling off and then dropping back down again. The optimism being reported by sections of industry could be the crucial turning point for new investments. The PM himself said he was “fairly surprised” by how much of the Government’s inaugural declaration, announced at the same Sem Gjestegård at which yesterday’s press conference was held, had been implemented in just a year and a half. “We have achieved a large number of visible results,” said Mr Bondevik. He emphasized the fact that the Government has pushed through its policies with more or less equal support from the Progress Party, Labour Party and Socialist Left Party. According to Mr Bondevik, the coalition’s policies are working. Interest rates have been cut by two percentage points and the value of the Norwegian krone has fallen. “We have not abandoned any of our original objectives. The roads sector is one of the areas in which we have achieved least,” said Mr Bondevik in response to a question from the Newspapers’ News Agency (ANB).

Little support for police chief’s call for tougher immigration policy (NTB)

Arne Huuse, head of the National Bureau of Crime Investigation, has received little support from politicians and special interest groups for his proposal on Tuesday to restrict immigration in order to curb crime levels. “We are constantly talking about integrating our new countrymen, but when they do not follow Norwegian norms and rules, it becomes a problem,” said Mr Huuse in an interview with the newspaper Dagbladet. Local Government and Regional Affairs Minister Erna Solberg (Con) was among those who criticized Mr Huuse’s comments. She said that Mr Huuse should move from the general to the specific, and define what measures should be implemented. Ms Solberg’s position was backed by two of her cabinet colleagues, Minister of Justice Odd Einar Dørum (Lib) and the Prime Minister himself, Kjell Magne Bondevik (Chr.Dem). “There has been an alarming rise in the level of crime, including robbery, assault and murder. Some of this occurs in immigrant communities, and this is something the Government takes extremely seriously. But it must not lead us to tar all immigrants with the same brush,” said Mr Bondevik. Among those who publicly supported Mr Huuse’s comments on Tuesday was Arne Johannessen, leader of the Police Union. He said he was glad that Mr Huuse had spoken out.

Hagen accuses PM of being naive (nrk.no)

Carl I. Hagen, chairman of the Progress Party, has accused Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik of being naive in proposing that immigrant crime can be dealt with through education and integration. “I am afraid that Mr Bondevik is one of those mainly responsible for the naive and overly indulgent integration policy that has been pursued over the past 15-20 years,” said Mr Hagen, who feels we are now seeing the consequences of this failure. “The fine words he is reeling off now are without basis in fact. He has just cut public expenditure in the budget and slashed funding for deporting refugees who should not be here,” said Mr Hagen. Knut A. Storberget, the Labour Party’s representative on the Storting’s Justice Committee, claims that Mr Hagen is completely wrong if he thinks that immigrant integration is not important. “The reason that we have had so few problems in Norway is that we have made a conscious effort to prevent them happening,” said Mr Storberget. The immigration issue has been hotly debated in the past few days, following the murder of an 83-year-old woman in Haugesund and a shooting at Gardermoen airport at the weekend.

8,000 appealed, 10 granted asylum (Klassekampen)

According to the Immigration Appeals Board’s yearbook for 2001/2002, 8,185 asylum seekers lodged an appeal with the board after their application for asylum had been turned down. A total of 336 appeals were successful – 10 people were granted asylum, while the rest were given leave to stay in Norway on humanitarian grounds. In 2002, 332 people were granted asylum in Norway, 2,958 were granted leave to stay on humanitarian grounds and 9,066 applications were turned down. 3,763 asylum seekers did not have their applications processed at all, but were sent back to the first country in which they had applied for asylum, or to the country in which their visas had been made out.

Parties warned not to move too fast on EU membership (Dagsavisen)

Progress Party chairman Carl I. Hagen has warned the Conservative Party and the Labour Party not to take for granted that his party will back an application for EU membership after the next general election. “Jan Petersen and Jens Stoltenberg should learn not to take the Progress Party for granted in any situation that is not specifically included in our manifesto,” said Mr Hagen. He refused to reveal how he would respond in a situation in which the Conservatives and Labour needed his help over EU membership. “It is such a hypothetical situation that I will not torment my head with such questions this summer,” said Mr Hagen.

Norwegian troops to Iraq without mandate (Dagbladet)

The first contingent of Norwegian soldiers will leave for Iraq tomorrow. But the agreement with Britain on how they will be deployed remains to be finalized. The Government will therefore probably not manage to pass a formal resolution to send them until after the first soldiers have actually set foot on Iraqi soil. “It is true that the Government still has not passed a final resolution on this matter, but that will happen in the very near future. But that is just a formality. The decision in principle has already been made,” said Kåre Helland-Olsen, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence. When sending Norwegian troops abroad, the Government has not previously divided its resolutions into a formal and a substantive element. On the contrary, the Foreign Ministry underlined that all necessary government decisions and the agreement with Britain would be in place before Norwegian soldiers arrived in Iraq. These conditions obviously no longer apply. The first contingent of troops are leaving before the legitimacy of their position in Iraq has been clarified.

Norwegian salmon industry in crisis (Aftenposten)

Norway’s salmon farming industry is on the verge of collapse. Optimistic forecasts of an imminent rise in prices have not materialized. The price of salmon is now as low as NOK 17 per kilo. Most salmon farmers are struggling to service their debts, and the industry as a whole owes more than NOK 20 billion. Dåfjord Laks went into liquidation yesterday. Without major restructuring, a number of other salmon producers could share the same fate.

Iceland could block Norway in Brussels (Aftenposten)

Norway’s ploy to get the EU to accept what remains of the scheme by which the rate of employers’ national insurance contributions differs according to their geographical location, could be blocked by Iceland. The Norwegian attempt to use the EEA Agreement’s exception clause, which has never before been invoked, puts the relationship between the EU and EFTA member, Norway, into unknown territory. Norway wants to sideline the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), which, for its part, is monitoring the situation carefully. Norway intends to use an exception clause contained in the EEA Agreement’s Oda protocol to set aside both the ESA and the EFTA court. Norway believes that this exception could be made permanent. Norway is dependent on the three EFTA countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, unanimously agreeing to invoke the rare exception clause in the Oda protocol. It is here that Norway is now encountering unexpected problems with Iceland.

Worth Noting

  • Environment Minister Børge Brende is warning people not to think that the battle to stop radioactive emissions from the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Britain has been won. “The battle continues,” he said. “All that has happened is that the British authorities have urged the owners of the Sellafied installation to halt emissions for a period of nine months. We do not know how the owners will respond. Obviously, our objective is a permanent halt to emissions.”
  • People in Norway are carrying around the fewest excess kilos in the western world. Only six per cent of the Norwegian population can be described as overweight. Nevertheless, the kilos are steadily piling on, in line with the national health service’s expenditure. Norway spends the most money on its public health service, NOK 22,700 per head in 2001, according to an OECD study. But SINTEF Unimed claims that the billions spent on public healthcare do not give a good enough return on investment.
  • After a strenuous round of lobbying, Norsk Hydro has succeeded in winning the contract to build the gas pipeline from the Ormen Lange field to the gas terminal at Easington in southern England. This is a prestigious and important contract for the company.
  • Drug abuse is on the rise in Norway’s regional areas. Last year, 60 per cent of drug seizures were made in regional areas, according to figures released by the National Bureau of Crime Investigation.
  • The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has criticized Norway because far too few rape cases are taken to court and the perpetrator convicted. The statistics confirm that the CSW’s complaint is well founded. Of 635 rapes reported to the police in 2001, charges were brought in only one in 10 cases, with just over half of the trials ending in a conviction.
  • Bad news for job seekers – only one in five companies is planning to take on new staff in the next year, according to the Directorate of Labour’s annual survey, which was published yesterday.
    (Verdens Gang)
  • Norwegian missionary organizations are focusing on Central Asia. Both Normisjon and the Norwegian Lutheran Mission are turning their attention to Central Asia. Rolf Kjøde, head of Normisjon’s international department has confirmed that Cambodia and Kyrgyzstan are two of several countries considered to have potential.
    (Vårt Land)

Today’s comment from Dagsavisen

A confident and satisfied prime minister yesterday summed up the Government’s achievements after having piloted two national budgets through the Storting. Kjell Magne Bondevik’s government is well on the way to implementing most of the promises included in its inaugural declaration. Yesterday, the PM declared that fighting unemployment and improving the situation for business and industry would be the Government’s most important areas of focus in the coming period. The voters, on the other hand, are not pleased with Mr Bondevik’s second administration. While the Conservatives, Christian Democrats and Liberals won a combined 37.5 per cent of the vote at the 2001 general election, current opinion polls indicate that they will do badly in the local elections to be held in September. There are several reasons why the ruling coalition parties do not appeal to the voters. The Government appears to be a Conservative-dominated project at a time when most people seem to be more community oriented. Nor has the Government succeeded in doing anything significant to cut the high rate of unemployment. That may not go unpunished. Two years with Kjell Magne Bondevik at the helm of a minority coalition shows that the country needs a government whose relations with the Storting are clearly spelled out. However, it does help that the PM is a capable political operator, who has so far managed to steer smoothly between the parties and keep clear of Carl I. Hagen’s threats. As long as the Labour Party is not ready to take over the reins of government, Mr Bondevik will remain in the saddle – though his grip may not be too firm.