27 June 2003


270,000 voters have switched from no to yes on EU membership (Aftenposten) 

Over 270,000 voters have changed their minds in the past year, moving directly from no to yes on EU membership, according to a recent poll of Aftenposten’s regular panel of voters, carried out by the market research company Opinion. The greatest surprise comes from the fact that opposition to EU membership has fallen most sharply in the traditional bastions of Euroscepticism, the Christian Democratic Party and the Socialist Left Party. It is also among Socialist Left Party supporters that the largest number of undecided voters are to be found; people who do not know what they would vote if there were a referendum on the issue tomorrow. People living in Oslo and Bergen are most positive to EU membership. But even in the north of Norway, a majority of voters now want Norway to join the EU. The poll shows 56 per cent in favour, 35 per cent against and 9 per cent don’t knows.

EU could block Statkraft expansion (Dagsavisen)

The EU could block the Storting’s plans to let state-owned power utility Statkraft take control of an even bigger slice of the Norwegian electricity market. The Government believes the Storting’s resolution could be in breach of the EEA Agreement. The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) is also considering whether to intervene. The opposition parties in the Storting recently instructed the Government to allocate NOK 10 billion to enable Statkraft to acquire a stronger position in the Norwegian electricity market. The Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party intended that the additional billions being transferred to Statkraft’s coffers would ensure that the power company Hafslund remained in Norwegian hands if it were to be put up for sale. According to Labour and Government Administration Minister Victor D. Norman, the legislative amendment which would make the funding allocation possible could also cause problems for the parliamentary majority. Despite this, however, the amendment will be approved at today’s Council of State.

Norwegian forces in Iraq will not play front-line role (NTB)

The 150-strong Norwegian contingent will be in place in Basra, southern Iraq, at the start of July. Its mission will be humanitarian and technical, according to Thom Krustad, a spokesman for the Joint Operations Headquarters at Jåttå, near Stavanger. Krustad dismissed recent media reports that the Norwegian soldiers are travelling to Iraq without a specific mission. “We have a clear political mandate. The force is limited to 150 men, and will be engaged primarily in humanitarian operations. It is true that the force will be under British command, but it is not equipped to participate in front-line operations,” said Krustad. Most of those on their way to Iraq have similar experience from operations in Lebanon, Kosovo or Afghanistan.

Pressure on Norwegian farmers intensifies (Nationen)

EU agriculture ministers have reached agreement on wide-ranging agricultural reforms. Norwegian farmers fear that this will make it more difficult to gain acceptance for their views in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The fundamental principle of the reform, which EU agriculture ministers agreed in the early hours of yesterday morning, is that farm subsidies should not be tied as tightly as before to the level of output. Each individual farmer shall receive the same amount of support, regardless of how many animals they have, or how many acres they till. A new agricultural reform could be the factor that leads to movement in the WTO negotiations, and that movement could go in a direction that Norwegian farmers do not like.

Call for oil money to be invested in Norway (Aftenposten)

The Norwegian Financial Services Association (FNH) is calling for part of the Government Petroleum Fund to be invested in Norway. Since its inception the Petroleum Fund has only been allowed to invest in foreign shares and bonds. A panel of experts, the so-called Holden Commission, which was tasked with investigating operating conditions for those companies facing foreign competition, concluded that the Petroleum Fund should be invested abroad. The FNH now believes that the fund should be allowed to invest some of its assets in Norway. Norwegian investment managers have long complained that the vast majority of the fund’s investments are handled by foreign investment companies.

Merger could be torpedoed (Dagens Næringsliv)

The Norwegian Competition Authority will probably set tough conditions for the merger between Den norske Bank (DnB) and Gjensidige Nor. The authority is currently studying three European banking mergers. They were subsequently abandoned; the conditions were too tough. Those who think that the Competition Authority’s review of the DnB Nor merger is merely a formality, could be sadly mistaken. The authority is due to announce its provisional conclusion sometime before 19 August. But it is already clear  that the four officials who are working full-time on the DnB Nor merger think that the merged banking services group will have an alarmingly strong position in the Norwegian market.

Labour could be biggest party after autumn elections (Dagsavisen)

Support for the Labour Party is growing, and it looks as though Labour could win a much bigger slice of the vote than any of the other parties at this autumn’s local elections, according to a poll carried out by AC Nielsen on behalf of the Newspapers’ News Agency (ANB). Far fewer people say they will vote for the Progress Party or the Socialist Left Party in a local election, compared with a general election. However, both parties have made gains, and have more support now than at the last local elections in 1999. Despite a drop in support, the Conservatives are doing considerably better than in polls asking voters to say what they would vote in a general election. The Progress Party is the biggest loser, with only 15.8 per cent of those polled saying they would vote for it if local elections had been held today. This represents a ‘loss’ for the party of 8.5 percentage points.

Worth Noting

  • Employers in Finnmark and North Troms will retain their exemption from paying employers’ national insurance contributions, after agreement was reached between EFTA countries Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, according to Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss. The exemption has been secured by the EFTA countries exercising, for the first time ever, an exception clause in the EEA Agreement which sets aside the authority of the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA).
  • On Monday, Russia and Norway are due to sign an agreement on the decommissioning of Russia’s crumbling nuclear submarines, reports the Interfax news agency. Norway will pay for the submarines to be dismantled and turned into scrap metal.
  • Experts agree that interest rates will fall another one percentage point to 3 per cent in August. There is also broad agreement that interest rates will remain low for a long time to come. By the end of the summer, mortgage rates could have crept down to just over 4 per cent, the lowest level in modern times. Mortgage rates are unlikely to rise above 6.5 per cent in the next ten years.
  • In the 1990s, local authorities focused strongly on environmental issues and hired their own environmental protection officers. According to a recent report, environmental protection is the area local authorities are cutting back on in their efforts to save money. In 1996, 420 out of 435 local authorities in Norway had an environment protection officer on staff. By 2000, that figure had dropped to 117. Last year the number of environment protection officers employed by local authorities was down to 91, the same number as when the push to strengthen environmental awareness at local authority level began in earnest.
  • The 12th Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) opened in Trondheim on Thursday. 800 delegates are attending the Assembly, which is the largest ecumenical gathering ever to take place on Norwegian soil.

Today’s comment from Nationen

The first Norwegian soldiers departed for Iraq yesterday. Their mandate is unclear, and it is even more unclear what they will actually do there. Nevertheless, their mission remains hazardous. In the past few weeks there have been a number of attacks on British and American soldiers, and several have been killed. This illustrates Iraqi resistance to an occupation with which, regardless of what we say, Norway is now being identified. The Norwegian troops are not going as UN soldiers, even though the Government believes their mission is well enough blessed by the UN Security Council for their mandate to be legitimized under international law. They will work together with the British. From a Norwegian point of view, collaborating with the American occupation forces would have been perceived as a bigger liability. But from an Iraqi point of view, the British are not necessarily a better option. Britain has been in Iraq before – as a colonial power. The question is why Norway should be blundering into this quagmire, with a force so small as to be merely symbolic. For what symbolic purpose are we sticking out our necks here, apart from demonstratively giving support to those who started the war? As so many other people have said in the debate on our participation – it would have been better to contribute to the UN’s efforts in Africa. The Norwegian mission in Iraq is being touted as a combination of military and humanitarian operations. It is naive to believe that Norway, with a military presence on the ground, will not be perceived as an enemy. This in turn confirms the unclear and contradictory nature of Norway’s international engagement. It cannot possibly be wise for a small country to play such an ambiguous role on the world stage.