Conflicts of interest ram Center Party

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Ola Borten Moe is a former Oil & Energy Minister for the Center Party who now leads its program committee heading into the next national election. He’s also attracting questions of conflicts of interest, since he’s gone into the oil business himself while also seeking benefits for small oil companies like his own and calling for cuts in incentives for electric cars.

Ola Borten Moe was widely viewed as bullish on the oil industry while he served as Oil & Energy Minister for the Center Party, which otherwise tries to maintain an environmentally oriented profile despite its opposition to wolves. Now Moe works in the oil industry himself, while leading his party’s program committee that’s proposing major cuts in electric car incentives. That’s set off questions of conflicts of interest and left him “completely without credibility,” according to environmental advocate Frederic Hauge. PHOTO: Olje- og energi departementet

Moe is among the founders of oil company Okea, which has a small stake in the Ivar Aasen oil field and is keen on further expansion. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported last month that Moe wrote a letter to current Oil Minister Terje Søviknes and Finance Minister Siv Jensen, both of the Progress Party, asking for a meeting to discuss “increased value creation for activity on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.” Moe proposed several means of “making life easier for small oil company start-ups like Okea,” DN wrote, especially regarding the purchase of stakes in oil fields and discoveries, but his request for the meeting was turned down.

This week DN reported that Moe now wants to cut back on Norway’s incentives to buy electric cars, especially expensive Tesla models. His proposals, to be discussed at this weekend’s annual national meeting of the increasingly offensive Center Party, would replace electric vehicles’ automatic exemption from Norway’s VAT and high one-time tax on new car purchases (which often double the manufacturer’s list price of a vehicle) with a flat subsidy amount. That would make the purchase of a Tesla and other high-end electric cars, for example, several hundred-thousand kroner more expensive than they are at present.

Electric car owners ‘must start paying more’
Moe argues the current exemption promotes “luxury consumption.” There were no objections to all the electric car incentives that were ushered in during the former left-center government in which Moe himself served, when electric cars were modest little vehicles with limited range. Once the high-end models like Teslas became popular, such incentives suddenly were viewed as socially unacceptable for the Center and Labour parties, the latter of which has already proposed limiting tax exemptions on electric cars to around NOK 500,000.

“We want to go further,” Moe claimed on behalf of his Center Party program committee. Only those buying modest, lower-range electric cars would receive full tax exemptions, while “the rest must start paying more.” He also wants to start charging parking fees for electric cars, forbid them from using Norway’s special lanes of traffic set aside for public transport and taxis, and at least let local governments decide on other restrictions.

Moe doesn’t have full support for his crackdown on electric vehicles within his own party, though, and now he’s facing tough questions from other politicians and, not least, the head of environmental organization Bellona. Neither Bellona boss Frederic Hauge, who has promoted and worked closely with Tesla for years because of their zero emissions and advanced technology, nor Member of Parliament Heikki Holmås of the Socialist Left party, which is one of Norway’s few firmly anti-oil parties, can understand how Moe can even be involved in forming the Center Party’s electric car policy when he’s involved in an oil company himself.

Bellona boss Frederic Hauge is among those questioning Moe’s roles as both “oil man” and leader of the Center Party’s program committee, which is proposing cuts in incentives to buy electric cars. PHOTO: Bellona

“Ola Borten Moe is completely without credibility when he asks the current (conservative) government for benefits for oil companies like his own, at the same time that he seeks cuts in incentives for electric cars,” Hauge told DN.

Hauge was deeply provoked by what he calls Moe’s “use of the Center Party’s program work to once again oppose Norway’s electric vehicle policies.” He claimed Norway’s incentives for consumers to choose electric cars over those using fossil fuels have promoted a technological shift that is meant to reduce demand for what Moe produces: oil.

Heikki Holmås of SV also questions Moe’s role in forming policy for his party. “I think Ola’s roles as program committee leader and oil man are interesting,” Holmås told DN. “The quick roll-out of more electric cars is the biggest threat to the price of oil. Therefore it’s not surprising that an oil man wants to stop the electric car revolution.”

Moe defended his positions, claiming he was not seeking subsidies for his own oil company and that his party supports electric cars but wants to more widely spread the benefits of incentives for them. “It’s better to give support (via tax exemptions) to five families who buy a Kia Soul, than to one family who buys a Tesla,” Moe told DN. He also suggested that neither Norwegian electric car policies nor support for his company will have much direct effect on reversing climate change.

Hauge remained firm in his stance: “With all of his strong self-interests, Ola Borten Moe should never have been made leader of the program committee’s work for the Center Party. It plays a powerful role in how the party will vote at its annual meeting.”

Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum told DN that he sees no problems with having Moe as program committee leader. “Ola is a deputy leader of the party and there’s a tradition that one of the deputy leaders also leads the program committee,” Vedum said. “What’s good about Ola is that he challenges accepted truths. I also have the impression that there’s been a good process behind the committee’s work as we head into our annual meeting.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund