Center Party blasts productivity moves

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Norway’s small, rural-oriented Center Party has, as expected, blasted proposals presented this week that are aimed at boosting productivity. The party’s leader called them “an attack on Norwegian society.”

Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, Norway's agriculture minister from the small Center Party, has been called "unbelievably arrogant" by members of the EU Parliament who normally support Norway on EU matters. They now think Norway has gone too far in protecting its farmers at the expense of consumers and fair trade. PHOTO: Landbruks departementet

Trygve Slagsvold Vedum is a former agriculture minister who now leads the small Center Party, backed mostly by farmers and other rural interests. They’re clearly threatened by how a professional commission appointed by the government has pinpointed the high costs and inefficiency that hurts productivity in Norway. PHOTO: Landbruks departementet

Trygve Slagsvold Vedum claimed that the proposals of a professional commission, appointed by the government to help Norway get more out of its huge public sector investment, would result in “massive centralization.” Vedum, whose party fights for decentralization and heavy investment in Norway’s outlying areas, warned that the commission’s proposals, if enacted, would close more local hospitals and schools and “centralize use of transportation funding.” His party traditionally lobbies hard for such things as road improvements and bridge projects in remote areas instead of in or around cities, believing that will help keep the remote areas populated.

The commission urged the government to move forward with more investment in Norwegian cities, especially regional cities, where people actually live and need better public transportation systems, schools and other key infrastructure. “Cities are more productive,” stated commission leader Jørn Rattsø, a professor at NTNU in Trondheim. He also said there was “huge potential” for boosting efficiency and productivity in the public sector, within agriculture and the food industry.

While that gives Finance Minister Siv Jensen and other members of the minority conservative government ammunition to pursue their policies of deregulation, it threatens politicians like Vedum, who want to protect farmers from market competition, maintain their high levels of subsidy and constantly divert state funding to areas far from city centers. His small party, which won just 5.5 percent of the vote in the last national election, has enjoyed a disproportionate degree of power over the years and now feels threatened.

Labour liked the commission’s report
While the Center Party and its parliamentarian leader Marit Arnstad blasted the commission’s report presented on Tuesday, it won support from the Labour Party and trade union confederation LO. Labour leaders called the commission’s report “a good basis for debate on productivity,” and said that it offered a “good description of the current situation” in Norway, where major public capital investment projects are plagued by excessively high costs, delays and which often favour local interests over the state.

The Liberal Party is likely to embrace many aspects of the report while its fellow government support party, the Christian Democrats, was cautious in its evaluation: “We will listen to the recommendations on productive transport investments and how regional cities can be more effective,” said Hans Olav Syversen, an MP for the Christian Democrats who heads the parliament’s finance committee. “We will caution against setting aside all other considerations, like our goals for having rural areas that are alive and active agriculture all over the country.”

Finance Minister Jensen, who formally received the report Tuesday on behalf of the government, said “there was something un-Norwegian about wasting money, and we want to use the taxpayers’ money better.” The commission’s next report will detail more concrete proposals to improve productivity. It’s due next year.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund