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Blue-yellow settlement of Norwegian democracy

The Bondevik government wants to use the GATS negotiations to liquidate important parts of Norwegian democracy – in an alley.


The Government has converted recent majority decisions in the Storting into Norwegian offers to other countries in the negotiations on trade in services (GATS). Through GATS, controversial Storting decisions will be locked for all time to come – unless there is another majority in the Storting on 12 September.

Norwegian society has turned dramatically in the market liberal direction since 1980. The Bondevik government has been pushing market liberal reforms on field after field in a momentum that has outmaneuvered all effective resistance in society. With the support of the Progress Party, the government has had a majority for a market liberalism that generations of Right-wing politicians could only dream of.

If there is no new majority in the Storting, future generations of voters can look far to liquidate important parts of this market liberalism. This is to be ensured by GATS, the WTO Agreement on Trade in Services.

Offers on behalf of Norway – for all time to come

In March 2003, the government – after strong pressure from SV and the Center Party – presented an overview of what Norway offers other countries in the negotiations on trade in services (GATS). What characterizes the offer is that changes in the law in the market liberal direction will be turned into irreparable obligations for any future Norwegian government.

In GATS, the main rule is that countries that undertake to open a service area to foreign competition can never reverse that decision. The same applies when the country undertakes to treat foreign and domestic companies equally in a service area. All such obligations are written down in what in GATS is called the country's "Schedule".

When the GATS was established in 1994, the Brundtland government imposed such obligations for most types of private service. It gave us almost a world record of a binding list. In 2003, the Bondevik government took a long step further.

Never more 1917

In 1917, the Storting passed a licensing law (the Industrial Licensing Act) which ensured strict control over how foreign capital could behave in Norwegian business and industry. This law was of course in conflict with the EEA rules – and in 1994 was replaced by the so-called Business Act.

The Acquisition Act eliminated all discrimination between foreign and domestic companies and introduced a duty to notify in lieu of the obligation to grant licenses in connection with major investments in Norwegian industries. But in 2002, this law was also removed from the Norwegian legislation.

In 2003, the Bondevik government offered the rest of the world to remove all restrictions on establishments and investments from abroad from the Norwegian binding list in GATS. This means that such restrictions can never be introduced again. Or to put it even more clearly: In this area, Norwegian democracy must be abolished for all time to come.

LO laid flat

Even such an innocent law as the Business Act can never be reintroduced into Norwegian law. LO should have known this in 1990 when LO's supervisory board made the following demands on the EEA agreement: “In the light of the EEA negotiations, the licensing laws must be expanded to ensure social management of business policy, promote societal interests and ensure state influence on and control of the ownership structure in business. The legislation must be made an appropriate tool and improved to safeguard against acquisitions from abroad that aim to take over technology without continuing production."

If there is not a red-green majority on 12 September, LO can forget all such wishes. A central part of the political struggle in Norway can be called off for good.

Job placement and job rental

In 1994, Norway reported to GATS that there was a state monopoly on employment services and that the hiring out of labor was prohibited. Exemption could be granted for rent for office, accounting and secretarial work. Norway had full access to continue this within GATS – when we had only reported on it.

Both the monopoly on employment services and the ban on hiring out labor have since been removed from Norwegian legislation, and in the government's GATS offer to other countries, these restrictions were removed.

Never again

It may seem innocent enough. But there is a huge difference between changing Norwegian law in such a direction and committing ourselves in GATS for all time to guarantee full market access and national treatment for foreign companies when it comes to job placement and hiring of labor.

A Norwegian law can be changed at any time by a Storting that wants to change it. A GATS obligation binds all future Storting. Regardless of what Norwegian voters may want, the future Storting will never be able to consider introducing restrictions on the right to run a job agency or hire out labor.

Sale of electricity

The Bondevik government will use GATS to ensure that foreign companies will have access to negotiate and sell electricity in Norway for all time to come – provided that the companies are established in Norway. This means that they will be allowed to sell electricity on an equal footing with Norwegian-owned companies. The offer applies to both wholesale and sales to end users.

If this was the only entry foreign companies could get into the Norwegian power industry, the consequences would not have to be dramatic. But any foreign company that establishes itself with weight in the sale of electricity will be able to use this as a basis for buying into power plants and networks. As on all other points, it is irreparable what the government is now offering other WTO countries.

It does not make it any better that the government has also proposed to abolish the restitution scheme – so that municipalities with tight finances may feel compelled to sell to the highest bidder, even if they are large foreign energy groups.

The entire service chain for oil and gas

As if that were not enough, the Bondevik government offers on a permanent basis market access and equal treatment for foreign service providers to “the entire service chain for energy, from exploration and drilling to transport, distribution and sales“. The only reservation is that it will happen "in accordance with current practice".

It seems innocent that the offer should be “in accordance with current practice", But it means that current practice can never be tightened – no matter what experiences we make sometime in the future.

Open pipelines forever

The government offers full market access and equal treatment for companies that want to transport oil or gas in pipelines. The only restriction that is imposed is that a license is required to build and own upstream pipelines.

This is in accordance with the conditions that companies from EEA countries have as a result of the EU Gas Market Directive. When the government offers a similar obligation in GATS, it means that companies from all WTO countries must have the same rights as EEA countries – and that Norway cannot limit these rights even if we opt out of the EEA.

If you are in doubt about whether you want to abolish Norwegian democracy in all these areas, you have only one way out. You must vote red-green on 12 September.

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