Norway seeks mandate to sell SAS stake

A decision by the Norwegian government on Friday to seek permission to sell its stake in SAS has no impact on Sweden's stance on the possible sale of its shares in the Scandinavian airline.

Norway seeks mandate to sell SAS stake

“Our plan remains to decrease our ownership stake in SAS when the time is right,” Victoria Ericsson, a spokesperson for Swedish financial markets minister Peter Norman, told The Local on Friday.

Norway’s ministry of industry and trade presented a report to the Norwegian parliament on Friday which highlighted the difficulties facing SAS.

“In this context, it is appropriate to seek a new industrial solution for SAS,” the ministry said in its ownership report, according to the Reuters news agency.

“SAS continues to face a number of challenges which they are likely to best meet with an industrial partner as owners.”

Speaking with reporters, Norwegian trade minister Trond Giske said the government no longer saw ownership of SAS as “necessary to ensure good airline coverage”, although he refused to say whether the government in Norway had received any indications of interest in its SAS shares.

Norway currently owns 14.29 percent of the troubled Scandinavian airline, which has long been the subject of rumours about a possible takeover.

In December, SAS shares soared on speculation that Lufthansa, already an SAS partner on some routes, was set to make a bid for the airline in early 2011.

So far, however, no deal has materialised.

In early 2010, the Swedish government sought and received approval from the Riksdag to reduce its holdings in SAS at an “opportune moment”.

Now the government in Oslo is seeking a similar mandate from the Norwegian parliament.

In Sweden, the mandate to sell the state’s shares in SAS is part of a wider privatisation programme initiated by the centre-right Alliance government.

While parts of the Swedish government’s sell-off plans suffered a blow following a recent parliamentary vote revoking permission to sell stakes in a number of state-owned companies, the possible sale of Sweden’s 21.4 percent stake in SAS wasn’t affected by the move.

According to Ericsson, Sweden also plans to consult its Scandinavian partners in the event of a sale of SAS shares.

“If and when we decrease our ownership stake, that decision will be done in dialogue with other major partners, Denmark and Norway,” said Ericsson.

Together, the three Scandinavian countries own more than 50 percent of SAS.

Ericsson however refused to comment on whether there were any concrete plans in the works to sell Sweden’s stake in SAS, or to elaborate on what exactly the finance ministry would consider to be an “opportune time”.

Norway’s trade minister also emphasised his government’s plans to carry out any SAS sale in cooperation with Sweden and Denmark, adding that Norway was in no rush to sell.

“Such situations can come up quickly, and we want to be ready to act quickly if something happens,” Giske told reporters, according to Swedish business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

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‘We agree to disagree’: Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

By lunchtime on Friday, talks between the Scandinavian airline SAS and unions representing striking pilots were still stuck on "difficult issues".

'We agree to disagree': Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

“We agree that we disagree,” Roger Klokset, from the Norwegian pilots’ union, said at lunchtime outside the headquarters of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise in Stockholm, where talks are taking place. “We are still working to find a solution, and so long as there is still some point in continuing negotiations, we will do that.” 

Mats Ruland, a mediator for the Norwegian government, said that there were “still several difficult issues which need to be solved”. 

At 1pm on Friday, the two sides took a short break from the talks for lunch, after starting at 9am. On Thursday, they negotiated for 15 hours, breaking off at 1am on Friday morning. 

READ ALSO: What’s the latest on the SAS plane strike?

Marianne Hernæs, SAS’s negotiator on Friday told journalists she was tired after sitting at the negotiating table long into the night. 

“We need to find a model where we can meet in the middle and which can ensure that we pull in the income that we are dependent on,” she said. 

Klokset said that there was “a good atmosphere” in the talks, and that the unions were sticking together to represent their members.

“I think we’ve been extremely flexible so far. It’s ‘out of this world’,’ said Henrik Thyregod, with the Danish pilots’ union. 

“This could have been solved back in December if SAS had not made unreasonable demands on the pilots,” Klokset added. 

The strike, which is now in its 12th day, has cost SAS up to 130m kronor a day, with 2,550 flights cancelled by Thursday, affecting 270,000 passengers.