1999 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.0
Civil Liberties: 1
Political Rights: 1

Overview

Since 1997 Norway has been ruled by a minority coalition of center-right parties led by the Christian People's Party. The alliance, that also includes the Liberal Party and the Center Party, commands barely a quarter of the seats in the 165-seat Storting (parliament). Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, a Lutheran clergyman, continues to head one of the weakest governments in Europe. It remains in power mostly because of Norway's economic prosperity: The price of oil, Norway's main export, has increased, and unemployment remains at a comfortable 2.5 percent level. The poor showing during the September municipal elections of Norway's traditionally dominant Labor Party reflected the party's diminishing popularity among voters and the weakened position of its leader, Thorbjorn Jagland.

Although two out of three coalition members are opposed to membership in the European Union, Norway enjoys nearly full access to the EU's single market through membership in the European Economic Area. The resignation in March of Deputy Prime Minister Anne Enger Lahnstein, the leading opponent of the EU membership, may have reflected the changing attitudes towards the issue: opinion polls in 1999 suggest that unlike before, most Norwegians now favor joining the EU.

The Eisvold Convention, Norway's current constitution, was adopted during a period of de facto independence immediately prior to the acceptance of the Swedish monarch as king of Norway in 1814. After the peaceful dissolution of its relationship with the Swedish crown, Norway chose a sovereign from a Danish royal house and began to function as a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty parliamentary structure.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Norwegians can change their government democratically. The Storting is directly elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage and proportional representation. It then selects one quarter of its members to serve as the upper chamber (Lagting). Neither body is subject to dissolution.

Freedom of press is constitutionally guaranteed, and many newspapers are subsidized by the state in order to promote political pluralism. The majority of newspapers are privately owned and openly partisan. Norway has one of the highest rates of Internet users per capita in the world.

Since 1989 the approximately 20,000-strong Lappic (Saamic) minority has elected an autonomous, 39-member assembly that functions as an advisory body on issues such as regional control of natural resources and preservation of Saami culture. On February 10, the government established the Center for Combating Ethnic Discrimination to provide legal aid to persons exposed to discrimination on grounds of religion, race, national or ethnic origin.

In recent years there have been some instances of xenophobic and nationalist sentiments. The leader of the far-rightist Progress Party, Carl Hagen, demanded that the number of immigrants granted asylum in Norway be reduced. Although 5.5 percent of Norway's population is of foreign origin, most foreigners come from northern Europe. Only about 10,000 asylum seekers enter the country each year. On January 15 the government introduced new, more flexible guidelines for handling applications for political asylum. In 1999, Norway was the third-largest contributor to the budget of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees, following the United States and Japan.

The state finances the Evangelical Lutheran Church, in which more than 90 percent of the population hold at least nominal membership. The law requires that the monarch and at least half of the cabinet be Lutheran. In October, some 6,000 people demonstrated in Oslo against the removal of comparative religion from the school curriculum after it was replaced with one giving greater emphasis on Christianity.

The constitution guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the rights to strike. Sixty percent of the workforce belongs to the unions, which are free from government control. The Norwegian federation of Trade Unions (LO), established 100 years ago, has about 850,000 members and is closely linked to the Labor Party. According to the International Labor Organization, Norwegian employees put in, on average, fewer hours than other Europeans.

The independent judiciary system is headed by a supreme court and operates at the local and national levels. Judges are appointed by the king under advisement from the ministry of justice.

Women's rights are legally protected. In the Storting, women hold approximately 40 percent of the seats, more than in any other national assembly. Nevertheless, only one percent of the excutives of Norways' 500 largest enterprises are women; in the public sector the figure is 11 percent.

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