Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1
Status: Free
Population: 4,600,000
GNI/Capita: $35,630
Life Expectancy: 79
Religious Groups: Norwegian, Sami (20,000)
Ethnic Groups: Evangelical Lutheran (86 percent), other christian [including Pentecostal and Roman Catholic] (3 percent), none and unknown (11 percent) other Christian (2.4 percent), Muslim (1.8 percent), other (8.1 percent)
Capital: Oslo


Police campaigned against a neo-Nazi organization in October 2003, fearing that the group might turn to violence. Norway's new marriage law, which requires that both partners agree that they have equal right to a divorce, was criticized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Following Denmark's rule from 1450 to 1814, Norway enjoyed a brief spell of independence during which the Eisvold Convention, Norway's current constitution, was adopted. Subsequently, Norway became part of a Swedish-headed monarchy. Norway gained independence in 1905 and has since functioned as a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty parliamentary structure.

The current, center-right government took power in October 2001 after the Labor Party suffered its worst election result in 90 years. The ruling coalition is made up of the Conservative Party, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party, which together hold 122 seats. Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Christian Democratic Party is in his second term as prime minister. However, the largest party in parliament remains the Labor Party, with 43 seats. Under the constitutional monarchy, King Harald ascended to the throne in 1991.

Norwegian citizens narrowly rejected European Union (EU) membership in referendums in both 1972 and 1994, despite government support for joining. Norwegians feared the threat that membership would pose to the country's energy, agriculture, and fishing industries, in addition to wanting to preserve their sovereignty. As part of the European Economic Area, Norway has nearly full access to European markets. Nevertheless, while 75 percent of Norwegian exports go to EU countries and Norway has adopted almost all EU directives, it has little power to influence EU decisions as long as it remains outside. In order to maintain the current ruling coalition, which includes both pro- and anti-EU parties, the government has agreed not to reopen the question of EU membership during the term of the current parliament, which is scheduled to end in September 2005. The public remains divided over this issue.

A founding member of NATO, Norway has developed an increasingly active foreign policy over the past decade. In particular, the government has sent envoys and negotiators to help resolve some of the world's most contentious disputes, most notably for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that in Sri Lanka. Norway runs 10 percent of the world's charities and gives one of the highest levels of overseas development aid as a percentage of its GDP, a policy that has the support of 80 percent of the Norwegian public.

Norway was ranked as the best country to live in worldwide in the past two UN Human Development Indexes. Its high standard of living is due in large part to the discovery of energy deposits in the 1960s, which has made Norway the world's third-largest oil exporter. The government has put 80 percent of oil revenues in a petroleum fund that is invested overseas, thus helping to ensure that the benefits are enjoyed for many years.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Norwegians can change their government democratically. The 165-member parliament, or Storting, is directly elected for a four-year term by a system of proportional representation. It then selects one-quarter of its members to serve as the upper chamber, or Lagting, while the remaining members make up the lower chamber, or Odelsting. Neither body is subject to dissolution. A vote of no confidence in the Storting results in the resignation of the cabinet, and the leader of the party that holds the most seats is then asked to form a new government.

The indigenous Sami population lives in the north of the country. The Sami have their own consultative constituent assembly, or Sameting, which has worked to protect the group's language and cultural rights and to influence the national government's decisions about Sami land and its resources.

Norway remains one of the least corrupt countries in the world, rated 8 of 133 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, a 2003 Gallup survey found that nearly half of all Norwegians believe that bribery in the business world will be an increasing problem in the coming years; Norway was the most pessimistic of 47 nationalities in the survey. In 2003, the chief executive of partially state-owned Statoil resigned as a result of a police probe into alleged bribery of consultants linked to contracts in Iran.

Freedom of the 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. However, subsidies have been cut in recent years, and there are fears that some special interest publications will be forced to close. A government ban on political commercials, designed to ensure equal opportunity to the media for all candidates regardless of varying resources, violates the European human rights convention, which Norway has signed. In August, TV2 tested the ban by airing a Progress Party commercial. The station was fined Nkr 70,000 (US$9,500) by the Mass Media Authority the next month. In October, the national film board lifted a 90-year ban on films censored for sex or violence. Almost 300 previously banned films may now be released. Norway continues to ban hardcore pornography in movie theaters, on television, and on video and DVD.

The king is the constitutional head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, the state church, to which about 86 percent of the population belongs. Other denominations must register with the state to receive support, which is determined by size of membership. By law, a course on religion and ethics, which focuses on Christianity, is mandatory for students, with no exemptions provided. A case submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in 2002 challenges the law on the grounds that it violates parents' rights to control the religious education of their children. Academic freedom is ensured for all.

The constitution guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as well as the right to strike. Unions play an important role in consulting with the government on social and economic issues, and about 60 percent of the workforce belong to unions. Uncharacteristically, police allegedly used excessive force when restraining protestors during March 2003 protests in Oslo against the Iraq war.

The judiciary is independent in Norway. The court system is headed by the Supreme Court and operates at the local and national levels. The king appoints judges under advisement from the Ministry of Justice.

The Norwegian security police began a nationwide campaign in October against the neo-Nazi organization Vigrid. Police personally visited members of the group in hopes of reducing membership and preventing them from turning to violence.

The government helps protect the heritage of the Sami population through Sami language instruction, broadcast programs, and subsidized newspapers in their regions. A deputy minister in the national government deals specifically with Sami issues. However, Sami dialects are at risk, according to UNESCO. The proposed Finnmark Bill would settle the question of land-use rights by placing all resources under national control; the bill has been criticized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for limiting Sami land rights.

The populist, free market, anti-immigrant Progress Party is the furthest to the right in the Storting, and currently the third-largest party in representation. The party's popularity is due in part to that of its charismatic leader, Carl Hagen. Although the majority of Norwegians have a positive attitude toward immigrants, citizens are increasingly in favor of a stricter immigration policy, according to Statistics Norway. At the start of 2003, 4.3 percent of the population were foreign citizens; about 40,000 immigrants arrived in 2002. Polls suggest that discrimination in housing and employment against ethnic minorities is widespread.

A new marriage law, which includes a clause under which both couples must vow that they are getting married voluntarily and have an equal right to a divorce, has been criticized by the Roman Catholic Church. The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women, and a Gender Equality Ombudsman enforces the law. Traditionally, 40 percent of the cabinet is female; 8 of the current 19 ministers are women, and women make up 36 percent of the Storting. A new law requires that firms have at least 40 percent women on their boards; the figure currently stands at about 7 percent.

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