Norway is one of the most robust democracies in the world. Elections are free and fair, and power regularly rotates between parties. Civil liberties are respected, with independent media and civil society actors holding the government to account. Discrimination against Roma and other marginalized groups remains a problem.
- National elections were held in September, with a voter turnout of 77.2 percent. In October, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre was appointed prime minister after the Labour Party and the Centre Party agreed to form a governing coalition.
- Also in September, then finance minister Jan Tore Sanner was accused of unlawfully withholding the release of documents during the final days of the election campaign. An inquiry into the case was launched by the parliament’s Control Committee the following month.
- In May, Norway’s welfare agency was found to have again misinterpreted EU rules when it denied benefits to recipients traveling abroad since 1994; the Supreme Court confirmed the agency had acted unlawfully in a July ruling. The agency first came under scrutiny in October 2019, when it was found to have wrongfully imprisoned at least 48 people on charges of welfare fraud since 2012.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The constitutional monarch, currently King Harald V, appoints the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party or coalition in the parliament. While the monarch is officially the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, his duties are largely ceremonial. National elections were held in September 2021; the following month, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre was appointed prime minister after the Labour Party and the Centre Party agreed to form a governing coalition.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Norway’s unicameral parliament, the Storting, has 169 members who are directly elected for four-year terms through a system of proportional representation in multimember districts.
In the September 2021 election, the Labour Party won the largest share of votes, taking 48 seats, followed by the Conservatives with 36 seats, the Centre Party with 28, the right-wing populist Progress Party with 21, the Socialist Left Party with 13, the Red Party with 8, the Liberal Party with 8, the Green Party with 3, the Christian Democratic Party with 3, and the single-issue Patient Focus party with 1 seat. The election saw a turnout of 77.2 percent.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Elections are regulated by the constitution and the Representation of the People Act of 2002. The National Electoral Committee, whose members are appointed by the king from all parliamentary parties, oversees the conduct of elections with the support of local-level committees. The 2017 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election monitoring mission noted a high degree of public confidence in the country’s electoral infrastructure.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
A range of political parties operate freely in Norway.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Norway has a long history of democratic and peaceful transfers of power after elections. The center-left Labour Party, and center-right coalitions led by the Conservatives or the Christian Democrats, have typically rotated in and out of government. Smaller parties wield influence by participating in national and local coalitions.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
Citizens are generally free from undue interference in their political choices, and no military, foreign, or religious entities exert undemocratic pressure on voters. Public funding is the main source of party revenue, though the 2017 OSCE election monitoring mission noted a sharp increase in private contributions and conveyed concerns that this could allow wealthy donors to acquire undue influence over Norwegian politics.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Women and minority groups enjoy full political rights and electoral opportunities. Women are well represented in Norwegian politics: following the September 2021 elections, 50 percent of cabinet positions are held by women, and 45 percent of parliamentarians are women. Minority ethnic groups and the interests of LGBT+ people are addressed through robust antidiscrimination laws and various protections for same-sex couples.
The Indigenous Sámi population, in addition to participating in the national political process, has its own legislature, the Sameting, which has worked to protect the group’s language and cultural rights and to influence the national government’s decisions about Sámi land and resources. The national government has a deputy minister tasked specifically with handling Sámi issues.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The freely elected government and parliament develop and implement policy without undue influence from actors who are not democratically accountable. In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parliament approved a law that gave the government discretionary powers to address the public health crisis. The law, which enables the government to make exceptions from current laws without going through the parliament for up to one month, only applies in urgent cases when ordinary parliamentary procedures would not be possible.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
Provisions of the penal code criminalizing corrupt activity are generally upheld. Official corruption is not viewed as a significant problem in Norway, though cases of corruption have surfaced at major firms in recent years. In January 2021, the Council of Europe (CoE)’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recommended that the government introduce new accountability and enforcement mechanisms to prevent corruption among senior officials, including ministers, political advisers, and members of the police.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
The government generally operates with transparency. Several audits of public grants and other government spending were conducted in 2017, with auditors finding evidence of inadequate management.
The 2006 Freedom of Information Act provides for access to government documents. Investigative journalists have previously complained that senior government officials use various tactics to avoid or delay inquiries that would expose negligence or wrongdoing. In September 2021, then finance minister Jan Tore Sanner was accused of unlawfully withholding the release of documents during the final days of the election campaign. The parliament’s Control Committee began an inquiry into case the following month.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Norwegians have access to news and commentary from a wide variety of independent outlets. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the Norwegian government could not compel journalists to reveal their sources, even if the source had come forward independently. In August 2020, the Norwegian Journalists’ Association, the Verdens Gang newspaper, and the Norwegian Editors’ Association sued the Attorney General for denying access to documents in a case. In March 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that the claimants were entitled to information in the case, but only to those documents that had already been surrendered, stating that those documents served as “a sufficient basis for public debate.”
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution and generally upheld in practice. However, religiously motivated hate crimes do occur. In 2020, the government launched an action plan to fight discrimination and hatred against Muslims, which includes requirements for police to separately register anti-Muslim crimes.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Private discussion in Norway is free and vibrant.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The right to freedom of assembly is generally respected. There have been tensions in recent years over demonstrations by extremist groups and their potential threat to public security. Public health measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 limited the size of public gatherings during 2020 and 2021.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) form and operate without undue restrictions.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
The right to strike is legally guaranteed—except for members of the military and senior civil servants—and is generally respected in practice. All workers have the right to engage in collective bargaining.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is generally considered independent, and the court system, headed by the Supreme Court, operates fairly. The king appoints judges on the advice of the Judicial Appointments Board, which is composed of legal and judicial professionals as well as representatives of the public. In April 2021, then prime minister Erna Solberg was fined for breaching COVID-19 rules. She paid the fine and apologized for her actions.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
Law enforcement agencies and the courts generally observe legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. Criminal defendants have access to counsel at the government’s expense, and the principles of due process are typically respected during trial.
In October 2019, the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV) was found to have wrongfully imprisoned at least 48 people on charges of welfare fraud, having misinterpreted European Union (EU) rules on social security when it denied benefits to over 2,400 people who traveled to EU and European Economic Area (EEA) states since 2012. In September 2020, the NAV requested that individuals affected by the scandal contact them, to attempt to resolve the issue. They had already processed about 42,000 cases.
Additionally, in May 2021, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) court found that since Norway became an EFTA member in 1994, the NAV had illegally denied welfare payments to people who had traveled to other EFTA countries while receiving benefits. The Norwegian Supreme Court confirmed that the NAV had acted unlawfully in a July ruling.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
The police are under civilian control, and physical abuse by law enforcement is rare. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.
Far-right and extremist violence is a recognized threat in Norway. In August 2019, a neo-Nazi sympathizer murdered his adopted sister, an ethnic Chinese woman, before unsuccessfully attacking a mosque in Bærum. In June 2020, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison with a minimum term of 14 years.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||4.004 4.004|
The equality and antidiscrimination ombudsman enforces the Gender Equality Act, the Antidiscrimination Act, and other laws designed to protect the basic rights of women, minorities, and other groups at risk of mistreatment. These laws are generally upheld in practice. However, in a February 2021 report, the CoE recommended that Norway put more resources into supporting victims of discrimination.
Norwegian authorities reported 744 hate crimes in 2020, the majority of which were based on race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.
The national government also supports Sámi-language instruction and media outlets in the relevant regions. The Norwegian national human rights institution, however, has highlighted that Norway does not currently disaggregate statistical data by ethnicity or Indigenous status, which limits the evidence base for human rights monitoring and improving policy and service delivery for Indigenous groups such as the Sámi.
In the 2020 UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights report on Norway, it noted concern over evidence of people with visual impairments facing technological barriers at work; persons with an immigrant background continue to face discrimination in employment and access to healthcare; one third of older persons in hospitals and in health and care services are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition; and women still face a persistent pay gap, measuring 13.4 percent as of 2020.
In recent years, the CoE has encouraged Norwegian authorities to address widespread discriminatory attitudes toward Roma, and to ensure that they have equal access to education and employment.
Norway is increasingly coming under scrutiny for its restrictive refugee and asylum policies The government increased the requirements for permanent residency in December 2020, from 3 to 5 years of living in Norway. In November 2020, 18-year-old Mustafa Hasan—who came to Norway as a 6-year-old—was deported by an Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) because his mother had provided inaccurate information. In July 2021, an Oslo court declared the board’s decision invalid, and ordered the case to be reexamined; the UNE had not issued a new decision on Hasan’s case before year’s end.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of movement in Norway is generally respected. People can change their place of residence, employment, and education. However, some EU- and EEA-born welfare recipients living in Norway reportedly refrained from traveling abroad for fear of losing benefits; in November 2019, local NGO Caritas reported that several thousand were discouraged or stopped from traveling abroad in recent years.
As part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, freedom of movement was limited in 2020 and 2021. In March 2020, strict rules prohibited travel outside of residents’ home county. Essential health workers were prohibited from traveling abroad, and only Norwegian nationals or residents were permitted to reenter Norway. EU citizens residing in Norway faced difficulties in returning to the country due to COVID-19-related regulations before the government relaxed entry restrictions in July 2021.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
The rights to own property and operate private businesses are established in Norwegian law and upheld in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
The government generally does not restrict personal social freedoms. The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women with respect to marriage, divorce, and other personal status matters.
Domestic violence is a problem. In June 2019, Norway’s Institute for Human Rights (NIM) estimated that 150,000 people experience domestic violence annually. Amnesty International has also expressed concern that the penal code does not use a consent-based definition of rape and imposes a limited set of qualifying circumstances.
In 2018, the parliament passed a government-proposed law that bans face coverings, including the niqab and burqa, from teaching environments at all levels of education. The ban did not apply outside classroom settings, for instance during recess or staff meetings.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||4.004 4.004|
The principle of equality of opportunity and legal protections against economic exploitation are generally upheld. The government has been active in combating labor and sex trafficking and works to provide services to victims. However, the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report downgraded Norway’s status to Tier 2, saying that the government’s antitrafficking efforts were not “serious and sustained” in comparison to previous years, even taking into account the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been reports of forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and construction sectors, including a case of Bangladeshi migrants being exploited on Norwegian farms through a Portuguese trafficker.
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