Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the Labor Party formally resigned in October after the party suffered its worst election defeat since 1924. Even though Norway is the world's second largest oil exporter, many Norwegians complained of high taxes and inadequate public services under the Labor Party and showed their discontent in the national elections in September. The Conservatives, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberal parties formed a new center-right coalition under Kjell Magne Bondevik, who returned as prime minister after he had resigned from the post in March 2000. The coalition, which holds 62 of the 165 seats, garnered support from the far-right Progress Party to give it the majority needed to pass legislation.
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 in 1905, Norway chose a sovereign from a Danish royal house and began to function as a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty parliamentary structure.
The Labor government negotiated European Union (EU) membership in both 1972 and 1994, however the Norwegian electorate rejected it each time by slim margins. A survey conducted in January found that 33 percent of Norwegians favor EU membership while 45 percent were against it. Although Norway is not a member of the EU, it does enjoy nearly full access to the EU's single market through membership in the European Economic Area.
In 2001 Norwegians debated the abolition of the monarchy in favor of a republic following the engagement and marriage of Crown Prince Haakon to a commoner with a four-year-old son from a previous relationship.
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), while the remaining members make up the lower chamber (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. In the October 2001 general elections, the Labor Party won 43 seats in parliament; the Conservatives, 38; the Progress Party, 26; the Socialist Left, 23; the Christian People's Party, 22; the Center Party, 10; the Liberal Party, 2; and the Coastal Party, 1.
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. In 2000, the government granted the Saami assembly its own parliament building in Karasjok. In 1999, the Center for Combating Ethnic Discrimination was established by the government to provide legal aid to persons exposed to discrimination on grounds of religion, race, or 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. In January, some 40,000 Norwegians took to the streets in Oslo to protest the first racially motivated killing of a black teenager by neo-Nazis.
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. Norway has one of the highest rates of Internet users per capita in the world.
The state finances the Evangelical Lutheran Church, in which 93 percent of the population holds nominal membership. The law requires that the monarch and at least half of the cabinet be Lutheran, and those professing the Lutheran Church are bound by law to bring up their children in that faith. Roman Catholics and other Protestants make up 4 percent of the population, and the other 3 percent have no religious affiliation. Other denominations do not have to register with the state unless they seek state support. Muslims, who constitute less than 1 percent, were granted the right to broadcast calls to prayer in Oslo in 2000.
The constitution guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the right to strike. Sixty percent of the workforce belong to unions, which are free from government control. The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions, 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 at work than other Europeans.
The independent judiciary system is headed by a supreme court and operates at the local and national levels. The king, under advisement from the ministry of justice, appoints judges.
Women's rights are legally protected. In the Storting, women hold 35.8 percent of the seats. Nevertheless, only 1 percent of the executives of Norway's 500 largest enterprises are women; in the public sector the figure is approximately 11 percent.