Freedom in the World
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Following Denmark's rule (1450-1814), 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, when a Danish prince was crowned as Haakon VII. Haakon VII remained head of state in exile during World War II, when the country was occupied by Germany. Haakon's son, Olav V, reigned from 1957 until his death in 1991. He was succeeded by his son, Harald V, who is Norway's current monarch. Since 1905 Norway has functioned as a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty parliamentary structure.
The government is led by a center-right coalition, comprising the Conservative Party, the Christian Democrat Party and the Liberals. Nevertheless, it still does not command a majority in parliament and relies on the far-right Progress Party to legislate.
Norway is not a member of the EU, but it enjoys nearly full access to the EU's single market through membership in the European Economic Area. The Labor government negotiated EU membership in both 1972 and 1994, but the Norwegian electorate rejected it each time by slim margins. The issue of EU membership was pushed further down the agenda in 2002 due to an anti-EU majority in parliament. However, public support for full Norwegian membership stood at 58 percent in 2002, the highest figure since the 1994 referendum.
Norway granted asylum in June to an Iranian who hijacked an airliner to Oslo in 1993. Norwegian law bans the death penalty and prohibits the deportation of persons to a country that might execute them, such as Iran. The Norwegian Pilots' Union and political opposition in parliament criticized the decision.
Norwegians can change their government democratically. The parliament (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.
Since 1989 the approximately 20,000-strong ethnic Saami 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 parliamentary 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-right Progress Party, Carl Hagen, demanded that the number of immigrants granted asylum in Norway be reduced. The estimated net migration rate for 2002 was 2.1 migrants per 1,000 population. The government tightened its asylum policy in 2002. The so-called 15-month rule--which stated that if asylum seekers' applications had not been processed within 15 months, they would be granted asylum automatically--was abolished for those who arrive without identification papers.
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. Reporters Sans Frontieres ranked Norway (tied with Finland, Iceland, and the Netherlands) as having the greatest press freedom in the world in its Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2002.
The Church of Norway, the state church, belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran branch of the Christian church. The king is the constitutional head of the Church of Norway, in which about 86 percent of the population holds nominal membership. 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 the adhan (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 governmental control. The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions, established 100 years ago, has about 850,000 members and is closely linked to the Labor Party. The independent judiciary system is headed by the Supreme Court and operates at the local and national levels. The king, under advisement from the Ministry of Justice, appoints judges.
Transparency International ranked Norway 12th (tied with Switzerland) on its 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Women's rights are legally protected. In the Storting, women hold 35.8 percent of the seats.