Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg shuffled the coalition government in October 2007, resulting in a historic female-majority cabinet. Separately, the independent research group SINTEF Petroleum Research in February paid a fine of NOK 2 million for an illegal contract with an Iranian company in 2002, although the organization’s former director was cleared of corruption charges in May. Also in February, the Ministry of Education and Research urged schools to bar Muslim women from wearing the niqab, or facial veil.
Norway’s constitution, the Eisvold Convention, was first adopted in 1814 during a brief period of independence after nearly four centuries of Danish rule. Subsequently, Norway became part of a Swedish-headed monarchy. The country gained independence in 1905 and has since functioned as a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty parliamentary structure. Norway became a founding member of NATO in 1949.
Norwegian citizens narrowly rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in 1972 and 1994, despite government support for joining. Norwegians wanted to preserve their sovereignty and feared that membership would threaten the country’s energy, agriculture, and fishing industries. As part of the European Economic Area, Norway has nearly full access to EU markets, and 75 percent of Norwegian exports go to EU countries. However, while Norway has adopted almost all EU directives, it has little power to influence EU decisions.
During September 2005 legislative elections, the center-left Red-Green coalition—led by the Labor Party and including the Socialist Left Party and the “green” Center Party—won 47.9 percent of the vote and 87 of 169 seats. The elections marked the first time that Labor had entered into a coalition since the end of World War II. The previous governing bloc—a center-right coalition consisting of the Conservative Party, the Christian People’s Party, and the Liberal Party—captured only 26.8 percent of the vote and 44 seats. The other major winner in the elections was the anti-immigration Progress Party, which took 22.1 percent of the vote and 38 seats, making it the single largest opposition party in Parliament.
In April 2007, Norway and Iceland signed a defense pact under which Norway would provide surveillance and military defense of Icelandic airspace. Iceland, also a founding NATO member, had no military of its own, and a decades-old U.S. military presence on the island had ended in 2006.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reshuffled members of his coalition government in October 2007. The result was a historic female-majority cabinet, with 10 female and 9 male ministers.
Minister of International Development Erik Solheim in September announced Norway’s full participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, aimed at discouraging corruption through the complete disclosure of financial exchanges in the oil, gas, and mining industries. It is the first Western country to do so. Norway is currently the world’s third-largest oil exporter. In February, the independent Norwegian research group SINTEF Petroleum Research had agreed to pay a NOK 2 million fine for an illegal contract with an Iranian company in 2002. The organization’s former director was cleared of corruption charges in May, however. Statoil, Norway’s state-owned oil company, had agreed in 2006 to pay $21 million in U.S. penalties for bribing an Iranian official in 2002 and 2003.
The Ministry of Education and Research in February 2007 encouraged schools to bar Muslim women from wearing the niqab, or facial veil, according to a U.S. State Department report. In 2006, the city of Oslo had implemented a similar ban on the burqa (full body covering) and niqab and urged the new recommendation by the ministry.
Norway is an electoral democracy. The national Parliament, called the Storting, currently has 169 members, an increase of 4 over the number elected in 2001. The lawmakers are directly elected for four-year terms through a system of proportional representation. A quarter of the members are then selected 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. The leader of the majority party or coalition in the Storting is appointed prime minister by the constitutional monarch, currently King Harald V. Although officially the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, the monarch performs largely ceremonial duties.
The indigenous Sami population, in addition to participating in the national political process, has its 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. The government supports Sami-language instruction, broadcast programs, and subsidized newspapers in Sami regions. A deputy minister in the national government deals specifically with Sami issues.
Norway remains one of the least corrupt countries in the world. However, isolated incidents of bribery have occurred, and Norway’s role in the international energy and mining industries has received particular scrutiny. Norway was ranked 9 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. The state subsidizes many newspapers, the majority of which are privately owned and openly partisan, in order to promote political pluralism. A government ban on political advertisements, designed to ensure equal access to the media for all candidates regardless of varying resources, violates the European Convention on Human Rights, which Norway has signed. Internet access is not impeded by the government. In 2007, state television company NRK allowed the free broadcasting of entire programs over the internet through a private website.
The monarch is the constitutional head of the official Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, and at least half of the cabinet must belong to the church. Other denominations must register with the state to receive support, which is determined by size of membership. A course on religion and ethics focusing on Christianity is mandatory for students. In November 2004, the UN Human Rights Committee determined that the course requirement contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Curriculum revisions implemented in 2005 still favored Christianity, and only limited student exemptions were permitted. The European Court of Human Rights found in June 2007 that the course violated the European Human Rights Convention, and the Norwegian government began weighing further reforms. Separately, in March 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee warned that the section of Norway’s constitution requiring Evangelical Lutherans to raise their children in the faith could be a breach of the ICCPR. In January 2006, a State-Church Commission had recommended abolishing the current relationship between the church and state and establishing separate systems. A final decision about the relationship was expected in 2008.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Norwegians are very active in different nongovernmental and volunteer organizations. Labor unions play an important role in consulting with the government on social and economic issues, and about 60 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the court system, headed by the Supreme Court, operates fairly at the local and national levels. The king appoints judges on the advice of the Ministry of Justice. The police are under civilian control, and there were no reports of human rights abuses committed by any domestic law enforcement authorities in 2007. According to the U.S. State Department’s human rights report for 2007, prison conditions generally meet international standards.
In December 2003, the government announced that asylum seekers denied residence in Norway would no longer be able to remain at immigration reception centers; an earlier report had found that a record number of asylum seekers had registered at these centers. Polls suggest that discrimination in housing and employment against ethnic minorities is widespread. In 2006, an ombudsman for equality and antidiscrimination was established to counter ethnic and sexual bias; the new post replaced the Center against Ethnic Discrimination, which had previously dealt with these issues.
The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women. In 2005, 37 percent of the seats in the Storting were won by women, a slight increase over the previous elections. The government reshuffling in 2007 resulted in a historic female-majority cabinet. A law that took effect in 2006 requires that at least 40 percent of board members at about 500 large companies traded on Norway’s stock exchange be women. According to the U.S. State Department, by the end of the year, 83 percent of corporations had complied. Existing companies will have through January 2008 to comply or they will be compulsorily dissolved. Corporations established after 2005 must meet the requirement before they can be registered as a company. Domestic violence against women continues to be an area of concern.
Norway is a destination point for the trafficking of women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The country, however, remains a leader in antitrafficking efforts, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report.