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 minorities remains a problem.
Key Developments in 2018:
- In June, the parliament adopted legislation that prohibited face-covering garments, such as the niqab and burqa, in classrooms at all levels of education.
- In March, parliament speaker Olemic Thommessen resigned due to a scandal over mismanagement of a public construction project. In a separate scandal in August, Per Sandberg resigned as fisheries minister after violating security rules during private travel to Iran.
- Allegations involving sexual harassment by key party officials across the political spectrum developed throughout the year, resulting in a number of sanctions and resignations.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 40 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
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. The prime minister as of 2018, Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg, first took office in 2013 and received a new mandate following her center-right coalition’s victory in the 2017 general elections.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
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.
An election monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the 2017 elections were well conducted, offering notable praise for the country’s early voting mechanisms. However, the mission found that visually impaired voters experience some difficulties. The opposition Labour Party led the voting with 49 seats, followed by the ruling Conservatives with 45 seats, the right-wing populist Progress Party with 27, the Centre Party with 19, the Socialist Left Party with 11, the Christian Democratic Party and the Liberal Party with 8 each, and the Green Party and Red Party with 1 each. The Conservatives renewed their governing coalition with the Progress Party, and the Liberal Party joined the bloc in early 2018, though it still fell short of an outright majority. Talks on adding the Christian Democrats were under way at year’s end.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4
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 OSCE election monitoring mission noted a high degree of public confidence in the country’s electoral infrastructure.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. 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 / 4
A range of political parties operate freely in Norway.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Norway has a long history of democratic and peaceful transfers of power after elections. The center-left Labour Party on the one hand and center-right coalitions led by the Conservatives or the Christian Democrats on the other have typically rotated in and out of government.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
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.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
Women and minority groups enjoy full political rights and electoral opportunities. Women are well represented in Norwegian politics: The posts of prime minister, foreign minister, and finance minister, among others, were held by women in 2018, and more than 40 percent of parliament members are women. The interests of minorities and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people are addressed in part through robust antidiscrimination laws and various protections for same-sex couples.
The indigenous Sami 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 Sami land and resources. The national government has a deputy minister tasked specifically with handling Sami issues.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 12 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
The freely elected government and parliament are able to develop and implement policy without undue influence from actors who are not democratically accountable.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4
Provisions of the penal code criminalizing corrupt activity are generally upheld. Official corruption is not viewed as a significant problem in Norway.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4
The government generally operates with transparency. Several audits of public grants and other government spending were conducted in 2017, with auditors turning up some evidence of inadequate management. Olemic Thommessen was forced to resign as president of the Storting in March 2018 due to significant mismanagement of a public construction project overseen by his office. The Office of the State Auditor General found that the parliament had disregarded standard procurement rules and other safeguards for major building projects, leading costs to balloon from an initially budgeted 70 million kroner ($8.6 million) to more than 2.3 billion kroner ($282 million).
In August, Per Sandberg resigned as fisheries minister after violating security rules during a private trip to Iran with his Iranian-born girlfriend. He failed to give the government prior notice of the trip and brought his official mobile phone to the country.
The 2006 Freedom of Information Act provides for access to government documents, though it contains exemptions for some information pertaining to national security and foreign policy. Investigative journalists have in the past complained that senior government officials use various tactics to avoid or delay inquiries that would expose negligence or wrongdoing.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 60 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 16 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4
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 recent years the courts have grappled with legal questions related to the protection of journalists’ sources in criminal cases. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Norwegian government could not compel journalists to reveal their sources, even if the source had come forward independently. The ECHR case was filed by a journalist who was fined in 2012 for defying a legal order to discuss contacts with a source of information about problems at the Norwegian Oil Company.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution and generally upheld in practice. However, religiously motivated hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years. According to a police report issued in March 2018, the number of hate crimes linked to religion in Oslo increased by 80 percent to 43 in 2017, from 24 in 2016. Muslims were the targets in most of the incidents.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
Private discussion in Norway is free and vibrant.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
The right to freedom of assembly is respected in most cases. There have been tensions in recent years over demonstrations by extremist groups and their potential threat to public security, with some critics calling for far-right marches to be prohibited. In 2017, police blocked one far-right demonstration in order to prevent clashes with left-wing opponents, but later allowed another such event to proceed.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Norwegian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are able to form and operate without undue restrictions.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
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.
F. RULE OF LAW: 16 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
The judiciary is generally considered 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 Judicial Appointments Board, which is composed of legal and judicial professionals as well as representatives of the public.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4
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.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4
The police are under civilian control, and physical abuse by law enforcement authorities is rare. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 4 / 4
The equality and antidiscrimination ombudsman is responsible for enforcing the country’s 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. With regard to the Sami, the national government supports Sami-language instruction and media outlets in the relevant regions.
However, the Council of Europe has encouraged Norwegian authorities to address widespread discriminatory attitudes toward Romany communities, and to ensure that Roma have equal access to education and employment. In September 2018, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Norwegian Child Welfare Service had violated the rights of a Romany woman by denying her contact with a daughter who was removed from her care in 2011.
While the number of people seeking refuge in Norway has declined dramatically since 2016, concerns about the refoulement of refugees have persisted, notably with regard to Afghan nationals. In November 2017, the parliament approved legislation that would allow asylum seekers who came to Norway as minors, but were due to be deported following their 18th birthdays, to file new asylum applications. Many of those affected by the law had fled to Norway from Afghanistan. They were given a May 2018 deadline to refile their asylum claims.
The #MeToo movement has drawn attention to the problem of workplace sexual harassment in Norway since 2017. In addition to reported cases in academia and the arts, political parties on both the left and the right were coping with multiple complaints against their members and officials during 2018.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 16 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
Freedom of movement in Norway is generally respected. People have the ability to change their place of residence, employment, and education.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4
The rights to own property and operate private businesses are established in Norwegian law and upheld in practice.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4
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, though the government has worked to uphold criminal penalties for offenders and provide services to victims.
In June 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, effectively placing limits on individuals’ choice of dress and personal appearance. The ban, which took force in August, did not apply outside classroom settings, for instance during recess or staff meetings.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4
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, though the US State Department has recommended that Norwegian authorities increase training and dedicate resources for police, prosecutors, and others responsible for handling trafficking cases.