Norway -- Geography --
Official Name: Kingdom of Norway
Capital City: Oslo
Languages: Norwegian (official)
Official Currency: Norwegian Krone
Religions: Evangelical Lutheran, others
Population: 4 627 926 (2008)
Land Area: 306 830 sq km
Landforms: A very rugged land, complete with glaciers, high mountains and plateaus,
broken by fertile valleys and small plains. The coastline is deeply indented
by fjords with thousands of scattered islands. In the north, arctic tundra
Land Divisions: 19 provinces, including: Akershus, Aust-Agder, Buskerud, Finnmark, Hedmark, Hordaland, More og Romsdal, Nordland, Nord-Trondelag, Oppland, Oslo, Ostfold, Rogaland, Sogn og Fjordane, Sor-Trondelag, Telemark, Troms, Vest-Agder, and Vestfold.
Norway -- History --
Archaeological records indicate that Norway was inhabited as early as 10,000 BC by a Paleolithic hunting people. These ancient hunters are believed to have migrated to Scandinavia as the great glaciers that once buried the region receded, toward the end of the last ice age. By the time of the first historical records of Scandinavia, about the 8th century AD, some 29 small kingdoms existed in Norway. Inevitably, the kings turned their attention to the sea, the easiest way to communicate and trade with the outside world. The northern sea rovers were traders, colonizers, and explorers as well as plunderers. After about 865 they established settlements in the British Isles and Iceland, and in the Orkney, Faroe, and Shetland islands. A century later, about 985, Erik the Red led Vikings to Greenland from Iceland; his son, Leif Eriksson, was one of the first Europeans to explore North America, reaching the continent about 1000. In the 9th century King Harald I, called The Fairhaired, of Vestfold (southeastern Norway) made the first successful attempt to form a united Norwegian kingdom. Dissensions and wars among the heirs disrupted the temporary unity, and many of the petty rulers refused to surrender their independence.
Christian missionaries travelled in Viking lands as early as 825 AD, when Saint Anskar visited trading centers in Sweden and Denmark. Conversions from paganism to Christianity were infrequent, however, until the end of the 900s. In 995 Olaf I, a great-grandson of Harald I, became king of Norway. Before his accession Olaf had lived in England, where he had converted to Christianity. He took the throne with the firm purpose of forcing Christianity on Norway and he partially succeeded. Five years after his accession he was killed in battle, and Norway was divided for a short time. Norway was reunited by Olaf II, who made himself king of Norway in 1015. He continued the religious work of his predecessor, using force against those who refused a Christian baptism. Olaf established a national Christian church in Norway, and he built churches throughout the land. For the next three centuries a succession of native kings ruled Norway. Although internal confusion and wars between rival claimants to the throne disrupted the country periodically, Norway gradually emerged as a united nation, enjoying a comparative prosperity brought by its great trading fleets.
By the Union of Kalmar in 1397, the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden were made a single administrative unit. Sweden and Denmark were larger and wealthier than Norway, which had lost much of its population and many of its farms in the mid-14th century during an outbreak of bubonic plague called the Black Death. In 1523 Sweden dropped out of the union, and Norway was increasingly treated as an appendage of the Danish crown. In the wake of the introduction of Lutheranism as a state religion in Norway by Danish king Christian III in 1536, Norway became a province of Denmark. Norwegian culture came increasingly under Danish domination. The union with Denmark lasted until the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), when Denmark joined France against Britain—Norway’s primary trading partner. After the defeat of Napoleon I in 1814, Denmark was compelled to sign the Treaty of Kiel, ceding Norway to the king of Sweden—an ally of Britain against France.
A liberal movement in Norwegian politics, which accompanied the surge of nationalism, became more pronounced after the revolutions of 1848 in the major countries of Europe. Political nationalism was bolstered by intellectual and cultural nationalism. The literary renaissance included such writers as Henrik Ibsen, Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Jonas Lie, and Alexander Kielland.
The Norwegian government, dominated by ministers with liberal politics, quickly became one of the most progressive in Europe in matters such as unemployment insurance benefits, old-age pensions, and liberal laws concerning divorce and illegitimacy. In 1913 Norwegian women achieved the right to vote in all national elections. In addition, new laws were passed to restrain foreign investment in Norway. The achievement of complete political independence coincided with the beginning of industrialization spurred by the development of waterpower and hydroelectricity. During the early 20th century the Norwegian merchant marine expanded its fleet of steam-powered ships, and Norwegian whaling vessels led the exploitation of waters around Antarctica.
After the beginning of World War I in 1914 the sovereigns of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark agreed to maintain the neutrality of the Scandinavian countries and to cooperate for their mutual interest. The world economic depression that began in 1929 affected Norway considerably because of the country’s dependence on international commerce. In 1935 the Labor Party was elected to power and it continued the policies of progressive liberalism that had dominated Norwegian politics since 1905.
Norway maintained its traditional neutrality when World War II began in 1939. On April 8, 1940, the United Kingdom and France announced that they had mined Norwegian territorial waters to prevent their use by German supply ships. The next day German forces invaded Norway, occupying all the major cities and important ports in a well-coordinated and long-planned assault.
In the general elections of October 1945, the Labor Party won a majority of votes, bringing to power a Labor cabinet headed by Einar Gerhardsen. The party remained in power for the next 20 years. Under its stewardship, Norway developed into a social democracy and welfare state, became a charter member of the United Nations (UN) in 1945, participated in the European Recovery Program in 1947, and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. In 1970 Norway applied for membership in the European Community (EC), now called the European Union (EU), a move that split the citizenry and government. Many Norwegians opposed membership, fearing that their fishing, farming, and other industries would be at a competitive disadvantage. In a referendum in 1972 the voters rejected the government’s recommendation. As a result, the government resigned and was succeeded by a centrist coalition headed by Lars Korvald of the Christian People’s Party. In 1973 Norway signed a free-trade agreement with the EC. The nonsocialist parties gained a comfortable majority in September, and Kare Willoch of the Conservative Party formed a coalition government in October. A broader coalition government, again headed by Willoch, was formed in 1983 and was reelected in 1985.
Petroleum and natural gas deposits had been discovered in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea in the late 1960s, and exploitation by a state company began in the 1970s. By the early 1980s oil and gas from the North Sea fields accounted for some 30 percent of Norway’s annual export earnings. Oil prices dropped abruptly in 1985 and 1986, and the prospect of lower tax revenues and reduced export earnings led the Willoch government to call for higher gasoline taxes in April 1986. Willoch lost a vote of no confidence on the issue and was succeeded by a minority Labor government led by Brundtland. She resigned after inconclusive elections in 1989, carrying Labor into the opposition. Brundtland’s Labor government returned to power following the 1993 general election. In May 1994 the European Parliament endorsed membership for Norway in the EU. However, aided by a rush of Norwegian patriotism and nationalism following the Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games in February 1994, Norwegians voted down membership in the EU in a November 1994 referendum. Brundtland had stepped down as Labor Party leader in 1992 and was replaced by Thorbjorn Jagland. In 1996 Brundtland abruptly resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by Jagland. An alliance led by Kjell Magne Bondevik, a leader of the Christian People’s Party, attracted enough support to form a government. Bondevik’s minority coalition government also included the Center and Liberal parties. Bondevik resigned as prime minister in 2000 after losing a no-confidence vote over the issue of whether to build gas-fired electricity plants in Norway. Bondevik returned as prime minister leading a new center-right coalition of the Christian People’s Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Party. The coalition’s platform included lower taxes, more privatization, and reforms in health care, education, and welfare.
The growing success of conservative parties in Norway revealed a gradual rightward shift in Norwegian politics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Although an enduring division between socialist and nonsocialist parties remains in Norway, domestic debates increasingly center on ways to reduce the costs of maintaining Norway’s extensive social welfare system. In foreign affairs Norway has sought to expand its participation in international organizations such as the United Nations (UN). Norway has also emphasized its commitment to international peace talks, demonstrated in 1993 by its role in hosting negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, which resulted in the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority under the so-called Oslo Accords. Since then, Norwegian diplomats have sought to help resolve international conflicts in many regions, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Guatemala, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Somalia, and Sudan. However, the character of Norway’s larger place within Europe—exemplified by the debate over Norway’s possible membership in the European Union (EU)—remains a divisive and unresolved issue.
Norway -- Economy --
The Norwegian economy is a prosperous bastion of social capitalism, featuring a combination of free market activity and government intervention. The government controls key areas, such as the vital petroleum sector. The control mechanisms over the petroleum resources is a combination of state ownership in major operators in the Norwegian fields (Statoil ca 70% in 2005, Norsk Hydro 43% in 2004) while specific taxes on oil-profits for all operators are set to 78%, finally the government controls licencing of exploration and production of fields. The country is richly endowed with natural resources - petroleum, hydropower, fish, forests, and minerals - and has obtained one of the highest standards of living in the world partly from petroleum production; in 2004, oil and gas accounted for 50% of exports. Only Saudi Arabia and Russia export more oil than Norway, which is not a member of OPEC. The last 25 years, the Norwegian economy has shown various signs of the economic phenomenon called Dutch disease.
Norway opted to stay out of the European Union during a referendum in 1972, and again in November 1994. However, Norway, together with Iceland and Liechtenstein, participate in the EU's single market via the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.
In 2000 the government sold one-third of the then 100% state-owned oil company Statoil. The economic growth was 0.8% in 1999, 2.7% in 2000, and 1.3% in 2001. After little growth in 2002 and 2003, the economy expanded more rapidly in 2004.
In response to concerns about oil and gas reserve depletions, Norway has adopted measures to save its oil-boosted budget surpluses in a Government Petroleum Fund, which is invested abroad and at the end of the second quarter of 2005 was valued at 181.5 billion US dollars. Economic controls related to oil sales are avoided by controlling oil supply.
Recent research shows early evidence of massive amounts of coal beneath the oil-reserves on the continental shelf of Norway. A rough estimate has been given at 3?1012 tonnes of coal of unknown quality in these reserves. In comparison, the currently known coal reserves for the entire world is estimated at 0.9?1012 tonnes. The coal is terribly inaccessible today, but there are realistic hopes that it can be accessed in the future. This research was done by graduate students of NTNU and researchers at SINTEF in Trondheim .
Animal rights and anti-whaling groups have commented that given Norway's economic position it is paradoxical that this is one of a very small number of countries actively engaged in, and favouring the continuation of, commercial whaling. This is despite the argued negligible contribution that whaling makes to the economy, and despite opposition from around the world . Many supporters of whaling agree that its macroeconomic importance is negligible, but hold that the livelyhood of individuals and small firms depend on it and that sustainable development depends on human harvesting of all non-endangered species . Norway's whaling today is limited to the Minke Whale, which also accounts for more than 90% of the catch in Norwegian waters since the 1920's.
Norway -- Culture --
Famous Norwegians include the playwrights/novelists Baron Ludvig Holberg and Henrik Ibsen, explorers Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, and Thor Heyerdahl, expressionist painter Edvard Munch and the sculptor Gustav Vigeland and romanticist composer Edvard Grieg. The playwright/novelists Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Knut Hamsun and Sigrid Undset have all won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1903, 1920 and 1928 respectively.
Norwegians celebrate their national day on May 17, Constitution Day. Many people wear bunad (traditional costumes) and most participate in or watch the 17 May parade through the towns. Henrik Wergeland was the founder of the 17 May parade. These parades differ markedly from those of many other countries in that, rather than the military parades of, for example, France, they consist of children.
Norway -- Political system, law and government --
Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government.
The Royal House is a branch of the princely family of Glucksburg, originally from Schleswig-Holstein in Germany.  The functions of the King, Harald V, are mainly ceremonial, but he has influence as the symbol of national unity. Although the constitution of 1814 grants important executive powers to the King, these are almost always exercised by the Council of State in the name of the King (King's Council, or cabinet). The reserve powers vested in the Monarch by the constitution are significant and an important security part of the role of the Monarchy, and were last used during World War II. The Council of State consists of a Prime Minister and his council, formally appointed by the King. Parliamentarism has evolved since 1884 and entails that the cabinet must not have the parliament against it, and that the appointment by the King is a formality.
Stortinget, OsloThe Norwegian parliament, Stortinget, currently has 169 members (increased from 165, effective from the elections of 12 September 2005). The members are elected from the 19 counties for 4-year terms according to a system of proportional representation. The Storting divides itself into two chambers, the Odelsting and the Lagting when voting on legislation. Laws are proposed by the government through a Member of the Council of State or by a member of the Odelsting and decided on by the Odelsting and Lagting, in case of repeated disagreement by the joint Storting. However, in modern time the Lagting rarely disagrees and mainly just rubber-stamps the Odelsting's decision. Before the present Storting is a proposed constitutional amendment which would repeal the division.
Impeachment cases are very rare (the last being held in 1927 when prime minister Abraham Berge was acquitted) and may be brought against Members of the Council of State, or of the Supreme Court or of the Storting, for criminal offences which they may have committed in their official capacity. Indictments are raised by the Odelsting and judged by the Lagting and the Supreme Court justices as part of the High Court of the Realm. Apart from this, the Storting functions as a unicameral parliament.
The regular courts include the Supreme Court or Hoyesterett (17 permanent judges and a chief justice), courts of appeal, city and district courts, and conciliation councils. Judges attached to regular courts are appointed by the King in council after nomination by the Ministry of Justice. The special High Court of the Realm, which consists of the Supreme Court plus the Lagting, hears impeachment cases.
In order to form a government, more than half (currently at least 10 out of 19 members) of the Council of State are required to belong to the Church of Norway.