Norway (06/09)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Kingdom of Norway

Area (including the island territories of Svalbard and Jan Mayen): 385,199 sq. km. (148,726 sq. miles); approximately the same size as New Mexico.
Cities (January 2007 est.): Capital--Oslo (pop. 839,423, including suburbs). Other cities--Bergen (248,668), Stavanger (212,691, including suburbs), Trondheim (166,304).
Terrain: Rugged with high plateaus, steep fjords, mountains, and fertile valleys.
Climate: Temperate along the coast, colder inland.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Norwegian(s).
Population (July 2007 est.): 4,812,200.
Annual growth rate (2006): 0.34%.
Density (2006): 15.2 per sq. km. (excluding inland water).
Ethnic groups: Norwegian (Nordic, Alpine, Baltic); Sami, a racial-cultural minority; foreign nationals from Nordic and other countries.
Religion (2004): Church of Norway (Lutheran), 88%; Pentecostal Christian, 1%; Roman Catholic, 1%; other Christian, 2.4%; Muslim, 1.8%; other, none, or unknown, 8.1%.
Languages: Bokmål Norwegian (official), Nynorsk Norwegian (official), small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities, English is widely spoken (Sami is official in six municipalities).
Education: Years compulsory--10. Literacy--100%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2007)--3.1 deaths/1,000. Life expectancy (2006 est.)--men 78.2 yrs; women 82.7 yrs.
Work force (2007) 2.5 million: Legislators, senior officials, and managers--5.8%; professionals--11.3%; technicians and associate professionals--25.2%; clerks--6.9%; service workers and market sales workers--24.2%; agricultural, forestry, and fishery workers--2.5%; craft and related trades workers--11.3%; plant and machine operators and assemblers--7.3%; other occupations and unspecified--5.3%.

Type: Hereditary constitutional monarchy.
Independence: 1905.
Constitution: May 17, 1814.
Branches: Executive--king (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). The Council is appointed by the monarch in accordance with the will of the Storting, to which the Council is responsible. Legislative--modified unicameral parliament (Storting, 165 members, elected for four years by universal adult suffrage). Judicial--Supreme Court, appellate courts, city and county courts.
Political parties: Labor, Progress, Conservative, Socialist Left, Christian Democratic, Center, Liberal.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 19 fylker (counties) and 431 municipalities, and Svalbard.

GDP (2007): $347 billion.
Annual growth rate (2007): 3.2%.
Per capita GDP (2006, purchasing power parity): $73,800.
Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, titanium, pyrites, nickel, fish, timber, hydropower
Arable land: 2.7%.
Agriculture: Products--dairy, livestock, grain (barley, oats, wheat), potatoes and other vegetables, fruits and berries, furs, wool, pork, beef, veal, fish.
Industry: Types--petroleum and gas, food processing, shipbuilding, pulp and paper products, aluminum, ferroalloys, iron and steel, nickel, zinc, nitrogen, fertilizers, petrochemicals, hydroelectric power, refinery products, timber, mining, textiles, fishing, transport equipment, electronics.
Trade (2007): Exports (f.o.b.)--$159.2 billion. Major markets--U.K. 26.8%, Germany 12.3%, Netherlands 10.2%, France 8.3%, U.S. 6.2%, Sweden 7.5%. Imports (f.o.b.)--$104.7 billion. Major suppliers--Sweden 14.5%, Germany 13.5%, U.K. 7%, Denmark 6.2%, China 6%, U.S. 4.8%.
GDP by activity (2007): Oil and gas--23%; manufacturing, mining, electricity, building and construction--16%; general government--14%; value added tax (VAT), etc.--11%; commodities, vehicle repairs, etc.--7%; communication and transport--6%; agriculture, forestry, and fishing--1%; other services (commercial, housing, financial, private health/education, hotel and catering, etc.)--22%.

Norway’s northern regions lie within the Arctic Circle, where there are borders with Finland and Russia, while much of the long border with Sweden runs through the Scandinavian mountains. This range, sloping to the south-east, is 1,530 km in length and has its highest areas in the south of Norway, where Galdhøpiggen, Norway’s highest point, reaches a peak of 2,469 m (8,100 ft). Almost all of Norway is high ground; in the north the country becomes narrower, with mountains overlooking the fjords and the islands along the coast, and in the center and south the mountains form a high plateau, where there are permanent ice fields. The only area of low ground is around the Oslo fjord and along the coast to Stavanger. The principal rivers are the Glomma, the Lågen and Tanaelv. Some 6% of Norway’s area is inland water--mostly long, thin lakes. Two-thirds of the country is tundra, rock or snowfields, and one-quarter is forested, so good agricultural land is rare. Less than 3% of Norway is cultivated, and these areas are in the south-east and in the river valleys. The mountains of Norway are rich in minerals; there are deposits of iron ore, copper, titanium, coal, zinc, lead, nickel and pyrites, and large offshore reserves of petroleum and natural gas.

Although Norway crosses the Arctic Circle, the climate is not as cold as might be expected, since the North Atlantic Drift brings warm, damp air to the whole country. The geographical conditions give rise to great climatic variation: it is cooler inland and to the north, where winters are long and dark with much snow, but where the sun shines day and night for part of the summer. It is wetter on the west coast, where about 2,000 mm (78.7 inches) of rain falls annually on Bergen; the mean annual rainfall in the capital, Oslo, is 730 mm, most of which falls during the summer. Temperatures in Oslo are highest in July, when the average is 17.3°C (64°F), and lowest in January, when the average falls to −4.7°C (24°F).

Ethnically, Norwegians are predominantly Germanic, although in the far north there are communities of Sami who came to the area more than 10,000 years ago, probably from central Asia. In recent years, Norway has become home to increasing numbers of immigrants, foreign workers, and asylum-seekers from various parts of the world. There are 423,000 immigrants and 86,000 Norwegian-born persons with immigrant parents living in Norway. The majority of immigrants are from Poland, Sweden, Germany, and Iraq. Thirty-six percent of immigrants have Norwegian citizenship.

Although the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state church, Norway has complete religious freedom. Education is free through the university level and is compulsory from ages 6 to 16. At least 12 months of military service and training are required of every eligible male. Norway's health system includes free hospital care, physicians’ compensation, cash benefits during illness and pregnancy, and other medical and dental plans. There is a public pension system.

Norway is in the top rank of nations in the number of books printed per capita, even though Norwegian is one of the world's smallest language groups. Norway's most famous writer is the dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Artists Edvard Munch and Christian Krogh were Ibsen's contemporaries. Munch drew part of his inspiration from Europe and in turn exercised a strong influence on later European expressionists. Sculptor Gustav Vigeland has a permanent exhibition in the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo. Musical development in Norway since Edvard Grieg has followed either native folk themes or, more recently, international trends.

The Viking period (9th to 11th centuries) was one of national unification and expansion. The unification of Viking settlements along the Norwegian coast was well advanced by the death, in 1030, of St. Olav, who had overseen the population’s conversion to Christianity. A period of civil war ended in the 13th century when Norway expanded its control overseas to parts of the British Isles, Iceland, and Greenland. Norwegian territorial power peaked in 1265, and the following year the Isle of Man and the Hebrides were ceded to Scotland. Competition from the Hanseatic League and the spread of the Black Death weakened the country. The Norwegian royal line died out in 1387, as the country underwent a period of union with Denmark under King Olaf; union with Sweden followed in 1397. Attempts to keep all three countries united failed, with Sweden finally breaking away in 1521. By 1586, Norway had become part of the Danish Kingdom. In 1814, as a result of the Napoleonic wars, Norway was separated from Denmark and combined with Sweden again.

The Napoleonic War saw Denmark side with France in 1807, following the British attack on Copenhagen. With Sweden joining the coalition against Napoleon in 1813, the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 transferred Norway to the Swedish King following Denmark’s defeat. The Norwegians ignored this international agreement and chose the Danish Prince as their king and adopted the liberal Eidsvoll Constitution on May 17, 1814 (May 17 later became Norway’s national holiday). After a few months a Swedish-Norwegian union was agreed under the Swedish crown, with Norway being granted its own parliament (Storting) and government. However, the Swedish King attempted unsuccessfully to revise this constitution in the 1820s and 1830s and parliamentary control over the executive was only obtained following a struggle during the 1870s and 1880s. Norwegian nationalism was associated with the creation of a national standard for written Norwegian based on dialects, rather than the Danish-based official language. There were numerous disputes between the Norwegian Government and Sweden, notably over requests for a Norwegian consular service to reflect the importance of Norway’s expanding merchant fleet. In 1905 the union between the two countries was dissolved following two plebiscites in Norway, one opting for independence and one for a constitutional monarchy. Danish Prince Carl was unanimously elected as King by the Storting in 1905 and took the name of Haakon VII (after the kings of independent Norway) on his arrival in Norway. Haakon died in 1957 and was succeeded by his son, Olav V, who died in January 1991. Upon Olav's death, his son Harald was crowned as King Harald V.

Norway was a nonbelligerent during World War I, but as a result of the German invasion and occupation during World War II, Norwegians generally became skeptical of the concept of neutrality and turned instead to collective security. During the German occupation 736 Norwegian Jews perished; Norwegians saved more than 900 Jews by hiding them and smuggling them across the border into Sweden. Norway was one of the signers of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and was a founding member of the United Nations. The first UN General Secretary, Trygve Lie, was a Norwegian. Under the terms of the will of Alfred Nobel, the Storting (parliament) elects the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who award the Nobel Peace Prize to champions of peace. Norway voted on entry to the European Union (EU) in 1974 and 1994, rejecting membership both times. Today a strong majority is opposed to EU membership.

The functions of the king are mainly ceremonial, but he has influence as the symbol of national unity. Although the 1814 constitution grants important executive powers to the king, these are almost always exercised by the Council of Ministers in the name of the king (King's Council). The Council of Ministers consists of a prime minister--chosen by the political parties represented in the Storting--and other ministers.

The 169 members of the Storting are elected from 19 fylker (counties) for 4-year terms according to a complicated system of proportional representation. After elections, the Storting divides into two chambers, the Odelsting and the Lagting, which meet separately or jointly depending on the legislative issue under consideration.

The special High Court of the Realm hears impeachment cases; the regular courts include the Supreme Court (17 permanent judges and a president), courts of appeal, city and county courts, the labor court, and conciliation councils. Judges attached to regular courts are appointed by the king in council after nomination by the Ministry of Justice.

Each fylke is headed by a governor appointed by the king in council, with one governor exercising authority in both Oslo and the adjacent county of Akershus.

Until the 1981 election, Norway had been governed by majority Labor Party governments since 1935, except for three periods (1963, 1965-71, and 1972-73). The Labor Party lost its majority in the Storting in the 1981 elections.

From 1981 to 1997, governments alternated between Labor minority governments and Conservative-led coalition governments. The first government coalition led by Christian Democrat Kjell Magne Bondevik came to power in 1997, but fell in March 2000 over the issue of proposed gas-fired power plants, opposed by Bondevik due to their impact on climate change. The Labor Party's Jens Stoltenberg, a Brundtland protégé, took over in a minority Labor government but lost power in the September 2001 election when Labor posted its worse performance since World War I. Bondevik once again became Prime Minister, this time as head of a minority government with the Conservatives and Liberals in a coalition heavily dependent upon the right-populist Progress Party.

The September 2005 elections ended the Bondevik government, and the Labor Party came back with its most substantial victory in years, securing 60 of the 169 seats in parliament. While this election result once more made Labor the undisputed heavyweight in Norwegian politics, Stoltenberg, chastened by his previous stint as the head of a minority government, reached out to the far left Socialist Left party and agrarian Center party to form a coalition government that commanded a majority of seats in parliament. The current government is the first majority government in Norway in over 20 years, but the governing coalition has had to bridge substantial policy differences to build this majority.

The new government that took office in October 2005 issued a Northern Policy that represented a compromise among petroleum, fishing, and environmental interests in the use of Norway’s northern offshore area. This “High North” strategy has remained one of the constant themes of this government and encompasses many of the government’s highest priorities, including environmental protection, responsible development of energy resources, maintaining a security presence in the Arctic, and developing Norway’s relations with Russia.

Principal Government Officials
King--Harald V
Prime Minister--Jens Stoltenberg
Minister of Finance--Kristin Halvorsen
Minister of Local Government and Regional Development--Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Jonas Gahr Støre
Minister of Defense--Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen
Minister of the Environment--Erik Solheim
Minister of Petroleum and Energy--Terje Rils-Johansen
Minister of Development Co-operation--Erik Solheim
Minister of Trade and Industry--Sylvia Kristin Brustad
Minister of Transport and Communications--Liv Signe Navarsete
Minister of Education and Research--Bård Vegar Solhjell, Tora Aasland
Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion--Dag Terje Andersen
Minister of Justice--Knut Storberget
Minister of Children and Equality--Anniken Huitfeldt
Minister of Culture and Church Affairs--Trond Giske
Minister of Health and Care Services--Bjarne Håkon Hanssen
Minister of Government Administration and Reform--Heidi Grande Røys
Minister of Agriculture and Food--Lars Peder Brekk
Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs--Helga Pedersen
Ambassador to the United States--Wegger Christian Strommen
Ambassador to NATO--Kim Traavik
Ambassador to the United Nations--Morten Wetland

Norway maintains an embassy in the United States at 2720 34th Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-333-6000) and consulates in Houston, New York, and San Francisco. Norway closed its consulate in Minneapolis in 2008 but maintains an honorary consulate with Walter Mondale as honorary consul.

Norway is one of the world's richest countries in per capita terms. It has an important stake in promoting a liberal environment for foreign trade. Its large shipping fleet is one of the most modern among maritime nations. Metals, pulp and paper products, chemicals, shipbuilding, and fishing are the most significant traditional industries.

Norway's emergence as a major oil and gas producer in the mid-1970s transformed the economy. Large sums of investment capital poured into the offshore oil sector, leading to greater increases in Norwegian production costs and wages than in the rest of Western Europe up to the time of the global recovery of the mid-1980s. The influx of oil revenue also permitted Norway to expand an already extensive social welfare system. Norway has established a state Petroleum Fund that exceeded $388 billion by the end of December 2007. The fund is primarily designed to help finance government programs once oil and gas resources become depleted. Norway is currently enjoying large foreign trade surpluses thanks to high oil prices. Although Norway’s unemployment rate has had a slight increase due to the international credit crisis, it still remains low (2.8% range). As yet, the country does not have a significant industrial or manufacturing base and, in banking and financial services, the country is in the process of liberalizing and consolidating the industry. Norway's restricted labor market has limited the country's ability for mainland growth, although growth in the service sector has been stronger than in manufacturing. Labor costs have increased at a rate higher than its major trade rivals, causing a continued loss in Norway's competitive advantage. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has applauded Norway’s strong economy. Growth was expected to continue in 2008.

Norway voted against joining the European Union (EU) in a 1994 referendum. With the exception of the agricultural and fisheries sectors, however, Norway enjoys free trade with the EU under the framework of the European Economic Area. This agreement aims to apply the four freedoms of the EU's internal market (goods, persons, services, and capital) to Norway. As a result, Norway normally adopts and implements most EU directives. The present government has agreed not to open the question of full membership in the EU during the 2005-2009 legislative term. Norwegian monetary policy is aimed at maintaining a stable exchange rate for the krone against European currencies, of which the euro is a key operating parameter. Norway is not a member of the EU's Economic and Monetary Union and does not have a fixed exchange rate. Its principal trading partners are in the EU; the United States ranks sixth.

Energy Resources
Offshore hydrocarbon deposits were discovered in the 1960s, and development began in the 1970s. Production increased significantly in the 1990s as new fields come on stream. The growth of the petroleum sector has contributed significantly to Norwegian economic vitality. Current petroleum production capacity is approximately 2.6 million barrels per day. Production in gas has increased rapidly during the past several years as new fields are opened, with crude oil production in decline. Total production in 2007 was about 238 million cubic meters of oil equivalents, approximately 50% of which was crude oil. This represented a decline in crude oil production over the previous year, accompanied by sharp increases in gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) production. Hydropower provides nearly all of Norway's electricity, and all of the gas and most of the oil produced is exported.

Norway is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and third largest gas exporter, providing much of western Europe's crude oil and gas requirements. In 2006, Norwegian oil and gas exports accounted for over 50% of total merchandise exports. In addition, offshore exploration and production have stimulated onshore economic activities. In 2007, 31% of state revenues were generated from the petroleum industry; taxes and direct ownership ensure high revenues. Foreign companies, including many American ones, participate actively in the petroleum sector. The oil industry employs slightly less than 30,000 people.

Petroleum resources are expected to become less abundant and less commercially exploitable over time and may be reaching a plateau. However, innovative use of extraction technologies has extended the lives of fields far beyond their expected closures. Declines in petroleum extraction revenue may be offset by increased revenue from the extraction of natural gas. For example, Norwegian natural gas production is projected to increase through new and existing fields, such as Snohvit and Troll. Snohvit’s production has been severely affected by significant technological setbacks, including a cessation of operations in March 2008. Further, future gas production from the Troll (West) field has been limited by the government due to the field’s declining oil resources. Given that the energy industry affects virtually every sector in the economy, diversification remains Norway's greatest challenge.

Norway supports international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, recognizing the need for maintaining national defense through collective security. Accordingly, the cornerstones of Norwegian policy are active membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and support for the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Norway also pursues a policy of economic, social, and cultural cooperation with other Nordic countries--Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland--through the Nordic Council and bilaterally.

In addition to strengthening traditional ties with developed countries, Norway seeks to build friendly relations with developing countries and has undertaken humanitarian and development aid efforts with selected African and Asian nations. Norway also is dedicated to encouraging democracy, assisting refugees, promoting a global response to climate change and protecting human rights throughout the world.

The United States and Norway enjoy a long tradition of friendly association. The relationship is strengthened by the millions of Norwegian-Americans in the United States and by about 20,000 U.S. citizens who reside in Norway. The two countries enjoy an active cultural exchange, both officially and privately.

Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d’Affaires--Kevin M. Johnson (replacement is James T. Heg, arrival July 2009)
Counselor for Political-Economic Affairs--Cherrie S. Daniels
Counselor for Public Affairs--Hillary Olsin-Windecker
Management Officer--Nathan Bluhm
Chief, Consular Section--Rodger J. Deuerlein
Defense Attaché--Capt. Russell H. Smith, USN
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Robert Simm, USAF
Labor Attaché--Edward T. Canuel (until July 2009)
Regional Security Officer----Eric Carlson

The U.S. Embassy is located at Henrik Ibsens gate 48, 0244 Oslo (tel. 47-22- 44- 85-50; FAX: 47-22-43-07-77).