Background Note: Norway

PA Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Description: Historical, Political and Economic Overviews of the Countries of the World Date: Aug, 15 19928/15/92 Category: Country Data Region: Europe Country: Norway Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics, Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, State Department [TEXT]

Official Name:

Kingdom of Norway


(including the island territories of Svalbard and Jan Mayen): 386,000 sq. km. (150,000 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New Mexico.
Capital--Oslo (pop. 467,000). Other cities--Bergen (216,000), Trondheim (139,600), Stavanger (99,800).
Rugged with high plateaus, steep fjords, mountains, and fertile valleys.
Temperate along the coast, colder inland.
Noun and adjective--Norwegian(s).
Population (1991 est.):
4.3 million.
Annual growth rate (1991):
14 per sq. km.
Ethnic groups:
Norwegian (Nordic, Alpine, Baltic), Lapp (or Sami, a racial-cultural minority of 20,000); foreign nationals (148,000 from Denmark, UK, Sweden, US, Pakistan, Vietnam, Germany, Turkey).
Evangelical Lutheran 94%.
Norwegian (official), Lapp.
Years compulsory--9. Literacy--100%.
Infant mortality rate--7/1,000. Life expectancy--men 73 yrs; women 80 yrs.
Work force (1991, 2.1 million):
Government, social, personal services--37%. Wholesale and retail trade, hotels, restaurants--18%. Manufacturing--15%. Transport and communications--8%. Financing, insurance, real estate, business services--8%. Agriculture, forestry, fishing--8%. Construction-- 6%. Oil extraction--1%.
Hereditary constitutional monarchy.
May 17, 1814.
Executive--king (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), council of ministers (cabinet). Legislative-- modified unicameral parliament (Storting). Judicial--Supreme Court, appellate courts, city and county courts.
Political parties:
Labor, Conservative, Center, Christian People's, Socialist Left, Progress.
Universal over 18.
Administrative subdivisions:
18 fylker (counties), the city of Oslo, and Svalbard.
National holiday:
May 17.
Central government budget (1991):
$52 billion.
Defense (1991):
3.2% of GNP.
White cross with blue inner cross on red field. The white cross and red field are derived from the Danish flag; the blue cross was added to symbolize Norway's independence.
Economy GNP (1991):
$103 billion.
Annual growth rate (1991):
Per capita GNP (1991):
Natural resources:
Oil, gas, fish, timber, hydroelectric power, mineral ores.
Agriculture and fishing (3% of GNP):
Products--dairy, livestock, grain (barley, oats, wheat), potatoes and other vegetables, fruits and berries, furs, wool. Arable land--3%.
Oil, gas, shipping:
19% of GNP.
Industry (manufacturing, 13% of GNP):
Types--food processing, pulp and paper, ships, aluminum, ferroalloys, iron and steel, nickel, zinc, nitrogen, fertilizers, transport equipment, hydroelectric power, refinery products, petrochemicals, electronics.
4% of GNP.
Trade (1991):
Exports (f.o.b.)--$36 billion: crude oil, natural gas, pulp and paper, metals, chemicals, fish and fish products. Major markets--UK, Germany, Sweden, US (5%). Imports (c.i.f.)--$26 billion: machinery and transport equipment, foodstuffs, iron and steel, textiles and clothing. Major suppliers--Sweden, Germany, UK, US (8%).
Official exchange rate (average 1991):
6.5 Norwegian kroner=US$1.
Aid sent (1991):
$1.1 billion. Primary recipients-- Tanzania, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Zambia, UN organizations.


Ethnically, Norwegians are predominantly Germanic, although in the far north there are communities of Sami (Lapps) 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. Immigrants now total nearly 150,000; some 5,000 obtained Norwegian citizenship in 1991. 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 7 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, physician's 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 contemporaries of Ibsen. 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 since 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 Norwegian royal line died out in 1387, and the country entered a period of union with Denmark. 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. The union persisted until 1905, when Sweden recognized Norwegian independence. The Norwegian Government offered the throne of Norway to Danish Prince Carl in 1905. After a plebiscite approving the establishment of a monarchy, the parliament unanimously elected him king. He took the name of Haakon VII, after the kings of independent 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 non-belligerent 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. 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.


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 the prime minister--chosen by the political parties represented in the Storting (parliament)--and other ministers. The 165 members of the Storting are elected from 18 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.
Principal Government Officials
King--Harald V Prime Minister--Gro Harlem Brundtland Minister of Foreign Affairs--Thorvald Stoltenberg Ambassador to the United States--Kjeld Vibe Ambassador to NATO--Bjorn Kristvik Ambassador to the United Nations--Martin Huslid Norway maintains an embassy in the United States at 2720 34th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.202-388-6000 and consulates in Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco.


Until the 1981 election, Norway had been governed by 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 1961 elections; thereafter, when in power, its rule has depended largely upon support of other parties, according to the issue under consideration. Labor dropped to 66 seats in the 1981 election, and the Conservative Party formed a minority government with the parliamentary backing of the two other nonsocialist parties, the Center Party, and the Christian People's Party. In June 1988, the Conservative government was reorganized into a majority coalition government with those two parties. The three-party coalition government suffered a setback in the 1985 election and lost a vote of confidence in April 1986 when the Progress Party withdrew its support over a proposed gasoline tax increase. Since under the Norwegian constitution the parliament cannot be dissolved, the Labor Party had to form a minority government in May 1986 with the same parliamentary composition as existed before the no-confidence vote. The Labor Party governed for over 3 years with the support of the Socialist Left Party and individual members of the other parties on a case-by- case basis. After suffering losses in the September 1989 elections, the Labor Party left the government in October 1989 and was replaced by a minority nonsocialist coalition led by the Conservative Party of Jan P. Syse. One year later, the Syse Government fell over the issue of Norwegian policy toward the European Community and was replaced in November 1990 by a minority Labor Party government. Gro Harlem Brundtland is again Prime Minister after forming her third government in 10 years. Norway holds national elections in September 1993.


Norway is one of the world's richest countries. 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. High oil prices in the 1983-85 period led to significant increases in consumer spending, wages, and inflation. The subsequent decline in oil prices since 1985 has sharply reduced tax revenues and required a tightening of both the government budget and private sector demand. As a result, the non-oil economy showed almost no growth during 1986-88, and the current account went into deficit. As oil prices recovered sharply in 1990 following the Persian Gulf crisis, the 1990 current account posted a large surplus which continued into 1991. Unemployment as of the first quarter of 1991 rose to a post-1945 high of 6.2%. Given the volatility of the oil and gas market, Norway is seeking to restructure its non-oil economy to reduce subsidies and stimulate efficient, nontraditional industry. Norway's exports have continued to grow every year, largely because of favorable world demand. Moreover, the flight of Norwegian- owned ships from the country's traditional register ended in 1987, as the government established an international register, replete with tax breaks and relief from national crewmember requirements. At the same time, a drop in private consumption has helped to reduce Norway's imports. Norway continues to adapt its economic policy to international developments, notably the emerging European Community (EC) single market. Norway and the other European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members are in the process of concluding an economic cooperation agreement with the EC under the framework of the European Economic Area (EEA). This agreement, which promotes free trade, is being designed to limit the distortive impact of the EC single market on commodity trade and the movements of labor and capital. On EC membership, Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland has indicated that Norway may submit an application before the end of 1992. Its principle trading partners are the EC countries and its Scandinavian neighbors; the United States ranks fifth.
Energy Resources
Offshore hydrocarbons were discovered in the 1960s, and development began in the 1970s. The growth of the petroleum sector has contributed significantly in recent years to Norwegian economic vitality. Current petroleum production capacity is over 2 million barrels per day. Production has increased rapidly during the past several years as new fields are opened. Total production in 1991 was about 118 million metric tons of oil equivalents, nearly 80% of which was crude oil. Hydropower provides nearly all of Norway's electricity, and all of the gas and most of the oil produced were exported. Production is expected to increase significantly in the 1990s as new fields come onstream. Although not a major energy supplier to the world, Norway provides about 40% of Western Europe's crude oil requirements and 16% of gas requirements. In 1991, Norwegian oil and gas exports accounted for 44% of total merchandise exports. In addition, offshore exploration and production have stimulated onshore economic activities. Foreign companies, including many American ones, participate actively in the petroleum sector.


Norway supports international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, recognizing the need for maintaining a strong national defense through collective security. Accordingly, the cornerstones of Norwegian policy are active membership in 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. 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 is also dedicated to encouraging democracy, assisting refugees, and protecting human rights throughout the world.


Norway has a draft system in which all able-bodied males are subject to military service. The Royal Norwegian Navy and Air Force are technically sophisticated organizations and manned by a core of professionals. The Norwegian Army is a mobile infantry force.


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 10,000 US citizens who reside in Norway. The two countries enjoy an active cultural exchange, both officially and privately.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Loret Miller Ruppe Deputy Chief of Mission--William C. McCahill, Jr. Chief, Political Section--Elizabeth P. Spiro Chief, Economic Section--F. Brenne Bachmann Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--William M. Zavis Administrative Officer--Vacant Chief, Consular Section--Eli N. Lauderdale, Jr. Commercial Attache--Scott Bozek Defense Attache--Capt. Richard P. Vidosic Labor Attache--Elaine Papazian The US Embassy is located at Drammensveien 18, 0244 Oslo (tel. 47- 2- 44-85-50; FAX: 47-2-43-07-77).
Further Information
For information on economic trends, commercial development, production, trade regulations, and tariff rates, contact the International Trade Administration, US Department of Commerce, Washington, DC 20230.


A passport is required. No visa is required if the total stay in Norway, Sweden, Finland, or Denmark is less than 3 months. A residence permit is required for longer stays.
Standards for public health and medical facilities are high. Tapwater is potable.
Service is efficient to most of Norway and the world. Norway is six standard time zones ahead of eastern standard time.
Daily flights connect Oslo with the US and major European cities. Public transportation is efficient.


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- August 1992 -- Editor: Jo Brooks Department of State Publication 8228 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)