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Norway (10/03)


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


The Kingdom of Norway

Area* (including the island territories of Svalbard and Jan Mayen): 385,155 sq. km. (approx 150,000 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New Mexico.
Cities* (2002): Capital--Oslo (pop. 512,589). Other cities--Bergen (233,291), Trondheim (151,408), Stavanger (109,710).
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* (2002 est.): 4,524,066.
Annual growth rate* (2000): 0.467%.
Density: Approx. 13 per sq. km.
Ethnic groups: Norwegian (Nordic, Alpine, Baltic), Sami, a racial-cultural minority of 20,000; foreign nationals (315,147) from Nordic and other countries.
Religion* (2002): Evangelical Lutheran, 86%; other Christian, 4%; Muslim, 1.5%; other, none, and unknown, 8.5%.
Languages: Norwegian (official), Sami; English is widely spoken.
Education*: Years compulsory--10. Literacy--100%.
Health*: Infant mortality rate--3.9/1,000. Life expectancy (2001)--men 7576.21,96 yrs; women 81.53 yrs.
Work force* (2001, 2.278 million): Government, social, personal services--37.6%; wholesale and retail trade, hotels, restaurants--17.5%; manufacturing and mining--12.7%; transport and communications--7.4%; financing, insurance, real estate, business services--12%; agriculture, forestry, fishing--3.9%; construction--6.7%; oil extraction--1.4%.
*(Source: Central Bureau of Statistics Norway 2003).

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). Legislative--modified unicameral parliament (Storting). Judicial--Supreme Court, appellate courts, city and county courts.
Political parties: Labor, Conservative, Center, Christian Democratic, Liberal, Socialist Left, Progress.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 19 fylker (counties), and Svalbard.
National holiday: May 17.

Flag: flag of Norway

Economy (Source: Government of Norway 2002 budget).
GDP (2001): $164.7 billion.
Annual growth rate (2001 est.): 1.4%.
Per capita GDP (2001): $36,306.
Natural resources: Oil, gas, fish, timber, hydroelectric power, mineral ores.
Arable land: 3%.
Agriculture: Products--dairy, livestock, grain (barley, oats, wheat), potatoes and other vegetables, fruits and berries, furs, wool. Industry: Types--food processing, pulp and paper, ships, aluminum, ferroalloys, iron and steel, nickel, zinc, nitrogen, fertilizers, transport equipment, hydroelectric power, refinery products, petrochemicals, electronics.
Trade (2001): Exports (f.o.b.)--$59 billion: crude oil, natural gas, pulp and paper, metals, chemicals, fish and fish products. Major markets--U.K., Germany, Netherlands, France, Sweden, U.S. (7.7%). Imports (c.i.f.)--$34 billion: machinery and transport equipment, foodstuffs, iron and steel, textiles and clothing. Major suppliers--Sweden, Germany, U.K., U.S. (7.1%).
GDP by activity (2001): Agriculture, forestry and fishing--1.7%; manufacturing--8.7%; oil, gas, and mining--20.8%; construction--3.7.%; electricity supply--2%; service industries, excluding general government--38.1%; general government--15.5%; other--9.5%.

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. Immigrants now total over 300,000; some have obtained 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, 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 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 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 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. 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.

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 165 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. Since that time, minority and coalition governments have been the rule.

From 1981 to 1997, governments alternated between Labor minority governments and Conservative-led governments. Labor leader Gro Harlem Brundtland served as Prime Minister from 1990 until October 1996 when she decided to step out of politics. Labor Party leader Thorbjorn Jagland formed a new Labor government that stayed in office until October 1997. A three-party minority coalition government (Center, Christian Democratic, and Liberal parties) headed by Christian Democrat Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik moved into office when Jagland, after the September 1997 election, declared that his government would step down because the Labor Party failed to win at least 36.9% of the national vote, the percentage Labor had won in the 1993 election. That government fell in March 2000 over the issue of proposed gas-fired power plant, opposed by Bondevik due to their impact on climate change. The Labor Party's Jens Stoltenberg, a Brundtland prot�g�, 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.

Principal Government Officials
King--Harald V
Prime Minister--Kjell Magne Bondevik
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Jan Petersen
Ambassador to the United States--Knut Vollebaek
Ambassador to NATO--Kai Eide
Ambassador to the United Nations--Johan L. L�vald

Norway maintains an embassy in the United States at 2720 - 34th Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.202-333-6000 and consulates in Houston, Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco.

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 which reached $110 billion as of June 2003. The fund primarily will be used 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. Unemployment remains currently low (3%-4% range), and the prospects for economic growth are encouraging thanks to the government's stimulative fiscal policy and economic recovery in the United States and Europe.

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. 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 principle 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. The growth of the petroleum sector has contributed significantly to Norwegian economic vitality. Current petroleum production capacity is more than 3 million barrels per day. Production has increased rapidly during the past several years as new fields are opened. Total production in 2001 was about 251 million cubic meters of oil equivalents, nearly 79% of which was crude oil. Hydropower provides nearly all of Norway's electricity, and all of the gas and most of the oil produced is exported. Production increased significantly in the 1990s as new fields come onstream.

Norway is the world's third-largest oil exporter and provides much of western Europe's crude oil and gas requirements. In 2001, Norwegian oil and gas exports accounted for 57% 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 also is dedicated to encouraging democracy, assisting refugees, 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 10,000 U.S. citizens who reside in Norway. The two countries enjoy an active cultural exchange, both officially and privately.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--John Doyle Ong
Deputy Chief of Mission--Christopher W. Webster
Counselor for Political-Economic Affairs--Mike Hammer
Counselor for Public Affairs--Andy Schilling
Management Officer--vacant
Chief, Consular Section--Ellen Conway
Senior Commercial Officer--vacant
Defense Attache--Capt. Allen R. Nadolski, USN
Labor Attache--Ned Nyman

The U.S. Embassy is located at Drammensveien 18, 0244 Oslo (tel. 47-22- 44- 85-50; FAX: 47-22-43-07-77).

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

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