Norway - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Norway: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Norway, country in northern Europe, in the region called Scandinavia. A long and mostly narrow country, Norway occupies the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Norway’s extensive coastline is washed on three sides by seas. To the north is the Barents Sea, an arm of the Arctic Ocean; to the west is the Norwegian Sea; and to the south are the Skagerrak, a strait separating Norway from Denmark, and the North Sea. Norway shares a long eastern border with Sweden, and in the far northeast Norway shares a frontier with Russia and Finland. Oslo, in the southeast, is Norway’s capital and largest city.

Norway has several overseas possessions. In the Arctic Ocean are the Svalbard archipelago and Jan Mayen, a volcanic island northeast of Iceland. Norway’s possessions also include Bouvet Island, an uninhabited island in the South Atlantic Ocean, and Peter I Island, off Antarctica. Norway also claims the portion of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

Norway is a land of rugged, pine-topped mountain ranges, valleys gouged out by glaciers, and narrow deep-sided inlets from the sea known as fjords. A line of offshore islands called the skerry guard shields the coastline and forms a protected inland waterway. Norway’s name, which means “northern way,” reflects the importance of this waterway in linking the many small fjord and valley communities that are otherwise separated by rugged terrain.

As one of the world’s northernmost countries, Norway is sometimes called the Land of the Midnight Sun. One-third of Norway lies north of the Arctic Circle, where there is almost continuous daylight from May through July. In midwinter the far north is dark almost all of the time. The beauty of the land inspired musical works by Norway’s most famous composer, Edvard Grieg, who attempted to capture the changing mood created by the alternately light and dark seasons.

Today, as in the past, most of Norway’s people live along the shores of the fjords in the south. For many centuries, as fishers and traders, they lived off the sea. It was from Norway’s coast that the Vikings—skilled sailors who built a vast maritime trading network—ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland, later becoming the first Europeans to reach Greenland and North America in the late 10th century. The lure of the sea has remained strong into modern times. Norway retains a vigorous fishing industry and its merchant marine fleet is one of the world’s largest. During the late 20th century, the discovery of vast reserves of petroleum and natural gas in Norway’s portion of the North Sea brought an important new source of prosperity to the country. Today, Norway is among the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels.

The first unified Norwegian kingdom emerged in the 9th century AD. In 1397 Norway became a province of Denmark and was dominated by that country until 1814, when Denmark ceded Norway to Sweden. A surge of Norwegian nationalism in the 19th century led to the dissolution of the union with Sweden. Norway became an independent nation in 1905, with a constitutional monarch as head of state and a democratically elected government. Norway’s official name is the Kingdom of Norway (Norwegian Kongeriket Norge).


Norway is roughly as large as the state of Montana with a total land area of 384,802 sq km (148,573 sq mi). The landscape is rugged and mountainous with few areas of lowlands. The average elevation of Norway is more than 460 m (1,500 ft) above sea level. Norway’s coastline is, in proportion to its area, longer than that of any other large nation in the world. These geographical facts have been especially significant in Norway’s historical development.

Natural Regions in Norway

Mountains cover three-fifths of Norway and extend for almost its entire length. Scraped and rounded by glaciers, the mountains slope gradually to the east and drop sharply to the sea in the west. Northern Norway is a vast region of fjords, mountains, and islands. In the northernmost part of this region the fjords open into the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean. From the fjord heads the land rises to the vast Finnmarksvidda, a bleak plateau.

In central Norway the low, flat valleys surrounding the city of Trondheim are among the country’s most important agricultural regions. At the center of this region is the broad Trondheimsfjord, a body of water sheltered from the sea by peninsulas and islands.

Mountains rise again in the south, where the country broadens, and are grouped into the Dovrefjell and Langfjell ranges. Within the Langfjell is Norway’s highest peak, the Galdhøpiggen, which rises to 2,469 m (8,100 ft). To the west of this peak is Europe’s largest glacier, the Jostedalsbreen, which is 97 km (60 mi) long and 24 km (15 mi) wide. Farther south the Langfjell separates the fertile valleys of eastern Norway and the rugged land of the western fjords. The gradual slopes in the east are intensively cultivated and heavily settled; more than half of Norway’s population lives in this region.

Rivers and Lakes in Norway

Norway has abundant rivers and lakes. The larger rivers of Norway are found in the east, where the country’s longest river, the Glåma (Glomma), has a course of 610 km (380 mi). With its tributaries, the Glåma drains about one-eighth of Norway’s area. In the west rivers are generally short and swift, with many rapids and falls. The longest river in northern Norway is the Tana. Flowing north into the Barents Sea, it forms part of the frontier with Finland, and it is renowned as the country’s most important salmon-fishing river. Norway has tens of thousands of glacial lakes. The largest is Lake Mjøsa in the southeast, with an area of 390 sq km (150 sq mi).

Coastline and Islands in Norway

Fjords form Norway’s most distinctive physical feature—its deeply indented coastline. Geologists believe the fjords were once mountain valleys that were gouged by glaciers as the glaciers moved slowly to the sea. Later, the sea flooded the valleys to form fingers of water extending far into the interior. The most spectacular fjords are in the west, where mountains descend steeply to the sea. The longest and deepest fjord, Sognafjorden, is there. It is about 204 km (about 127 mi) long, and, in places, its rock walls rise abruptly from the sea to heights of 1,500 m (5,000 ft) or more. Norway’s most important harbors and cities are situated along the fjords, and where the land permits, farms line the steep banks.

More than 150,000 islands protect the coastline and gateways to the fjords from the worst of the stormy weather that sweeps the Arctic Ocean, and they provide an inland channel that in places is remarkably calm. Many of these islands, known as the skerry guard, are little more than rocks washed by the surf, but others are of considerable size. The Lofoten and Vesterålen island archipelagos in the northwest comprise Norway’s largest coastal island groups. The islands are the glaciated tops of an ancient volcanic mountain range, now partially submerged. Norway has a coastline of approximately 2,740 km (about 1,700 mi). If all the islands and inlets are included, Norway’s coastline extends about 21,930 km (about 13,620 mi).

Climate in Norway

Despite its northerly location, Norway has a generally favorable climate, with cool summers and mild winters. The warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift, an extension of the Gulf Stream, flow along the western coast of Norway and give the country a warmer climate than that of other countries at the same latitude. A maritime climate generally prevails over the coastal islands and lowlands, and most of the country’s fjords and harbors remain ice-free all year. At Bergen the average high temperature in January is 3°C (38°F), and the average in July is 19°C (66°F). Rainfall is heaviest along the west coast, with precipitation decreasing inland. The average annual precipitation in Bergen is 1,930 mm (76 in).

In the interior, a more continental climate prevails. Winters are typically colder, and summers are warmer. At Oslo the average high temperature in January is 5°C (41°F), slightly warmer than Bergen; however, the average high in July is significantly warmer at 28°C (82°F). Precipitation is generally less here than on the west coast, averaging 760 mm (30 in) annually. In the highlands of northern Norway the climate is subarctic, although temperatures are significantly milder in coastal areas.

Vegetation and Animal Life in Norway

Forests cover slightly more than one-fourth of Norway’s land area. Mainly deciduous forests are found in the coastal areas of southern and southwestern Norway. The principal species are birch, ash, hazel, elm, maple, and linden, but in some locations oak, yew, and holly may be found. To the east and north the forests contain increasing numbers of conifers. Thick boreal coniferous forests are found in coastal regions and in the valleys of eastern and central Norway. These forests are dominated by Scotch pine and Norway spruce, but also contain birch, alder, aspen, and mountain ash. Wild berries, such as the blueberry, lingonberry (the fruit of the mountain cranberry), and cloudberry, grow in most woodland areas. In the far north and at high elevations are tundra regions. The tundra is a treeless heath, with vegetation consisting mainly of hardy dwarf shrubs and wildflowers. Some 2,000 varieties of flowering plants grow in Norway.

Species of reindeer, polar fox, polar hare, wolf, musk-ox, and wolverine are common in the north and in the higher mountain areas. Moose, deer, fox, otter, and marten are found in the south and southeast. In the south large predatory animals, including wolf and bear, have been hunted nearly to extinction. Game birds, such as grouse, thrive in the mountains and valleys, and migratory seabirds breed on the shores of northern Norway. Both freshwater and saltwater fishes abound. Salmon, trout, grayling, perch, and pike are common in the streams and lakes. Herring, cod, halibut, haddock, mackerel, and other species spawn in coastal waters. One of Norway’s most curious inhabitants is the lemming, a small arctic rodent found in higher areas and in the north. Periodically, when overpopulation of lemmings leads to food scarcity, great hordes of the animals migrate to the lowlands in search of food, where some unwittingly plunge to their deaths in the sea.

Natural Resources of Norway

Norway has extensive waterpower resources. During the 20th century Norwegians began to harness the vast power of the many rivers that drain the country’s rugged mountain ranges to produce electricity. Today, Norway generates large quantities of inexpensive hydroelectric power, much of which is consumed by the country’s heavily energy-dependent electrochemical and electrometallurgical industries.

Norway’s principal mineral resources are petroleum and natural gas, which are extracted from the large reserves located along the continental shelf of the North Sea. Other mineral resources include modest amounts of iron ore, copper, zinc, and coal. Norway has Europe’s only molybdenite mine and its greatest deposit of ilmenite. Commercially useful deposits of chalk, dolomite, quartzite, graphite, and limestone are also found in Norway.

Agricultural resources in Norway are in short supply. Soils suitable for farming cover just 3 percent of Norway’s total area and are located mainly in the vicinities of Trondheim and Oslo. Forests cover more than one-quarter of Norway’s surface, and softwoods (mostly pine and spruce) are the country’s most important timber resource, furnishing forest products of many varieties for export. For centuries Norwegians have harvested marine life from the surrounding seas, and the fishing industry remains a major source of wealth for Norway.

Environmental Issues in Norway

One of the most serious environmental problems facing Norway is acid rain, a form of air pollution caused by industrial activity. Much of Norway’s acid rain stems from sulfur dioxide emissions originating mainly in the United Kingdom. Acid rain has damaged many of Norway’s forests and waterways. Because the country’s surface water and soils are especially susceptible to acidification, many Norwegian lakes can no longer support fish. This is a serious concern because fish are one of Norway’s primary food resources and a major export. Sulfur dioxide emissions have declined in much of Europe since the implementation of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Sulphur Protocols, beginning in the 1970s. However, high levels of sulfur dioxide from abroad continue to adversely affect Norway’s environment. Nitrogen oxide, the majority of which originates in other countries, has also become a cause of significant air pollution. Norway itself contributes relatively little air pollution to the atmosphere because it relies heavily on hydroelectric power, an environmentally clean energy source.

The Norwegian government has shown commitment to improving environmental health and conservation, and many of the nation’s most pristine lands are protected in parks and reserves. Norway is party to international treaties concerning air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, hazardous wastes, marine dumping, ship pollution, and wetlands.


The population of Norway is 4,660,539 (2009 estimate). The Norwegians are a remarkably homogenous people of Germanic origin. Apart from several thousand Saami and people of Finnish origin in the northern part of Norway, the country has no large minority groups. Norway is home to small numbers of Americans, Britons, Chileans, Danes, Iranians, Pakistanis, Swedes, and Vietnamese, among other groups.

Norway has the lowest population density in continental Europe, with 15 persons per sq km (39 per sq mi). Moreover, the distribution of the population is extremely uneven. About half of the country’s population lives in the southeast, and more than three-quarters of all Norwegians live within about 16 km (about 10 mi) of the sea. Some 80 percent of Norway’s population lives in urban areas. Almost all important settlements are situated on, or within easy reach of, the coastline, which offers good transportation links and a moderate climate. The high-lying interior regions are largely uninhabited, apart from seasonal occupation by hunters and herders. In recent decades the construction of new and improved road, rail, and air transport facilities has opened some mountain areas to permanent habitation.

Norway’s population is growing very slowly, with an annual rate of increase of only 0.34 percent in 2009. The birth rate has remained low and fairly steady since 1945, and death rates have declined due to improved health measures and rising living standards. Today, life expectancy in Norway is among the highest in the world: 83 years for women and 77 years for men.

Principal Cities of Norway

Oslo is the nation’s capital and the principal port and industrial center. It is also the largest city, with an estimated population of 536,209 in 2005 estimate. About one-fourth of the total population of Norway lives in the vicinity of Oslo. Modern architecture dominates the sprawling city, which covers hundreds of square kilometers and is one of the world’s largest cities in area. Oslo is home to the Storting, the national parliament; many cultural institutions, including the University of Oslo; the Munch Museum, with paintings by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch; and the Kon-Tiki Museum, with exhibits showcasing the voyages of the Norwegian anthropologist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl.

Bergen, the cultural center of western Norway and the second-largest city, has a population of 241,440. Bergen was once an important port for the Hanseatic League, and it remains an important shipping and transportation hub. Also called the “Gateway to the Fjords,” Bergen is the center of Norway’s west coast tourism industry.

Trondheim (157,813), founded in AD 997 by Olaf I, was for many years the capital of the Viking kings. Norwegian monarchs are still anointed at the majestic 11th-century Nidaros Cathedral—one of Norway’s most popular tourism destinations—and the city is considered a national shrine. A sheltered port serves the city, which lies amid a productive agricultural area.

Other important cities are Stavanger (114,936), former center of the Norwegian canning industry and now a base for offshore oil and natural gas operations; and Tromsø (63,392), Norway’s gateway to the Arctic.

Languages spoken in Norway

Despite Norway’s ethnic homogeneity, two distinct forms of the Norwegian language are spoken in the country. Both forms of the language are officially recognized as equal, and both must be offered in schools. The majority language, Bokmål (“book language”), is spoken by more than 80 percent of the population and taught to about 83 percent of all children in schools. Bokmål is a Norwegian form of the Danish language, which was used by the administrative and educated elite while Norway was under Danish rule (1397-1814). Nynorsk (New Norse) is taught to about 17 percent of children in schools, mainly in rural western areas. It was developed in the 19th century, as part of a Norwegian nationalist revival, from a synthesis of rural dialects and medieval Old Norse. Efforts to merge Bokmål and Nynorsk into a common tongue called Samnorsk (Common Norwegian) have made little progress to date. Finno-Ugric Saami languages are spoken by the Saami people, many of whom still inhabit their traditional lands in the far north.

Religion in Norway

The Evangelical Lutheran Church (see Lutheranism) is the national church of Norway. About 94 percent of the population belongs to the church, although many are nonpracticing members. The church is supported by the state, and the clergy is nominated by the king. Salaries and pensions of the clergy are set by law and paid by the government. Complete religious freedom is guaranteed by law, however. Other churches, mostly Pentecostal and other Protestant congregations and Roman Catholic, represent most of the non-Lutheran population. Norway is also home to a small Muslim population (see Islam).

Education in Norway

Compulsory education was established in Norway in the late 19th century. Educational reforms implemented in the 1960s and 1970s have reduced regional disparities and improved the quality of rural schools by providing more hours of instruction and a broader selection of courses. Norway has virtually no illiteracy.

Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16 and is provided by the state free of cost. For their elementary education, children attend a six-year lower school, which prescribes the same curriculum for all students. Students then attend a three-year secondary school, which offers many elective courses. At age 16, pupils who are qualified may attend a videregående skole (high school), where a three-year course of study prepares them for a difficult matriculation examination for the universities or for a vocational or technical occupation. Norway also has a system of folk high schools, or rural boarding schools, which provide courses in a wide variety of subjects for young adults who have completed their compulsory studies.

Norway has four public universities and ten colleges of university standing. The principal university is the University of Oslo (founded 1811), which also hosts the Nobel peace prize ceremony in the presence of the king of Norway (Nobel Prizes); the other universities are the University of Bergen (1948), the University of Tromsø (1968), and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (1968). All colleges and universities are state supported.

Social Structure of Norway

A striking feature of Norwegian society is a strong egalitarian outlook and the absence of conspicuous social divisions. Great wealth is not obvious. There is little poverty and few slums or luxury homes. Apart from forested areas, there are few large private landholdings in Norway. Farming, forestry, and fishing are typically small-scale, seasonal, family activities. Norway’s living standards are among the highest in Europe.

Norwegians’ sense of equality stems from the fact that feudalism was never thoroughly established in the country. For centuries Norway was administered by a small class of civil servants whose rule was neither tyrannical nor arbitrary. In the 20th century, Norwegians began to use the economic power of the state as a leveling force, and a steeply graduated tax on income helps fund the nation’s generous social services. Another leveling influence is the strict control of housing, most of which is financed by a state housing bank and constructed by cooperative housing associations.

Egalitarianism has a counterpart in respect for, and compliance with, the law. Norwegian legal institutions date to the early Middle Ages, when regional assemblies of freemen pronounced judgments even against their kings. Norway’s modern criminal code is humane, and there are comparatively few police. The equality of women in Norway is protected by law and by custom. Women are well represented in professions such as law, teaching, medicine, and the ministry. Most women with families work outside the home, in part because of the prevalence of state-run child-care centers.

Way of Life in Norway

The unity of the family has been a core Norwegian trait since Viking times. In rural areas the family remains the most important social unit. Ownership of an ancestral farm is protected by the odelsrett, a practice that gives a family the right to repurchase farmland even if it has recently been sold. Family members will make long journeys to attend weddings, christenings, confirmations, and burials. This closeness is frequently carried over into urban life.

Outdoor recreation plays a large role in national life. Norwegians prize solitude and self-reliance, and many people choose to walk or ski or camp alone. Swimming, sailing, fishing, and hunting are other activities that have special appeal for Norwegians. Association football (soccer) is widely played and attracts large audiences, as do the international ski-jumping competitions at Holmenkollen near Oslo. In the Winter Olympic Games, which Norway has hosted twice (Oslo, 1952; Lillehammer, 1994), Norwegians have earned more medals than any other country.

Norwegian workers are entitled by law to four weeks of paid annual holiday, and they are allowed to take three of those weeks during the summer months. In addition, eight church holidays are observed and widely used for recreation, along with the two national holidays—Labor Day (May 1) and Constitution Day (May 17). When summer comes, a favorite—and economical—form of holiday is found in retreating to the hytte, a simple summer home in the mountains or by the sea.

Culture of Norway

Norway retains a rich folk culture that has roots in the Viking age (see Viking Art). During the 19th century a renaissance of Norwegian culture occurred that was strongly influenced by nationalism and romanticism. This renaissance drew on many stylistic and thematic elements in western European culture as well as aspects unique to the Norwegian experience, including the struggle for an independent identity and a deep fascination with nature. Today, the Norwegian government plays an active role in cultural preservation through its large collections of folk art and music, and through state subsidies that provide grants to artists, fund exhibitions and other cultural projects, and permit outright purchases of works of art. State-supported schools teach traditional folk arts such as woodcarving, ornamental painting, and tapestry.

Norway has produced some of the world’s most famous explorers. The fearless Vikings preceded pioneers such as Fridtjof Nansen, who in 1888 was the first person to cross Greenland, and Roald Amundsen, who was the first to navigate the Northwest Passage and, in 1911, to reach the South Pole. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove his theory that people from South America had settled the islands of the South Pacific Ocean. He drifted 6,920 km (4,300 mi) from Peru to Polynesia on a balsa raft called the Kon-Tiki.

Literature in Norway

Norwegian literature goes back more than 1,000 years. Poems and sagas (medieval Icelandic prose narratives) produced from the 9th through the 13th centuries recorded the lives and experiences of the Norwegian Vikings. The oldest Norwegian literature took the form of poetry and includes eddic poetry (Poetic Edda), based on legends and mythological figures, and skaldic poetry, produced mainly by Norwegian court poets known as skalds. These poems, which offer valuable information about Norse mythology and history, were transmitted orally and first written down in the 13th century (See also Icelandic Literature). Norwegian literary and cultural traditions waned following the union with Denmark at the close of the 14th century and the growth of Danish influence.

A revival in Norwegian literature occurred after Danish rule ended in the early 19th century, as part of a nationalist movement to reassert an independent cultural identity. Nineteenth-century Norwegian writers to achieve international prominence include playwright Henrik Ibsen; novelists Jonas Lie and Alexander Kielland; and Nobel Prize winning authors Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Knut Hamsun, and Sigrid Undset. Important writers of the 20th century include poets Tarjei Vesaas and Stein Mehren and novelists Sigurd Hoel, Johan Falkberget, and Dag Solstad.

Performing and Visual Arts in Norway

The 19th-century renaissance of Norwegian culture brought with it a great flowering across the arts. Early expressions of a truly Norwegian style were produced in music by the composer Edvard Grieg and on canvas by the painter Johan Christian Dahl. Grieg achieved international renown for composing a memorable suite to Peer Gynt, Henrik Ibsen’s famous verse drama.

Other important Norwegian artists of the 19th and 20th centuries include composers Christian Sinding and Arne Nordheim; painters Adolph Tidemand and Edvard Munch, who introduced expressionism to Norway; and sculptor Gustav Vigeland, whose sculpture park in Oslo has gained international attention.

Norway has a small government-subsidized film industry that produces several feature films and dozens of documentaries or short films annually. A film festival is held annually in Haugesund.

Cultural Institutions in Norway

Oslo is the undisputed cultural center of Norway. Bergen, Trondheim, and Stavanger are important regional centers. The country’s largest art museum is the National Gallery in Oslo. Natural history museums are located in Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim, and Tromsø. Many other museums display artifacts of regional and national culture. The most notable of these is the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo. The Viking Museum in Oslo houses an amazingly well preserved 9th century ship in which a Viking queen was buried.

The municipal library system in Norway, begun in the early 20th century, is patterned after the United States model. In addition, the state maintains specialized libraries, including the University of Oslo Library, which was established in 1811 and long served as the national library. A new National Library, separate from the university library, opened in Oslo in 1999. Also important is the National Archives in Oslo.

Performing-arts organizations include the National Theater and the national ballet and opera, all in Oslo, and the National Stage in Bergen. The Oslo Philharmonic is the principal orchestra; other permanent orchestras are in Bergen and Trondheim. Since 1953 Bergen has held an annual international music festival.



Before the 20th century, most Norwegians made a living by farming, forestry, or fishing. Norway rapidly industrialized during the 20th century. Until the 1970s, this industrial expansion was based mainly on the exploitation of Norway’s vast waterpower resources and the materials provided by Norway’s farms, forests, and seas. During the 1970s, offshore drilling for petroleum and natural gas in Norway’s sector of the North Sea expanded rapidly, providing valuable new resources for industrial growth. Norway’s economy has since grown dependent on oil and natural gas production and is subject to fluctuations in international oil prices.

Norway’s standard of living has increased steadily since World War II. Taxes have also increased. Norwegians pay about half of their income directly or indirectly to the government, making Norwegians among the highest taxed of all Europeans. At the same time, Norway’s growing prosperity, driven in part by the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas reserves, has allowed the country to enlarge its already extensive social welfare system. Today, Norwegians enjoy one of the highest per capita standards of living in the world; estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2007 was $82,480.40. In 2007 Norway’s GDP was $388.4 billion.

Norway depends heavily on foreign trade and therefore advocates free trade. However, Norway has shown reluctance to forge closer bonds with other countries. Part of this reluctance stems from Norway’s desire to preserve its unique social democratic institutions as well as its small-scale agricultural and fishing operations. Norway was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, established in 1960). But Norwegian voters have consistently rejected membership in the European Union (EU). As an EFTA member, however, Norway is permitted to participate in a free-trade zone called the European Economic Area (EEA). With the exception of the fishing and agricultural sectors, this allows Norway full access to the EU’s large internal market.

The Government’s Role in the Economy in Norway

Norway’s economy is a mixed one of public and private enterprises. Although the economy is based on free-market principles, the government exercises considerable supervision and control. The state owns railroads and most of the public utilities, and state-owned enterprises largely control the vital oil and natural gas sectors. However, private industry is free to compete directly with state-owned enterprises in various fields, such as hydroelectricity. The government also holds investments in some companies that are privately operated, including Norsk Hydro, a leading producer of oil and metals. Other industries are entirely privately owned. All industries are subject to strict government regulations to protect the health and safety of workers and the environment.

The Norwegian government actively supports the nation’s industrial development. After World War II (1939-1945) the state took a lead role in promoting construction of power centers and industrial plants. Norway’s rate of domestic investment remains one of the highest in the world. The state works with the banking sector to channel financial resources and loans to various industries. In addition, about 2 percent of the nation’s GDP is invested in research and development to promote new industries and industrial processes in the areas of biotechnology, information technology, metallurgy, and other fields.

Labor in Norway

In 2007 Norway had a total employed labor force of 2.5 million. Labor was distributed among the various economic sectors as follows: services, 76 percent; industry, 21 percent; and agriculture, forestry, and fishing, 3 percent. Norwegian labor is well organized; about two-thirds of the labor force belongs to unions. The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions comprises 28 national unions with a total of about 780,000 members; the Co-operative Union and Wholesale Society represents 570,000 members. Unemployment in Norway is low compared to other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); it stood at 2.5 percent in 2007.

Agriculture of Norway

Agriculture accounts for just 1 percent of the annual GDP. Because of the mountainous terrain and generally poor soils, only 3 percent of the total land area is cultivated. The most important agricultural regions are the eastern valleys north of Oslo and the areas around Trondheim. Most farms are small and are worked by their owners and their families. Despite difficult conditions, farmers achieve high yields through mechanization and intensive use of fertilizers. Some farmland is so steep that tractors are impractical and farmers use power-operated cables to pull their plows.

The most important agricultural products in Norway are dairy products and cereal grains. More than half of the land under cultivation is meadow and pasture, most of which is planted with hay. Other important crops include oats, potatoes, barley, and corn. Norway must import about half of the grain needed to feed its livestock. The main livestock raised include cattle, hogs, sheep, and domestic fowl. Norway produces all of the meat and dairy products it needs and some of its vegetable and fruit requirements.

Forestry in Norway

The Norwegian forestry industry accounts for a relatively small proportion of Norway’s yearly GDP. More than one-fourth of Norway is forested, with the densest woodlands in the east, where most of the timber is felled. In 2007 annual timber production totaled 10.5 million cu m (370 million cu ft), most of which was spruce and pine.

Forestry work is seasonal and usually lasts from November to April. Two-thirds of the forests are privately owned, but all forests operate under close government supervision. The government subsidizes the planting of new trees.

Fishing in Norway

An important source of wealth for Norway is its fishing industry. Norway is one of the world’s leading fishing nations, accounting for about 3 percent of the world’s total catch. The nation’s large fishing fleet has an expansive catch area that extends to the banks of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. Since the early 1970s, the government has helped finance the development of a fish-farming industry (particularly of salmon and sea trout). The total yearly marine catch in 2007 was about 3.1 million metric tons. Important species caught include capelin, herring, mackerel, cod, sand lance (sand eel), pollock, salmon, and prawns.

Norway paused commercial whaling in 1988, following a moratorium on the practice issued by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). However, Norway resumed commercial hunting of the minke whale in 1993. As a member of the IWC, Norway has consistently resisted efforts to ban the slaughter of whales. Today, the Norwegian government sets a yearly quota of whales that can be killed based on estimates of the whale population.

Mining in Norway

Before offshore drilling for petroleum and natural gas began in the 1970s, mining was relatively unimportant in Norway, and the country had to import most of its fossil fuels. This sector now accounts for about one-eighth of Norway’s GDP; the percentage in any given year depends on world oil and gas prices.

Large petroleum and natural gas reserves were first discovered in Norwegian areas of the North Sea in the late 1960s, and petroleum production began on a trial basis in 1971. In 1974 a pipeline was completed to carry crude oil to Teesside in northeastern England. By 1975 Norway was producing enough petroleum to satisfy all of its domestic needs and also to export large quantities to Europe. By 2004 annual crude petroleum production was 1.04 billion barrels; natural gas production was 73.4 billion cu m (2,592 billion cu ft). Natural gas is piped to both Scotland and Germany. Today, Norway is the world’s third largest exporter of petroleum, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, and one of the world’s top exporters of natural gas.

Other mineral products of Norway include iron ore, lead concentrates, titanium, pyrite, coal, zinc, and copper. The largest iron mines are located at Sydvaranger, near the border with Russia. Coal is mined in the Svalbard archipelago.

Manufacturing in Norway

Manufacturing accounts for 10 percent of the annual GDP. The electrochemical and electrometallurgical industries form an important sector of manufacturing. These industries need an abundance of inexpensive electrical power, which Norway’s well-developed waterpower resources can supply. Although the raw materials for aluminum—one of the chief products of the country’s electrometallurgical industry—must be imported, Norway produces about 4 percent of the world’s supply of refined aluminum. It is also an important producer of ferroalloys. A major product of the electrochemical industry is nitrogenous fertilizer, produced from nitrogen that is extracted from the air using large amounts of electricity.

Norway was traditionally a major shipbuilding nation, but by the mid-1980s Norway’s share of the world’s new shipping capacity had declined to less than 1 percent. Shipbuilding contracted dramatically in the late 1970s as the industry encountered financial problems; many shipyards have since shifted some of their capacity to the production of equipment for the oil and gas fields. Other major manufactures include confections and processed fish, chemicals, paper, machinery, and electronic goods. The country has several petroleum refineries and a major integrated iron and steel plant at Mo i Rana, which is situated near the Arctic Circle.

About half of Norway’s manufacturing occurs in the counties surrounding Oslo. However, manufacturing facilities are located in many parts of the country, especially along coastal areas. Factories are typically small, and few enterprises employ more than 500 people.

Services in Norway

Services contribute 56 percent of Norway’s annual GDP. Services encompass a broad economic sector that includes public administration, banking and financial services, wholesale and retail trade, and the hotel and restaurant business, among other activities.

Currency and Banking of Norway

The basic monetary unit of Norway is the Norwegian krone. The krone is divided into 100 øre. The central bank is the Bank of Norway (established in 1816), which is the sole bank of issue.

Foreign Trade in Norway

The composition and flow of Norway’s export trade changed dramatically in the 1970s with the development of North Sea petroleum and natural gas reserves. Today, Norway is Europe’s largest exporter of these two products, which together normally account for between one-third and one-half of the country’s total annual exports. Other important exports include nonferrous metals, primarily aluminum; food products, particularly fish; chemicals and related products; paper; and iron and steel. In 2007 exports were valued at $137.9 billion; the main recipients were the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and the United States. Leading imports include machinery, transportation equipment, chemicals, clothing and accessories, iron and steel, and metal ores. Imports were valued at $79.8 billion; chief suppliers were Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and the United States.

Tourism of Norway

By the late 20th century a vigorous tourism industry had emerged in Norway, despite the nation’s comparatively high prices, and the country has seen a steady rise in the number of annual visitors. Most of Norway’s visitors come from the United Kingdom and continental Europe. In summer, when the days are pleasant and long, Norway’s coastal ports are a popular destination, especially among the many visitors who arrive by cruise ship or ferry. Other visitors are drawn to Norway’s historic sites, including its Viking museums and medieval stave churches. Norway’s scores of ski resorts and vast network of cross-country ski trails attract many winter tourists.

Infrastructure in Norway

J.1. Energy

Norway has the most developed waterpower resources of any country in Europe. Its hydroelectricity is the least expensive and its per capita consumption among the highest in the world. Development of this resource began in the early 20th century, and by 1960 Norway was exporting hydroelectricity to Sweden. Today, Norway obtains about three-quarters of its total energy requirements from electricity, virtually all of which is generated by waterpower. Electricity production in 2006 was 120 billion kilowatt-hours.

Most of Norway’s hydroelectric installations are built deep in the mountains. Tunnels, blasted through miles of rock, carry water from interior lakes to the mountain turbines. About one-quarter of this power is used for Norwegian homes, farms, and shops or is exported. The remaining three-quarters is used to power Norway’s major industries.

J.2. Transportation

Building roads and railroads is difficult and expensive in Norway because of the rugged terrain, and in much of the country water traffic is still vitally important. Norway is served by a road network of 91,916 km (57,114 mi), of which about one-third are national main roads. The road network is densest in the southeast. Railroads are state operated and have a total length of about 4,000 km (about 2,500 mi), more than half of which is electrified. Coastal transport, of both passengers and freight, is especially important in the west and north. The coastal towns of Bergen (in the southwest) and Kirkenes (near the Russian border) are linked by daily boat service. Oslo is the country’s principal port. The Norwegian merchant marine, with 1,454 vessels of 1,000 gross tons or more, is one of the largest in the world. It is an important source of foreign-exchange earnings. International and domestic air service is also well developed. The country has dozens of airports, with Gardermoen, the main international airport, located just north of Oslo.

J.3. Communications

Until 1981 radio and television broadcasting in Norway were monopolized by the state agency NRK. Since then, a growing number of privately owned radio and television broadcasters have competed with NRK, attracting substantial audiences. Norway has one of the world’s highest rates of newspaper readership, with most households receiving more than one paper. The newspaper industry is heavily subsidized by the government. In the past most major daily newspapers were associated with political parties; today, they are largely independent but they remain openly partisan. Important dailies include VG, Aftenposten, and Dagbladet.

Until 1998 the Norwegian state maintained a monopoly on the telecommunications industry. The industry was deregulated to meet requirements for participating in the single market of the European Union (EU). The state still owns most of the telecommunications infrastructure, but private companies—from small local companies to international telecommunications giants—are now permitted to offer services in a competitive marketplace.


Norway is a constitutional monarchy, with a monarch as head of state and a democratically elected government. The constitution was enacted on May 17, 1814. Although this document has been amended many times, the principal features remain unchanged.

The Norwegian monarchy is hereditary and descends to the oldest royal child. The monarch’s formal powers are nominal. The monarch makes all governmental appointments on the recommendation of the party or coalition in power, provides a dignified presence on ceremonial occasions, and presides at formal weekly meetings of the government. The monarch may not dissolve the government.

Executive of Norway

Executive power is exercised by a prime minister on behalf of the monarch. The prime minister, who is formally appointed by the monarch, is usually the leader of the largest party or coalition in the parliament. The cabinet, called the Council of State, consists of the prime minister and about 19 ministers who head the chief ministries. The cabinet is collectively responsible for administration policy, although each minister retains the right of public dissent on any specific issue. Cabinet ministers must be approved by the majority party or coalition in the parliament. Ministers are entitled to take part in parliamentary debates but may not vote. Civil service posts are filled by competitive examination.

Legislative in Norway

Legislative power resides with the parliament, called the Storting. It consists of 169 members elected by a system of proportional representation to four-year terms. All citizens aged 18 and older may vote in elections. At its first meeting the Storting elects roughly one-quarter of its members to an upper house, the Lagting, and the remainder to the lower house, the Odelsting. The two chambers are chosen so that the same party strength is maintained in each chamber, preserving representation of all parties based on their electoral performance.

All new bills, usually part of the cabinet’s program, are presented by a member of the Odelsting. If passed by the Odelsting, the bill is then considered by the Lagting. If the Lagting rejects the bill, the Odelsting may press for passage a second time. If the two houses still disagree, the full Storting meets and a two-thirds vote is required to pass the bill. The Storting also considers budget proposals, constitutional amendments, and important financial and political questions that are not new bills. Amendments to the constitution require approval by a two-thirds majority of the Storting in two successive sittings.

Judiciary in Norway

Norway’s highest court is the Supreme Court, or Høyesterett, consisting of a president and 17 judges. Cases are heard by a panel of five justices.

Below the Supreme Court are five regional courts of appeal, the Lagmannsrett. These lower courts, which are composed of three judges each, hear both civil and criminal cases. Below the regional courts are town and district courts, each headed by a professional magistrate, who may be assisted by lay judges. Each town also has a local mediation council (forliksraad), elected by the municipal council, to settle a wide range of civil cases. If mediation fails, the case is appealed to a higher court. Apart from mediation councils, all judges are appointed by the monarch. Norway abolished capital punishment for all crimes in 1979.

Local Government of Norway

Norway is divided into 19 counties (fylker), consisting of the city of Oslo and 18 large county areas. Each of the counties is governed by an elected county council. The counties are in turn divided into rural and urban districts, each of which has an elected governing council. Local governments have broad powers to collect taxes, to build schools and roads, and to provide social services. The police, however, are under the national ministry of justice.

Political Parties of Norway

The Labor Party, which advocates a moderate form of socialism, has played a leading role in Norwegian politics and has governed almost continuously since 1935. Although the Labor platform has called for a planned economy and government control of major industries, Norway’s mixed economy allows for extensive private ownership of industry and capital. Other major parties include the Conservative Party, which promotes free enterprise and lower taxation; the populist, anti-immigration far-right Progress Party; the Center Party, which favors the decentralization of decision-making in Norway and is an outspoken opponent of Norway’s membership in the European Union (EU); the Christian People’s Party, a centrist, antiabortion party advocating Christian principles in politics; and the far-left Socialist Left Party. Minority parties include the center-left Liberal Party; the Coastal Party, which promotes fishing interests; and the Norwegian Communist Party.

The Norwegian Communist Party has all but disappeared in the wake of the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Consequently, electoral support for the Socialist Left Party has increased as former Communists have joined its ranks. Increased support for centrist politics in Norway has strengthened the Christian People’s Party, which has been a leading party in nonsocialist coalition governments.

Social Welfare in Norway

Norway is a pioneer in social welfare legislation and today offers its citizens one of the most comprehensive systems in the world. Health insurance is mandatory for all people, with the state, the employer, and the individual all contributing to the health fund. Almost all medical care is free, including prenatal and maternity care, and free day care is available for children of working mothers. A compulsory National Pension Scheme that was put into effect in 1967 provides old-age, disability, rehabilitation, widow, widower, and other benefits, including one-year paid maternity leave and universal child support. The average pension, which begins at age 67, corresponds to about two-thirds of recipients’ earnings during their highest-paid years.

Defense of Norway

The principle of universal military service has long been accepted in Norway. A 12-month term in the army or a 15-month term in the navy or air force is compulsory for all male citizens when they reach the age of 19. In 2006 the armed forces had a combined strength of 23,400 members. Most military forces are posted in the north. A home guard, with a strength of about 85,000, is trained for special tasks in local areas. Norway is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which the country joined in 1949.

International Relations in Norway

Norway, like Denmark, departed from Scandinavia’s tradition of neutrality to become a member of NATO. However, Norway did not follow Denmark into the European Economic Community, now the European Union (EU). Norway helped establish the trading bloc known as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960, and today the organization serves as a platform that permits Norway and other EFTA members to trade freely with EU countries (see European Economic Area). With the other Scandinavian countries and Iceland, Norway belongs to the Nordic Council, founded in 1953 to foster economic, social, legal, and cultural cooperation. Norway is a member of the United Nations (UN) and maintains a small peacekeeping force for use under UN auspices.


Earliest Peoples

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. Agriculture and the use of domesticated animals appeared in Norway around 4000 BC. The transition from Stone Age to Bronze Age tools and more elaborate burial customs occurred in Norway about 1500 BC, and by 500 BC Norway had entered the early Iron Age. During the era of the Roman Empire, the inhabitants of Norway had trade contacts with Roman-occupied Gaul, and the area of settlement increased rapidly. Runic writing, a Germanic alphabet developed in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, appeared in Scandinavia at that time along with migrating Germanic peoples.

These new arrivals made their homes on the shores of the large lakes and along the jagged coast, and they spoke a language that would become the mother tongue of the later Scandinavian languages. They also brought with them a vibrant new religion with militaristic gods led by Odin and Thor as well as settlement patterns that would soon evolve into extended family farms. Mountains and fjords formed natural boundaries around most of the settled areas. In time social life in the separate settlements came to be dominated by an aristocracy and, eventually, by petty kings. By the time of the first historical records of Scandinavia, about the 8th century AD, some 29 small kingdoms existed in Norway.

The Viking Period

Inevitably, the kings turned their attention to the sea, the easiest way to communicate and trade with the outside world. About AD 800 ships of war were being built and sent on raiding expeditions, initiating the era of the Vikings. 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. Bands of the northern Vikings penetrated Russia. Others settled in France, where they became the ancestors of the Normans of Normandy (Normandie).

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. Succeeding to the throne of Vestfold as a child, Harald managed to establish his supremacy over all Norway shortly before 900. However, at Harald’s death, about 940, his sons divided Norway, with Eric Bloodaxe as overking. Dissensions and wars among the heirs disrupted the temporary unity, and many of the petty rulers refused to surrender their independence. In addition to the domestic struggles, Danish and Swedish kings were undertaking campaigns to acquire Norwegian territory.

Christianity Introduced

Christian missionaries traveled in Viking lands as early as AD 825, 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.

By about 1025 Olaf II had become more powerful than any preceding Norwegian king. He aroused the anger of powerful nobles, who, together with Canute II (the Great), king of England and Denmark, drove Olaf into exile in Russia in 1028. Two years later Olaf returned to Norway and was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad. Although a Viking king, he was seen as a martyr for the church. He was canonized as Norway’s patron saint, following reports of miracles associated with him.

Native Kings

On the death of Canute in 1035, Olaf’s son, Magnus I, was invited to return from Russia to Norway by supporters of his father. 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.

The Norwegians had become strongly Christian, and a powerful clergy was one of the major influences in the kingdom. In 1046 Magnus proclaimed his uncle Harald Hårdråde a coruler. At the death of Magnus one year later, Harald became king as Harald III; he was killed while participating in the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Harald’s death brought to an end the Viking period, as no further raiding from Scandinavia took place. The last king of the line of Harald III was Sigurd I, whose rule lasted until his death in 1103.

Dynastic conflict followed the death of Sigurd, as Norway’s kings fought the jarls, or nobles, who threatened their power. Of the many later kings, the most notable was Sverre, king from 1184 to 1202. A statesman of great ability, Sverre built a strong monarchy and considerably weakened the power of the clergy and the great nobles. A period of peaceful and productive rule ensued during the long reign of Håkon IV (1217-1263), Sverre’s grandson.

Under Håkon IV, Norway reached the apex of its medieval prosperity and political and cultural power. Iceland was added to the kingdom in 1262, and the organization of a central government was completed, greatly increasing royal authority. Overseas trade flourished during this period. The landed aristocracy was virtually crushed by Håkon V, who reigned from 1299 to 1319, and Oslo became the capital of Norway, replacing Bergen as the principal city of the kingdom. Afterward the old noble families gradually declined, and for the most part the Norwegian people became a nation of peasants. The Hanseatic League, a powerful federation of German merchants and cities that supplied Norway’s grain, gradually entrenched itself in Bergen. This development foreshadowed a decline of the Norwegian merchant class, as the German traders secured privileges and came to control commercial activities.

Håkon V died in 1319 without male heirs, giving the throne to King Magnus II of Sweden, the three-year-old son of Håkon’s daughter. In 1343 Magnus was succeeded by his son, Håkon VI, and in 1380 the latter’s son, Oluf III, king of Denmark, became king of Norway as Olaf IV. The young king exercised only nominal rule, with real power held by his mother, Margaret I. When he died, he was succeeded by his mother as ruler of Norway and Denmark and, in 1389, of Sweden also. To obtain German support against the dukes of Mecklenburg, who claimed the Swedish throne, Margaret had her grandnephew, Eric of Pomerania, elected king.

Union with Denmark and Sweden

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 creation of a hereditary monarchy in Denmark in 1660 and the establishment of royal absolutism weakened the nobility and increased the administrative role of the state in political and economic affairs. However, the long-term impact of absolutism was generally benign, in contrast to the despotic forms it took in many other European states. During the subsequent centuries of Danish rule, Norway contributed its natural resources to building up the dual monarchy of Denmark-Norway. In particular, timber from Norwegian forests was exported to western Europe, and Norway developed an impressive shipping industry to carry on the trade.

The union with Denmark lasted until the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), when Denmark joined France against Britain—Norway’s primary trading partner. Britain quickly cut off trade with Norway, and the British navy blockaded Norwegian ports. The blockade led to a period of great hardship in Norway, but it also isolated the country from Denmark, and Norwegians began to assert control over their own affairs.

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. The Norwegians, however, disavowed the treaty. They declared themselves an independent kingdom, drew up a liberal constitution, and offered the throne to the Danish crown prince Christian Frederick (later Christian VIII of Denmark). The Norwegian move was opposed by the European powers, and the head of an army, Marshal Jean Bernadotte, later King Charles XIV John, persuaded Norway to accept the Treaty of Kiel. In return for its cooperation, Norway was allowed to retain the newly promulgated constitution. By the Act of Union of 1815, Norway was given its own army, navy, customs, and parliament (Storting), and was permitted full liberty and autonomy within its own boundaries.

Second Union with Sweden

After 1815 the Storting was chiefly occupied with stabilizing and improving the financial condition of Norway and in implementing and guarding its newly won self-governance. Despite the bitter opposition of Swedish king Charles XIV John, an autocratic monarch, the Norwegian legislature passed a law in 1821 abolishing the titles of the nobility. The Storting held that the true Norwegian nobles were the peasant descendants of the medieval barons. Norwegian nationalism increased, and the Storting complained that Swedish treatment of Norway was inconsistent with the spirit of the Act of Union and with the status of Norway as a coequal state. In 1839 Charles XIV John appointed a joint committee of Swedes and Norwegians to revise the wording of the Act of Union. King Charles died in 1844, before the committee submitted its report. His son, Oscar I, admitted the justice of many Norwegian claims, and he granted Norway a national flag for its navy, although the flag bore the symbol of union with Sweden.

Rising Nationalism

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. Norwegian folktales and folk songs were collected and arranged and became highly popular. Norwegian dictionaries, histories, and grammars were compiled. The literary renaissance included such writers as Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Jonas Lie, and Alexander Kielland.

When, in 1860, Sweden began to propose revisions in the Act of Union designed to enhance its power, the two greatest Norwegian political parties—the Lawyers Party and the Peasant Party—combined to form the liberal Venstre (Left) Party and blocked the revisions. Led by Johan Sverdrup, president of the Storting, the Norwegian legislature engaged in a long struggle with King Oscar II of Sweden over the issue of whether the king or the Storting would choose the cabinet (executive) in Norway. Under established tradition, the cabinet was responsible only to the Swedish king, giving the crown a permanent veto on legislation. Oscar was forced to yield in 1884, following the impeachment of his members from the Norwegian cabinet and their removal from office. Afterward, Oscar appointed Sverdrup to lead the first government responsible to the Storting, and Norway became a parliamentary democracy.

Once Norway had attained control over executive power, Norwegians demanded their own foreign minister to negotiate on behalf of the country. This was seen in Sweden as a threat to the authority of the king, and Sweden refused to capitulate. As a substitute policy, however, Norway demanded a separate consular service (to regulate Norway’s international economic and commercial relations) and a Norwegian flag for its merchant marine without the symbol of union. The flag was approved by Sweden in 1898, but Sweden balked at the demand for a consular service. Finally, in 1905, led by Prime Minister Christian Michelsen, the Storting declared the union with Sweden dissolved. In a plebiscite in August 1905 the Norwegian people voted overwhelmingly for separation from Sweden. The Swedish Riksdag (legislature) ratified the separation in October. A month later Prince Carl of Denmark accepted the Norwegian crown as Håkon VII.


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.

Norway During the World Wars

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. This policy of neutrality and friendship continued as the joint policy of all three nations after the war ended. 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. Despite sympathy for Finland during the Russo-Finnish phase of the conflict, Norway rejected an Anglo-French demand for transit of troops to aid Finland. Germany’s maritime warfare along the Norwegian coast, however, made neutrality increasingly difficult. 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.

Within three weeks German troops had fanned out into the hinterland, dispersing the isolated Norwegian forces that remained. King Håkon VII and his cabinet, after an unsuccessful attempt at resistance, fled to the United Kingdom in June, where they continued to direct the merchant marine and a small infantry, navy, and air force. The Storting had empowered the king and the cabinet to exercise sovereignty from abroad, and for five years thereafter, London was the seat of the Norwegian government-in-exile.

Political leaders in Norway refused to cooperate in any way with Josef Terboven, the German commissioner. In September 1940 Terboven dissolved all political parties except the fascist and pro-German Nasjonal Samling (National Union), which had never won a seat in the Storting. Terboven set up a governing council composed of National Union members and other German sympathizers, and announced the abolition of the monarchy and the Storting. In 1942 Germany installed a puppet government in Norway under National Union leader Vidkun Quisling. However, resistance to the Germans and to the puppet regime was widespread. As the Norwegian opposition became more organized, general strikes and other forms of passive resistance gave way to large-scale industrial sabotage and espionage on behalf of the Allied Powers. Germany’s response, which included declarations of martial law and death sentences for conspirators, did little to contain the resistance.

The leaders of the resistance in Norway cooperated closely with the government-in-exile in London, preparing for eventual liberation. The German forces in Norway finally surrendered on May 8, 1945, and King Håkon returned to Norway in June. The immediate tasks facing Norway were reconstruction of an economy that had been stripped of its resources and the prosecution of about 90,000 alleged cases of treason and defection. To punish traitors, capital punishment, abolished in 1876, was restored (it was subsequently abolished again in 1979). Quisling—whose name has since become synonymous with treason—along with 23 other Norwegians, was tried and executed. The government-in-exile resigned after order was reestablished.

Labor Governments

J.1. Postwar Reconstruction

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. NATO membership, by which Norway abandoned its traditional neutrality, was tacitly approved by the Norwegian people in the elections of October 1949.

The Norwegian economy came out of the war badly damaged by German exploitation and by domestic sabotage; retreating German troops burned many northern towns. Reconstruction began at once, directed by the Labor government. The government soon took over the planning of the entire economy in order to strengthen Norway’s position in international markets and redistribute the national wealth along more egalitarian lines. Subsidies were given to various industries and price controls were imposed on goods and services. Within three years, Norwegian gross domestic product (GDP) had reached its prewar level. This development was accompanied by new social legislation that greatly increased the welfare of the citizens. In 1959 Norway became one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a trading bloc that went into force the following year.

J.2. Declining Support for Labor

The parliamentary elections held in September 1961 resulted in the failure of the Labor Party to win a majority of seats for the first time since World War II, although it kept its place as the leading party. Gerhardsen, who had been prime minister since the end of the war, except for an interval from 1951 to 1955, was designated once again to head the cabinet. In 1965 the Labor Party was defeated in general elections, ending a 30-year period of rule. King Olaf V, who had succeeded Håkon VII on the latter’s death in 1957, then asked Per Borten, leader of the Center Party, to form a government as head of a coalition of nonsocialist parties. Norway’s economic policies, however, did not markedly change. Norway instituted a comprehensive social security program in 1967.

Although it was not obvious at the time, the Labor Party’s defeat in 1965 had closed an era in Norwegian history. The dominance of the Labor Party was at an end. Although it would continue to be Norway’s largest party, Labor would no longer be able to achieve majority status on its own. The succeeding decades of the 20th century would be characterized by coalition governments and conflict over Norway’s place within Europe.

Political Shifts and Internal Divisions

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. The following year Per Borten resigned after charges surfaced that he had divulged confidential information. Trygve Bratteli of the Labor Party then formed a minority government that campaigned strongly for EC membership. In a referendum in 1972, however, 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. Labor suffered considerable losses in the 1973 elections, but Bratteli again was able to form a minority government.

Bratteli resigned in 1976, but the party remained in power until the elections of 1981. From February to October 1981, the party was headed by Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway’s first female prime minister. The nonsocialist parties gained a comfortable majority in September, and Kåre 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.

Jan P. Syse of the Conservative Party succeeded Brundtland as prime minister, heading a minority center-right coalition. The Syse government’s tenure, however, was short. Unable to agree on a common position concerning future relations with the EC, it fell in 1990 and was replaced by another minority Labor government led by Brundtland. Again, Norway’s relationship with Europe was at the center of national politics. The death of King Olaf V in January 1991 and the succession by his son, Harald V, left Norwegians mourning their beloved king but still split on the issue of joining the rest of Europe. The Center Party emerged as the principal opponent of integration, arguing that Norwegian sovereignty would be compromised and its welfare state policies eroded.

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 Thorbjørn Jagland. In 1996 Brundtland abruptly resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by Jagland. Jagland’s term in office was marred by scandals among his cabinet members, and he was sharply criticized by the opposition for rejecting a proposal to increase pension payments for the elderly. Although the Labor Party won the largest share of seats in the 1997 general election, Jagland stepped down as prime minister, honoring his pledge to resign the post should his party receive fewer votes than it did in 1993. 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 strongly opposed the plants, which would have required Norway to amend its strict antipollution laws. Bondevik was replaced by Labor Party leader Jens Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg, although initially providing a spark when he took over as prime minister, was unable to stem the electoral decline of the Labor Party, which suffered a devastating defeat in the 2001 elections.

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. In order to gain a parliamentary majority, Bondevik’s coalition won backing from the far-right Progress Party, which, although the largest nonsocialist party after the 2001 elections, remained formally outside the coalition. Over the next four years Bondevik’s government implemented major economic reforms, including tax cuts for businesses. Meanwhile, record high oil prices on the world market boosted government revenues and led to unprecedented economic prosperity in Norway.

Management of the country’s huge oil wealth became the central debate in the 2005 election campaign. Labor Party leader Stoltenberg accused Bondevik’s government of neglecting welfare services and promised to spend more on health care and education. Bondevik advocated additional tax cuts, which Stoltenberg opposed. In September voters overwhelmingly supported Stoltenberg’s center-left bloc, which included the Labor, Socialist Left, and Center parties. The bloc won 87 seats in the 169-member Storting (parliament), giving Norway its first majority government in 20 years. As leader of the Labor Party, which won 61 seats, Stoltenberg became the new prime minister.

Foreign Affairs

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.

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