Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. The Norwegian Constitution is based on a separation of powers, with an independent legislature, executive and judiciary. However, since the introduction of the principle of parliamentary government in 1884, it can no longer be maintained that the executive is independent of the legislature, as it cannot govern without the confidence of the legislative assembly. Together with constitutional customary law, the Constitution forms the legal framework for Norway’s political system.
Democracy, political parties and the electoral system
The legislative assembly of Norway is the Storting. The Storting has 169 members, and parliamentary elections take place every four years. There are no by-elections, nor does the Constitution provide for dissolution of the Storting between elections. Because Norway has a parliamentary form of government, the Storting determines the composition of the Government. The Storting can also decide that a referendum should be held on a particular issue. The Storting has a Presidium, which is chaired by the President of the Storting and whose responsibilities include determining the Storting’s order of business and ensuring that constitutional rules are upheld in all matters. As far as possible, the President avoids taking a stand on purely political issues on which there are divergent opinions. Laws are enacted by the Storting, usually on the basis of a bill submitted by the Government.
Elections to the Storting are held every fourth year. The voting age is currently 18 years. Norway practices universal suffrage. Everyone who is entitled to vote is eligible to stand for election. The Norwegian electoral system is based on the principles of direct election and proportional representation in multi-member constituencies, which are coherent with the counties. As of October 2013 eight political parties are represented in the Storting (the Labour Party, with 64 representatives, the Conservative Party, with 48 representatives, the Progress Party, with 29 representatives, the Centre Party, with 10 representatives, the Christian Democratic Party, with 10 representatives, the Liberal Party, with 9 representatives, the Socialist Left Party, with 7 representatives, and the Green Party, with 1 representative). There are a number of smaller political parties that are not represented in the Storting. Groups that are not political parties may also put up lists of candidates for election. At the general election in September 2013, the voter turnout was 78.2%, and 40,3% of the 4 081 candidates were women. In the current Storting 39.6% of the members are women.
Distribution of seats in the Storting by party:
No. of seats
The Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk venstreparti)
The Labour Party (Det norske arbeiderparti)
The Centre Party (Senterpartiet)
The Christian Democratic Party (Kristelig folkeparti)
Six national referendums have been held in Norway, and these have traditionally had a higher turnout than Storting elections, reaching a record 89% when Norway voted on membership of the European Union (EU) in 1994. In 1905 Norwegians voted in favour of the dissolution of the union with Sweden and of offering the throne to Prince Carl of Denmark (who accepted and became King Haakon VII). In a referendum in 1919, Norwegians voted for the introduction of a ban on spirits, but after a new referendum in 1926 the prohibition was repealed. Norway voted against membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1972 and of the EU in 1994.
The Norwegian Government
The Government is formed by the party or parties that have a majority of the seats in the Storting or that constitute a minority capable of governing. Thus the Government is indirectly selected by the electorate. The Government consists of the Prime Minister and a number of ministers (18 ministers in October 2013). The Office of the Prime Minister assists the Prime Minister in leading and coordinating the work of the Government. The ministries are responsible for executing the policies decided by the ministers in the various sectors of the government administration. Formal decisions by the Government are made in the form of a Royal Decree.
The executive power is invested in the King, but Royal Decrees are adopted by the King in Council, which consists of the government ministers. The King fills an important symbolic function as head of state and Norway’s official representative.
The Church of Norway
There is freedom of religion in accordance with a 1964 amendment to the Constitution. In 2012, the provision of the Constitution concerning the Evangelical-Lutheran religion as the official religion of the state was amended. The Constitution now states that the Christian and the humanistic heritage are core values of the state, and that the Church of Norway remains the Norwegian “folk church”. At the same time, several amendments to the Constitution in 2012 made the church more independent of the state. According to the Constitution, all life stance and religious communities should be equally supported by the state. Approximately 77% of the Norwegian population are members of the Church of Norway (2012).
Counties and municipalities
Norway is divided into 19 counties and 428 municipalities (2013), and a number of political decisions are made at these two levels. The Government delegates autonomous powers in certain policy areas to the county and municipal councils, and these areas are specified in legislation. Much of the public administration is also carried out at these levels. Elections to the municipal and county councils are held every fourth year. The voter turnout for the county municipal and elections in 2011 was 64.5%. Unlike the Storting elections, where the vast majority of candidates represent registered parties, lists of local independent candidates are very common in county and municipal elections.
The administration of justice is carried out by the courts of law, which are fully independent of the other constitutional powers. There are three levels of courts: the District Court of first instance, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court at the highest level. Civil and criminal cases may be heard at all levels. Civil cases are brought before the courts by the parties in the case, whereas criminal cases are brought by the prosecution authority. The legality of administrative decisions may be subject to control by a court. As a main rule, civil disputes are considered initially by a conciliation board, which is to be found in every municipality and consists of laypeople. The ordinary courts are supplemented by special courts, including the Labour Court and the Land Consolidation Courts.
In 2002, administrative control of the courts was moved from the Ministry of Justice, where it had been since the creation of the Norwegian state in 1814, to the National Courts Administration. This body was established in order to safeguard the independence of the courts in relation to the other branches of government. The Ministry of Justice has no power to instruct the National Courts Administration, but has the main responsibility for drafting legislation relating to the courts.
The public administration agencies are also supervised by the Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Public Administration. The Ombudsman investigates complaints from citizens concerning an injustice perpetrated by a public agency. The Ombudsman processes complaints concerning administrative decisions at government, county and municipal levels, and may also take the initiative to investigate a matter.
The legal system is based on both legislation and customary law as sources of law. To meet the requirements under customary law the custom must have been consistently practised over a long period of time, and both the legal practitioners and society must have considered the custom to be legally binding. Customary law plays a considerable role in the law of damages, law of torts, contract law, public administration law and constitutional law.
Membership of the European Economic Area (EEA)
Norway is a party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA), under which the country participates in the internal market of the European Union (EU). Norway is also a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
The EEA Agreement, which is an agreement between the member states of the European Union (EU) and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, entered into force on 1 January 1994. The purpose of this agreement is to create a comprehensive economic partnership that extends the internal market of the EU to the participating EFTA states. The EEA Agreement provides for free movement of goods, persons, services and capital between the signatory countries. The enlargement of the EU on 1 May 2004 and 1 January 2007 had a direct impact on the Agreement, which explicitly states that a country becoming a member of the EU must also apply for membership of the EEA. As from 2007, there are three EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and 27 EU member states participating in the European Economic Area (EEA). Negotiations are on-going with regard to extending the agreement to Croatia.9
The cooperation under the EEA Agreement does not include participation by the EEA- EFTA states in certain areas, such as the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, the Economic and Monetary Union, and the EU Taxation and Customs Union. However, the main principles of the EEA Agreement, e.g. the principle of non-discrimination, may apply also in those areas.
In December 1996, Iceland and Norway signed a cooperation agreement with the “Schengen states”, a group of 13 EU member states. The Schengen cooperation provides for common rules for the movement of persons to and between participating countries. On 1 May 1999, the Schengen cooperation was integrated into the EU framework, and Norway and Iceland have negotiated an agreement on institutional solutions for continuing participation in the Schengen cooperation after its integration into the EU. The latter agreement entered into force on 25 March 2001. The Schengen area currently consists of 26 states.
In addition to the EEA, Norway is a member of several other international organisations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, the World Bank) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Norway is a founding member of the United Nations and its subordinate agencies. Furthermore, Norway is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as of the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Norway is also a member of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB), the Nordic Development Fund (NDF), the Nordic Council, the Nordic Project Fund (Nopef) and the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO).
The Norwegian Register of Non-Profit Organisations was established in December 2008, and close to 30 000 non-profit organisations are registered there. The register is operated by the Brønnøysund Register Centre. Registration is voluntary. The main objective of the Register is to facilitate and improve interaction between the government and the voluntary sector.