Procedures for registering candidates and political parties are considered to be fair, and have not been questioned or debated publicly in recent years. No candidate or party faces discrimination. The only requirement for starting a party is to collect at least 5,000 signatures from Norwegian citizens who have the right to vote.
Candidates and parties are free to purchase political advertising in print publications and on the Internet. Advertisements from political parties are not allowed on television or radio. This ban has been subject to some controversy, with the populist Progress Party advocating a removal of this ban. The other political parties are opposed to changing the law.
Television and radio broadcasters organize many electoral debates, to which all major parties (those with a vote share larger than 3% in the previous election) have fair access. However, representatives of the larger parties are interviewed more often and participate in more debates. Political advertising during election campaigns is extensively regulated to ensure that voters are aware of its source. During elections, both private and public broadcasters organize public debates. There is no direct government interference in choosing the team of journalists to conduct debates.
All Norwegian citizens who are 18 years old or older have the right to vote in parliamentary elections. In local elections, permanent residents who have resided in Norway for at least five years have the right to vote. There is no requirement of prior registration. Each eligible citizen receives a voting card sent by mail. It is possible to vote before the election at specific locations, including Norwegian embassies abroad. There has been no allegation from any political party that the electoral process is not inclusive. Election turnout is high and discrimination is rarely reported. Young voters “learn” voting behavior in schools, and arrange a school vote prior to reaching the age of voting eligibility.
The funding of political parties is predominantly public. In average the parties receive about three quarters of their revenues from state subventions (ranging from 60% to 80%). Membership fees are now an insignificant source of party finances. Parties also receive private donations; for example, the Labor Party (the largest party) receives funds from particular trade unions and the Conservative Party receives donations from individuals and business organizations. State support for parties is proportionate to previous election results but also parties not represented in parliament have access to state support, as have a wide range of political organizations, with or without party affiliation. In 2009, 2,850 political or voluntary organizations were in receipt of some state support.
Political parties have since 1998 been obliged to publish overviews of their revenues, and since 2005 in more detail. All party organizations, central and local, are obliged to submit detailed income reports annually with full information on income by sources. Contributions of NOK 30,000 or more must be informed separately, including the identity of the donor. Income reports are submitted to the Central Bureau of Statistics and are published in detail. It is under consideration to oblige parties to report not only incomes but also expenditures, property and debt.
The dominant TV and radio corporation is state owned, but there are also private TV and radio stations. Newspapers are entirely in private hands. The dominant broadcasting house (NRK) is government-owned, but organized in a way that ensures considerable autonomy. The government does not intervene in the organization’s daily practices or editorial decisions. However, since NRK is a non-commercial actor, it is largely financed by a fee which is compulsory for all citizens who have a television. The amount of the fee is set by parliament. The president of the state media is appointed by the government.
An institution called the Kringkastingsrådet plays an oversight role, monitoring, debating and expressing views about the management and activities of state-funded broadcast media. It can also give advice on administrative and economic issues. The issues debated by the council can originate with the chairman of the state channels or from the public (including criticism and complaints). The opinions expressed by the Kringkastingsrådet carry substantial weight, and recommendations from this council are usually implemented. Eight council members are appointed by the parliament, and an additional six by the government.
Newspapers are free from any government interference. Freedom of the press is explicitly guaranteed in the constitution; the constitutional article addressing press freedoms was amended and strengthened in a constitutional amendment in 2004.
The state broadcast channels control dominant shares of the country’s TV and radio audiences. There are two private TV channels and various private radio channels, including local radio stations. The government does not interfere with the daily activity of the private media, but does monitor to ensure they comply with their contractual obligations, which for national channels includes broadcasting throughout the entire country. A special body, called the Medietilsynet, is responsible for monitoring and regulating the market.
The government regulates television or radio signal broadcasters. The stated goal of this regulation is to guarantee both quality and national coverage. Cable TV is essentially unregulated beyond the effect of general laws (e.g., pornography laws).
Newspapers operate entirely independently and express a plurality of views. Norway is the country with the highest per capita newspaper circulation in the world. The total daily newspaper circulation is around 2.8 million, of which media company Schibsted controls around 850,000, A-pressen around 485,000 and Edda Media around 250,000. The two largest newspapers (Verdens Gang and Aftenposten) are owned by the same company, Schibsted, which is publicly listed. The owner does not currently exercise any significant influence on editorial decisions in these newspapers (in contrast, Aftenposten had a clear right-wing affiliation until about 25 years ago). As elsewhere, newspaper circulation is in decline as is print advertisements, and many newspapers are under financial strain and have in recent years been forced to cut back on editorial staff. Web-based news outlets are replacing print newspapers. Local newspapers in particular have in the last few years come under increasing strain from a reduction of advertising income and subscription rates.
The concentration of ownership has not, so far, been perceived as a threat to the plurality of media. However, private ownership is becoming increasingly oligopolistic across print and broadcast media. In 2006, the media division of Orkla (the second most-important media owner in the country) was controversially sold to British-based Medcom (owned by David Montgomery) in a deal that for the first time brought major foreign ownership into the Norwegian market. Although there is a tradition of nonintervention by owners in editorial matters, the print media as a body has at critical junctures become politically biased. Broadband Internet is widely used and accessible all over the country.
Freedom of information legislation gives every person right of access to official documents held by public authorities. Official documents are defined as information which is recorded and can be listened to, displayed or transferred and which is either created by the authority then dispatched or has been received by the authority.
All records are indexed at the time of creation or receipt and some ministries make the electronic indexes available on the Internet or through e-mail. Requests can be made in any form (even anonymously) and must be responded to without undue delay, generally (according to Ministry of Justice guidelines) within three days.
Documents can be withheld if they are made secret by another law or if they refer to issues of national security, national defense or international relations, financial management, the minutes of the State Council, appointments or protections in the civil service, regulatory or control measures, test answers, annual fiscal budgets or long-term budgets, or photographs of persons entered in a personal data register. If access is denied, individuals can appeal to a higher authority and then to parliament’s ombudsman for public administration, or to a court. The ombudsman’s decisions are not binding but are generally followed. There have been very few court cases dealing with this issue.
The 1998 Security Act sets rules on the classification of information. It creates four levels of classification and mandates that information cannot be classified for more than 30 years. The Act on Defense Secrets prohibits the disclosure of military secrets by government officials and also the collection (in the form of sketches, photographs and notes) and disclosure of secrets by others, including journalists. Articles 90 and 91 of the criminal code criminalize the disclosure of secrets, and provide for imprisonment of up to 10 years.
In 2010 the government eased access for citizens to public documents by providing them with access to the electronic post journal of the government.
State institutions respect and protect civil rights. Personal liberties are well-protected against abuse by either state or non-state actors. People cannot be detained without charge for more than 24 hours. A court decides whether a suspect should be held in prison during an investigation. The issue of civil rights receives considerable attention in the media and by intellectuals, as well as from the government bodies responsible for civil rights protections.
Access to the courts is free and easy, and the judiciary system is viewed as fair and efficient. There is full freedom of movement and of religion. Respect for civil rights extends to asylum seekers. One example is that of Mullah Krekar, a citizen of Iraq, who is the former leader of the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam. Krekar applied for asylum in Norway in 1991 but his application was denied on grounds of national security. Both Iraq and the United States have asked for him to be extradited. However, since these countries both practice the death penalty, Norway’s government has not deported him so far.
Privacy is less protected than in some other countries. All residents are recorded in a compulsory population register with a unique number which is also used in all official and much private business, including banking. Individual tax records are public information and published routinely. This lax attitude to privacy probably concords with popular attitudes and is not seen as privacy “infringement.” In the future it is likely that the practice of publishing tax reports will be reformed, since this information is easily misused on the Internet.
Political liberties are protected in the constitution and in law, although explicit protections of minority rights are not strongly articulated in the constitution. The right to free expression was strengthened through a constitutional amendment in 2004. Norway has ratified all international conventions on human and civil rights. The European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into national law. The right to free worship is ensured, but the Lutheran state church enjoys a privileged status, including political influence. Political liberties are respected by state institutions.
Equality of opportunity and equality before the law are firmly established. There is an ombudsperson for civil rights. The Sami minority living in the north of the country has some limited self-rule. Some contention exists over the use of natural resources in the Sami areas in the north, and legal issues over the entitlement to land and water resources in these areas remain unresolved.
Men and women have essentially identical educational levels. Labor force participation rate by women, at 72%, is very high. There is some evidence of gender discrimination in wages, as women earn on average just 84.7% of what men earn. However, once the number of hours worked, occupation, education and experience are taken into consideration, there are no significant differences between the earnings of men and women. This evidence does not per se imply that there is no gender discrimination at all in the labor market (e.g., men may find it easier to be hired in high-paid occupations). On the other hand, affirmative action in favor of women has been used extensively in the labor market, in particular in public sector employment. Even so, the labor market remains by international comparison strongly segregated by gender/occupation.
Day care services are widespread and heavily subsidized and the price of day care has been lowered under recent governments. Full day care coverage for all parents seeking it has by and large been achieved. In 2006, a law went into effect introducing affirmative action in the selection of board members for publicly listed companies. Under this regulation, at least 40% of board members must be women. This goal was achieved in two years with surprisingly little difficulty.
Some discrimination against non-Western immigrants seems to persist. Immigrants find it harder get work, earn lower wages and have substantially higher unemployment rates than native Norwegians. Although discrimination against immigrants (including in the labor market) is illegal, in practice very few cases are prosecuted.
Norway’s government and administration act predictably and in accordance with the law. Norway has a sound and transparent legal system. Corruption within the legal system is not a significant problem. The state bureaucracy is regarded as both efficient and reliable. Norwegian citizens generally trust their institutions.
The legal system is grounded in the principles of the so-called Scandinavian civil law system. There is no general codification of private or public law, as in civil law countries. Rather, there are comprehensive statutes codifying, among other things, central aspects of the criminal law and the administration of justice.
Norwegian courts do not attach the same weight to judicial precedents as do members of the judiciary in common law countries. Court procedure is relatively informal and simple, and there is a strong lay influence in the judicial assessment of criminal cases.
At the top of the judicial hierarchy is the Supreme Court. Directly below the Supreme Court is the High Court. The majority of criminal matters are settled summarily in the so-called Forhoersrett. A Court of Impeachment is available to hear charges brought against government ministers, members of parliament and Supreme Court judges, although it is very rarely used. The courts are independent of any influence exerted by the executive. Professional standards and the quality of the internal organization are regarded as high.
Supreme Court justices are appointed by the government through transparent due process, are not considered to be in any way political and have security of tenure guaranteed in the constitution. There is a firm tradition of autonomy in the Supreme Court. Judges are formally appointed by the government after a recommendation from the autonomous “Innstillingsrådet for dommere.” The appointment of judges attracts limited attention and rarely causes public debate.
There are few instances of corruption. The few cases of government corruption that have surfaced recently have been primarily at the regional or municipal level, and in various public bodies related to social aid. As a rule, corrupt officeholders are prosecuted under established laws. The income declarations of all Norwegian taxpayers are available online. Newspapers often publicize such information, especially in the cases of members of parliament and figures holding influential public administration positions. There is a great social stigma against corruption, even in its minor manifestations. However, there has been a growing concern over government corruption in specific areas such as building permits.
Public finances are rock solid, the state budget effectively running a massive and durable surplus as a result of vast petroleum revenues from the North Sea. Norway has long enjoyed strong economic growth and near full employment. The country weathered the recent world economic crisis with only modest adverse effects. Petroleum revenues are managed in a way that is internationally seen as exemplary, being used nationally with prudence and otherwise invested internationally through a sovereign fund in equity, bonds and, as of recently, property. The Norwegian krone is strong and has strengthened during recent international turmoil.
The state wields an exceptionally strong influence in the economy. About 40% of the equity on the Oslo stock exchange is in state ownership and another 30% under foreign ownership, whereby the remaining indigenous private capital sector is relatively small. Economic policy is generally considered to be fair and transparent. Regulatory arrangements are generally seen to be sound, although the Oslo stock exchange is volatile, and has been plagued with rumors of insider dealing.
This economy has its strength in the public sector, particularly for employment, and in petroleum and petroleum-related industries. It is a high-cost economy, both in terms of wages and taxes, and international competitiveness does suffer in industries outside of the petroleum sector.
Although the country has managed its petroleum wealth responsibly, the economy is strongly petroleum-dependent and entrenched at a high-cost level. There is a tendency to substitute public sector service employment for employment in non-petroleum production industries. With the high level of savings invested abroad and a continued strong demand for labor from public sector service production, there is concern that the country will become ever more dependent on imports for the maintenance of a high standard of living and to meet expectations for rising standards in public services. The cost-side of a petroleum-dominated economy, it is argued, is an economy which is not strong in entrepreneurship, which is weak in conventional industries, which has essentially only one leg to stand on, and which has less long-term strength than might be suggested by favorable current indicators.
The unemployment rate is low and has remained low through the recent economic crisis, rising by about a percentage point from 2008 to 2009, to between 3% and 4% of the workforce. The aggregate level of employment is high by international standards, due mainly to a high level of labor force participation among women. But also the level of absenteeism (short- and long-term illness and disability) is high, potentially disturbing the validity of unemployment statistics. The country’s labor market policy has traditionally been proactive, with an emphasis on retraining long-term unemployed workers. Unemployment benefits are generous. Employment-protection laws impose restrictions on dismissal procedures. However, layoff costs are small for firms that need to downsize. This guarantees a certain amount of mobility in the labor force. Recent reforms have included the reorganization of the public offices for job applicants. In general there is no minimum-wage policy. In most sectors wage floors are set by negotiations between unions and employers. Indeed, wage setting is dominated by collective agreements, and bargaining is still quite centralized. However, due to increased labor mobility there are more and more sectors of the economy that are now subjected to a kind of minimum salary.
The recent economic literature portrays Norway and Denmark as successful examples of the so-called flexicurity model, combining high labor mobility (flexibility) with high levels of government-provided social insurance (security). However, there has been concern over a propensity to take early retirement, stimulated by early retirement incentives. These are increasingly seen as outdated and unaffordable, and pension reforms are now being implemented after a protracted process, and against some union resistance, with the aim of removing or modifying early retirement incentives and reversing the trend to early retirement.
Norway has experienced a long period of sustained growth, and corporate investments are accordingly high. The extent to which this is due to government policy is questionable. On the one hand, the bureaucracy is streamlined and it is easy to set up a new company. Moreover, macroeconomic stability and good institutions provide a good business environment.
It is difficult to identify industrial policies that actively foster entrepreneurship and growth. Government priorities are distorted by regional and sectoral objectives, favoring traditional activities, such as agriculture and fisheries which have not contributed to the recent surge in economic growth.
Enterprise policy has in some instances been contradictory, trading off competition policies with other objectives. For example, the two biggest companies in the Norwegian offshore oil industry, Statoil and Hydro, have been allowed to merge in spite of the risk that this will generate a monopolistic structure in this key sector.
Norway imposes a comparatively heavy tax burden on income and consumption. Corporate taxation is in contrast moderate when compared to other countries. The tax code aims to be equitable in the taxation of different types of capital, except that residential capital is taxed at a significantly low rate. In general the tax code is simple and equitable, tax collection is effective, the income tax is moderately progressive and tax compliance is high.
A large share of the tax revenues is spent on personal transfers in the context of the welfare state, which contribute to making Norway a low-inequality society. The government also spends significant resources on infrastructure and the provision of public goods. However, expenditure on infrastructure is characterized by a strong (and arguably excessive) emphasis on remote regions. Central areas such as around the major cities of Oslo and Bergen are allowed to lag comparatively behind. The railway system, including essential services for daily commuting, is dysfunctional, in perpetual crisis and falling into decline.
The Norwegian government receives a large flow of financial resources from the extraction of petroleum. This began in the 1980s and is projected to remain substantial until around at least 2040, and in natural gas probably longer. Gas has now passed oil as the most important source of income and the production of oil has been in decline during recent years. It is expected that by 2025 there will be significant drop in revenue generated from the petroleum sector, requiring significant budgetary changes. In many countries, the abundance of natural resources has given way to corruption and irresponsible fiscal policies. Norway has so far avoided this resource “curse.” One important achievement has been the establishment of a so-called petroleum fund, created in 1990 by the Norwegian parliament as a means to share oil proceeds between current and future generations, as well as to smooth out the effects of highly fluctuating oil prices, now designated a “pension fund.” The fund is administered by Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), an arm of Norway’s central bank, and invests exclusively in non-Norwegian assets. Under current rules, the government is required to invest all petroleum revenue in the fund. Each year, at most 4% of the fund’s value is made available for current expenditure. This principle is supported by all political parties except for the populist Progress Party, but has no constitutional protection. When including the petroleum fund, the net asset position of the Norwegian government amounts to about 120% of GDP. This surplus is sufficient to cover outstanding and future pension liabilities, putting the country currently in a unique position compared with most Western countries.
Norway has an extensive health system, providing good services to its resident community. Anyone who is resident in Norway has a right to publicly provided economic assistance and other forms of community support during illness. Health care for mothers and children is especially good, as in other Scandinavian countries. Infant mortality is the sixth lowest in the world. Per capita health expenditures in Norway are more than 50% higher than the OECD average. The country’s total health expenditures total about 12% of GDP, a third more than the OECD average. The public share of this expenditure in Norway is also high, with 84% of health spending financed by the government.
Yet although Norway offers high-quality health care services to the entire population, its efficiency is questionable. In a major structural health care reform in 2002, ownership of all public hospitals was transferred from the regions to the central state. Subsequently, new “health care regions” were established, which were larger than the previous ones. These were given management responsibility, without ownership. The intention was for these regions to streamline and coordinate health care services, and impose a stricter regime of budget discipline. However, reorganization has been slow, and remains ongoing and seemingly unending. Vast amounts of resources are being consumed by procedural work and pervasive conflict, and the efficiency gains, if any, have yet to be identified. This reform has been uniquely unsuccessful by Norwegian standards. A previous reform, which came into effect in 2001, established a general-practice system for the first time, so that all persons and households would have a designated primary care doctor or practice. This was implemented with relative ease, and contributed to a notable improvement in access to quality primary health care.
Like other Scandinavian countries, Norway is a relatively equitable society. Poverty rates are among the lowest in the world. The Norwegian government has assumed responsibility for supporting the standard of living of disadvantaged or vulnerable groups. As a result, expenditures for social policy are well above the EU average. Government-provided social insurance is strong in almost all areas. Family support exceeds 3% of GDP, in the form of child allowances, paid leave arrangements and child care. Social insurance spending related to work incapacity (disability, sickness and occupational injury benefits) is also generous.
A major reform of the social security administration was launched in 2006, creating a new integrated agency (NAV) into which was merged the previous employment service and the previous pension and subvention agency. Social assistance remains separate as a municipal service, but is to be co-localized with the local NAV office in each municipality. The stated purpose was better coordination between both employment and subvention services and state and municipal services for the overall aim of stimulating employment and reducing welfare dependency. Driving through this administrative reform was a considerable political achievement, but its success in relation to intentions remains an open question. The process of implementation has so far proved more protracted and expensive than anticipated and remains fraught with administrative problems and may come to be seen as a second major reform failure in the social area, in addition to health care reform. An assessment is being undertaken under the auspices of the National Research Council.
Labor market participation by women is among the highest in the world, at above 70% and is only slightly lower than male participation. However, there is clear gender segregation in the labor market, with much of the increase in women’s employment rates coming in the form of public sector and/or part-time jobs. The fertility rate is near to two children per woman, thereby just below the replacement rate, and at the very top end of fertility in Europe.
Family policy is oriented toward promoting equal opportunity and equitable representation of women in leadership positions, such as in political and business settings. There is a 12-month maternal/paternal leave that provides parents with 80% of their salary. Six of the weeks are reserved for the father. These reforms have increased the involvement of the father in the first year of the baby (about 90% of fathers now take these six weeks).
Government policy treats married and non-married couples in a nondiscriminatory way. For instance, tax declarations for labor income are filed individually, irrespective of whether a citizen is married or not. Informal cohabitation, as compared to formal marriage, is widespread. Almost all new unions start in informal cohabitation and about half of children are born to unmarried parents. Although one in 10 children are born to single mothers, and institutional support for these women (e.g., day care and cash transfers) is stronger than in most countries.
The pension system is well-positioned to sustain the ageing wave of the next decades. With persistent relatively high birth rates, the demographic burden is less than in most comparable countries. Future pensions are underpinned by massive savings in the petroleum fund, now renamed the Government Pension Fund - Global (Statens pensjonsfond-Utland).
In 2009, a pension reform was implemented which has further strengthened the sustainability of the system. The crux of the reform was to introduce more choice and flexibility on retirement and mechanisms of demographic gradual adjustments into the system. A major intention, in addition to improving financial sustainability, was to carefully redesign contribution and benefit rules in the direction of encouraging employment and discouraging early retirement. This reform was prepared carefully, starting with the appointment of a cross-party pension commission in 2001 which reported its findings in 2004, leading to a five-year process of political implementation which culminated in a relatively broadly agreed reform in 2009. There was criticism during the process of the reform being “too little too late,” but that criticism has mainly subsided.
Pensions are by international comparison generous and equitable, and are set to so remain. The universal basic minimum pension is on a sufficient level to by and large eliminate the risk of poverty in old age. The recent reform has strengthened the link between contributions and benefits in earnings-related pensions and has improved intergenerational equity in the system. There is broad confidence in the population in the adequacy of future pension from the state system and hence no massive escape into the refuge of private pension insurance.
Integration policy is well-organized and well-funded, but the effects of immigration represent a new challenge in this country, and the policies have to date been less than fully effective. Non-Western immigrants experience higher unemployment rates and lower wages than native Norwegians. There are frequent complaints about discrimination in both the labor and the housing markets. There is notable social unrest related to problems of second and third-generation immigrants.
Integration policies include free language training, and additional school resources allocated to immigrant children. Some of these resources are devoted to preserving cultural identity. For instance, children are offered additional classes in their mother tongue. The acquisition of Norwegian citizenship is relatively quick. Applicants must have lived in the country for at least seven out of the last 10 years and either be fluent in Norwegian or have attended courses in Norwegian (or Sami) for 300 hours. Immigrants with permanent residence status are entitled to vote in local elections.
An autonomous Directorate of Integration was created in 2006, separate from the pre-existing Directorate of Immigration and Integration, a change that was generally seen as a sensible and successful reform. However, the challenges of multiculturalism stemming from immigration remain relatively unfamiliar in this traditionally homogenous society, and policies remain unsettled and in some respects immature. For example, the country continues to deny the right to dual citizenship. The state church institution stands in the way of religious equity, particularly in the eyes of alternate religious groups. Islam has become the largest non-Christian religious denomination, with a membership of about 90,000 people out of a total national population of 4.8 million.
The country’s “old minorities,” mainly the aboriginal Sami population, have in the course of two or three decades gone from facing severe discrimination to a state of equity and integration. This has been institutionalized in their formal recognition as an aboriginal people, with group rights written into the constitution and the creation of a Sami parliament, elected by the Sami population, which possesses some legislative authority.
Security policy is informed by a commitment to international cooperation, in particular in U.N. activities in all areas, in NATO and OSCE activity (but not EU membership), and by a determination to do good, to be liked and to be respected as broadly as possible. Norway is one of the world’s largest providers of development aid, is a participant in a range of U.N. and NATO peacekeeping missions, including in Afghanistan, and has acted as an active honest broker in trouble spots such as currently Israel/Palestine and previously Columbia, Sri Lanka, Iraq and elsewhere. Norway is not perceived to be highly exposed to the threat of terrorism; however, international involvement could also affect domestic security. The country is recognized as having influence beyond its relatively small size in various international forums and activities, and seems to be rewarded with widespread respect.
The border in the north toward Russia has been seen as a potential source of insecurity, representing a massive difference in standard of living and with extreme environmental degradation on the Russian side. The Norwegian government has put great emphasis on entering into cooperative relations with Russia in the northern regions, including with financial support for environmental cleanup on the Kola Peninsula. In April 2010, an agreement was reached between the two countries on their border in the Barents Sea, ending a 20-year dispute and eliminating a potential source of confrontation.
Norway is traditionally a safe country and the country’s security is not seriously threatened by crime. For example, the number of homicides per capita is the third lowest in the world, and incarceration rates are also small. Police presence and activism have each been relatively low, and the police continue to be predominantly unarmed. Prison sentences are relatively mild, and Norway has relied instead on long-term crime prevention policies. Reforms are under consideration, in a 2009 White Paper on Criminal Justice, to further reduce the use of prisons as a means of criminal justice. Theft and petty crime are relatively infrequent, although there has been some concern over increasing levels of narcotics- and gang-related crimes. There is a perception of increasing frequency and brutality of knife- and gun-related crime. In recent years, various reforms have been made to increase cooperation between different police and intelligence units, both internally and with respect to cross-border cooperation.
The police service is decentralized, organized in 27 relatively small police districts. In 2001, a central police directorate was established, but this was mainly a matter moving the central police authority out from inside the Ministry of Justice. The directorate is small, with about 120 officials. The head of the directorate has recently proposed a merger of police districts into larger units, but no such action has so far followed.
Norwegian public opinion is highly sensitive to environmental issues and the government regularly promotes international cooperation on environmental issues. There is a wide range of laws regulating various aspects of environmental policy and the use of natural resources, including specific laws on building regulations, pollution controls, wildlife and freshwater fish, municipal health, environmental protection and motorized vehicles.
Norway has among the lowest CO2 emissions and highest degree of renewable resource use in the world. Air and water quality is among the best in the world, which is largely due to the country’s low population density and the fact that Norway’s main energy source is hydroelectric power, which is in turn due to the natural abundance of water in the country. Less positively, Norway does not have a good record on waste management, and has also received international criticism for its policy concerning whale hunting. In addition, energy demand and usage per capita is higher in Norway than in the rest of Europe. This is partly attributable to a legacy of inexpensive energy, which however now, with international energy markets, is a thing of the past. The government is committed to energy conservation. To this end, conservation standards for new buildings have been increased, and new taxes have been added to the use of electricity and gasoline. However, there is scope for significant improvement in this area.
Moreover, the government’s plans for achieving its climate goals have sparked national and international controversy. The intention is to rely strongly on the purchase of international CO2 quotas to a degree that appears to be beyond what is acceptable by EU standards (to which Norway is committed despite not being a member itself). Environmental groups have criticized this as a strategy of buying oneself out of the problem rather than enacting appropriate and lasting economic and organizational reforms.
Research in government-owned companies have pioneered technological innovations aimed at reducing and ultimately eliminating CO2 emissions in gas exploitation with the help of undersea bed storage of CO2, initiatives that are in the process of moving from research to large-scale experimentation.
Despite its high GDP per capita, Norway spends comparatively little on R&D, including when compared to its Nordic neighbors. Research policy is non-pluralistic, government-led, and is not strongly oriented toward enterprise or innovation. One notable exception is in innovative company-based research on the elimination of CO2 emissions in gas exploitation. The country’s strength lies in applied economic and social research rather than in basic and hard science research. Research funds are mainly public, distributed through a single research council, and politically directed from above. Recent reforms have not been very successful and the government is frequently criticized for insufficient investment in research. This low aggregate investment level is reflected in the relatively low number of patents that are granted. It is also interesting to note that the share of degrees granted in science and technology is low and that Norwegian children have fared especially low in science knowledge in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study.
The country would certainly benefit from a higher absolute level of investment in R&D. However, the research council’s centralized allocation of funds and state subsidies, with only limited participation by private donors, has also been criticized. The council’s selection of priorities has often been narrow. There is thus ample scope for increasing investment in academic and basic research, as well for promoting more involvement by private and public actors.
Norway has a tradition of very high education attainment. The Norwegian labor force is one of the most educated in the world, as measured by the share of its working population with secondary and tertiary education. Like other Scandinavian countries, the Norwegian government is a high spender on public education. The emphasis of the primarily public school system is on free access and equalization of opportunities. Students with difficulties in learning or socialization receive a high level of attention.
In contrast, there is little emphasis on excellence or on providing specific attention to the most gifted pupils.
In spite of the high levels of educational attainment, there are important shortcomings. The share of degrees in scientific disciplines is low by international standards, and this limits the impact of public investment in education with regard to the country’s competitiveness and capacity for innovation.
On the one hand, this may be because university access is entirely demand-driven, with students able to choose a preferred field of study without any constraint. On the other hand, the country’s high wage compression weakens the incentive for students to self-select in the most socially productive areas.
Another source of major concern is the quality of education in certain areas. In the OECD’s PISA study, Norwegian students’ performance was below the OECD average in mathematical, problem-solving and scientific knowledge. A higher emphasis on student incentives, teacher quality and a culture of excellence may be necessary to improve these performances.
Governments in charge
SGI 2011 review period (May 2008 to April 2010) is outlined. Shown are: Prime minister or president, type of government, and ruling parties. Asterisks indicate national parliamentary or presidential elections.
Country scores and texts were produced by the country coordinator, based on comprehensive assessments by two country experts.