Norway

   

Executive Accountability

#1
Key Findings
With a wide and effective range of oversight mechanisms, Norway takes the SGI 2019’s top position (rank 1) in terms of executive accountability. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have access to party-based support staff, and have broad executive-oversight powers. Governments strongly respect the legislative right to access information. The audit and ombuds offices, both parliamentary bodies, act independently and are widely respected. A decades-old data-protection authority serves as a watchdog monitoring public and private organizations on data and privacy issues.

The population remains generally well-informed about policy, although traditional media organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain staffing levels and produce high-quality content. Power and resources are shifting from the professionally edited media to new digital actors and unedited social media.

Political parties show considerable internal democracy, with some experimenting with new ways of picking candidates. While membership is overall in decline, political parties remain strong organizations compared to counterparts elsewhere in Europe. Economic and other civil-society organizations are both sophisticated and influential.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#2

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
9
The Norwegian public is generally attentive, and well-informed about government policies, measures and operations, and citizens tend to trust decision-makers. This is partly attributable to the country’s small size, but also to the population’s high level of education, the very high circulation of newspapers and the widespread access to internet and television. Moreover, the Scandinavian tradition of transparency in government helps the free press to report accurately about public policies. However, in Norway, as in many other countries, the pace and complexity of policymaking is increasing, while media habits are rapidly changing and the various media platforms attract different readers and consumers. Although media pluralism is growing, the informational basis for a shared and common understanding of events and developments is weakening.

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
10
The government publishes data and information, making it easier for citizens to be informed and to hold the government accountable.

Statistical data is easily available for free online and lots of public data is made publicly available on the internet. Many ministries and agencies help to interpret raw data and publish summaries to make the key aspects of the data more easily accessible for citizens, without providing too much spin. Most governmental bodies also publish annual reports, which cover financial statements, policy goals and achievements, and risk assessments.

In addition, the annual report from the general auditor, the Transparency Act, weekly parliamentary questions and a lively media landscape ensure that information about government activities (or the lack of activity) is made public.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#8

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
8
Members of parliament do not have personal staff, but can draw on support from general staff allocated to each party and paid for by parliament. The number of general staff members is related to party size. As such, the system creates a slight bias toward political parties rather than to the parliament and individual parliamentarians.

Legislators, all whom serve on committees, are also supported by committee staff; most of the legislative work is in fact done in committee. The parliamentary library is well regarded by representatives for its ability to provide support in research and documentation. Support resources are not lavish, but neither do they represent an impediment the effective functioning of parliament or its individual members. The parliament has a limited capacity to independently collect and analyze information, but routinely asks the government to answer questions and to provide additional information. The parliament has increasingly exercised its right to hold hearings.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
9
The parliamentary right of access to information is a very strong norm, which most members of the government are very careful not to violate. They thus work to ensure that the parliament is provided with adequate and timely information. Oral proceedings and consultations are sometimes used to supplement written procedures. There are some limitations to access to information rights, for instance, in cases related to security. However, even in these cases, parliament has an extended foreign relations committee, which has access to more classified information.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
10
Parliamentary committees may summon ministers for appearances. Ministers regularly respond to invitations and answer questions. In addition, there is a weekly session in parliament where legislators can ask questions directly to the ministers. If a minister is found to have misinformed parliament, he or she cannot expect to continue as a minister for long.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Each party represented on a parliamentary committee has the right to invite experts to appear at committee hearings. This kind of invitation is becoming increasingly common, with experts coming from interest organizations, NGOs, businesses and academia to present information and views on various issues and policy proposals. Moreover, the parliament has a group of independent experts who assist legislators by collecting and analyzing information.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
There is considerable overlap between the organization of the parliament and the government. Though this arrangement is not perfect, it is broad enough to enable parliamentarians to hold ministers to account. Cross-cutting issues regarding EU and European Economic Area concerns have historically posed some challenges.

Media

#1

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
9
The mass media’s treatment of government decisions and policy is fairly accurate and informative. The two largest broadcast-television channels, NRK and TV2, both produce broad-ranging evening news programs that typically devote considerable space and time to governmental and political affairs. Both channels also regularly (almost daily) broadcast debates and discussions on current affairs.

Statistics show news programs and political debates to have a high number of viewers. Both large television organizations have, over time, maintained and to some extent strengthened their news coverage, in TV2’s case by having a new news channel, and in NRK’s case by developing a strong brand for news, documentaries and public debate. Political news is frequently featured on popular televised infotainment shows on Friday nights. The leading radio channels (i.e., NRK and to a lesser extent P4) and major digital media publications also devote considerable coverage to political news.

Changes to the media economy – including digitalization, the need for new funding mechanisms and the increasing domination of Facebook and Google – has posed massive challenges to many Norwegian media outlets. Staff cuts have resulted in a reduction of news production, which will likely undermine reporting quality and the media’s role as the fourth “pillar of government.” At the same time, social media has become a key source of news. Powers and resources have therefore also shifted from the professionally edited media, to new digital media actors and to a more complex mix of edited and unedited news.

Parties and Interest Associations

#1

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
8
All political parties give special preference to their members in terms of internal decision-making. Party manifestos are approved at annual party meetings, while regional party meetings nominate their constituency’s electoral candidates. Non-party members can be nominated as electoral candidates, but this is rare and happens mostly in small municipalities in local elections. In most parties, attempts are made to anchor major policy agendas in the views of party members and party representatives. Although there is some variation, membership in political parties has been in a decline for some time. In some instances, new initiatives were launched by party leaders without prior consultation with the party membership, but this is rather rare. Concerns have recently been raised about structural biases in nomination processes that favor active party members’ preferences over those of average voters who rarely have or take the time to become active in political nomination processes. Some political parties have therefore begun experimenting with new modes of nominating and picking candidates. Compared to many other European countries, political parties remain strong organizations in Norway and the threshold for establishing new political movements is rather high.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
9
The major interest associations all propose practical, plausible policies. Many interest organizations have competent and skilled staffs, enabling them to formulate policies and proposals. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise have for years been engaged in very close tripartite cooperation with the government. Through this process, these organizations – in combination with the government – have been able to prevent strikes, secure a moderate salary policy and ensure moderate inflation and interest rates.

This cooperation has also been regarded as important in promoting gradual governmental reforms in areas such as health insurance and pension plans. In their work, these interest organizations rely to a large extent on scholarly knowledge, and typically take a long-term perspective.

Similar patterns of organized cooperation are evident in many other policy fields. Employers’ associations have traditionally been allied with the conservative parties, farmers’ groups with the Center Party, and trade unions with the Labor Party. These ties are most explicit between the Labor Party and the labor unions, with the head of the labor-union confederation sitting on the party’s executive committee. The union confederation and the employers’ association both have academics as advisers, and their proposals normally aim at consensus rather than at social confrontation.

In addition to traditional corporatist actors, several consultancy firms have been launched in recent years that seek to influence policymaking. Some, but not all, of these firms disclose their list of customers. Interest associations, which do not employ their own staff to influence policymaking, can hire lobbying services from consultancy firms. However, weaker economic groups do not have the sufficient available resources and are unable to pay for professional support.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
9
The government and the opposition parties listen carefully to the opinions expressed by business, farm-sector and union leaders. Intellectuals and academics also receive attention. Environmental groups have a substantial influence on environmental policy. The large organizations are professional in communicating their messages to politicians and to the public, and are sometimes able to set the political agenda.

In addition, there are numerous formal arenas for routine consultation between governments and various kinds of interest organizations. In many areas, such consultations are formalized and have become a routine mode of policy formulation.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#3

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
10
Norway has a national audit office, an independent statutory authority that is responsible to parliament. Its main task is to audit the use of government funds to ensure they are used according to parliamentary instructions. The audit office has around 500 employees and its governing council is made up of members of the main political parties. Decisions of the audit office have consistently been consensual.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
10
Norway has a parliamentary ombudsman whose task is to investigate complaints from citizens concerning injustice, abuses or errors on the part of the central or local-government administrations. The ombudsman is also tasked with ensuring that human rights are respected, and can undertake independent investigations. Every year, this office submits a report to parliament about its activities. In general, the ombudsman is active and trusted.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
9
Norway has a special body, the Norwegian Data Protection Authority (DPA), to hold the government accountable for data protection and privacy issues, and protect individuals’ privacy rights. The DPA is a public authority that was established in 1980. The main legislation directing the DPA’s work is the Personal Data Act, which sets out the general principle that individuals should be able to control how their personal data is used. Through information, dialogue, the handling of complaints and inspections, the DPA monitors and ensures that public authorities, companies, non-governmental organizations and individuals follow data protection legislation.
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