Ethnically, Norwegians are predominantly Germanic, although in the far north there are communities of Sami (Lapps) who came to the area more than 10,000 years ago, probably from central Asia. In recent years, Norway has become home to increasing numbers of immigrants, foreign workers, and asylum-seekers from various parts of the world. Immigrants now total nearly 150,000; some have obtained Norwegian citizenship.
Although the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state church, Norway has complete religious freedom. Education is free through the university level and is compulsory from ages 7 to 16. At least 12 months of military service and training are required of every eligible male. Norway's health system includes free hospital care, physician's compensation, cash benefits during illness and pregnancy, and other medical and dental plans. There is a public pension system.
Norway is in the top rank of nations in the number of books printed per capita, even though Norwegian is one of the world's smallest language groups. Norway's most famous writer is the dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Artists Edvard Munch and Christian Krogh were Ibsen's contemporaries. Munch drew part of his inspiration from Europe and in turn exercised a strong influence on later European expressionists. Sculptor Gustav Vigeland has a permanent exhibition in the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo. Musical development in Norway since Edvard Grieg has followed either native folk themes or, more recently, international trends.
The Viking period (9th to 11th centuries) was one of national unification and expansion. The Norwegian royal line died out in 1387, and the country entered a period of union with Denmark. By 1586, Norway had become part of the Danish Kingdom. In 1814, as a result of the Napoleonic wars, Norway was separated from Denmark and combined with Sweden. The union persisted until 1905, when Sweden recognized Norwegian independence.
The Norwegian Government offered the throne of Norway to Danish Prince Carl in 1905. After a plebiscite approving the establishment of a monarchy, the parliament unanimously elected him king. He took the name of Haakon VII, after the kings of independent Norway. Haakon died in 1957 and was succeeded by his son, Olav V, who died in January 1991. Upon Olav's death, his son Harald was crowned as King Harald V. Norway was a nonbelligerent during World War I, but as a result of the German invasion and occupation during World War II, Norwegians generally became skeptical of the concept of neutrality and turned instead to collective security. Norway was one of the signers of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and was a founding member of the United Nations. The first UN General Secretary, Trygve Lie, was a Norwegian. Under the terms of the will of Alfred Nobel, the Storting (Parliament) elects the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who award the Nobel Peace Prize to champions of peace.
The functions of the King are mainly ceremonial, but he has influence as the symbol of national unity. Although the 1814 constitution grants important executive powers to the king, these are almost always exercised by the Council of Ministers in the name of the King (King's Council). The Council of Ministers consists of a prime minister -- chosen by the political parties represented in the Storting -- and other ministers.
The 165 members of the Storting are elected from 18 fylker (counties) for 4-year terms according to a complicated system of proportional representation. After elections, the Storting divides into two chambers, the Odelsting and the Lagting, which meet separately or jointly depending on the legislative issue under consideration.
The special High Court of the Realm hears impeachment cases; the regular courts include the Supreme Court (17 permanent judges and a president), courts of appeal, city and county courts, the labor court, and conciliation councils. Judges attached to regular courts are appointed by the King in council after nomination by the Ministry of Justice.
Each fylke is headed by a governor appointed by the King in council, with one governor exercising authority in both Oslo and the adjacent county of Akershus.
King -- Harald V
Prime Minister -- Kjell Magne Bondevik
Minister of Foreign Affairs -- Knut Vollebaek
Ambassador to the United States -- Tom Eric Vraalsen
Ambassador to NATO -- Hans Jacob Bioern Lian
Ambassador to the United Nations -- Ole Peter Kolby
Norway maintains an embassy in the United States at 2720 - 34th Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.202-333-6000 and consulates in Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco.
Until the 1981 election, Norway had been governed by Labor Party governments since 1935, except for three periods (1963, 1965-71, and 1972-73). The Labor Party lost its majority in the Storting in the 1981 elections. Since that time, minority and coalition governments have been the rule.
From 1981 to 1997, governments alternated between Labor minority governments and Conservative-led governments. Labor leader Gro Harlem Brundtland served as Prime Minister from 1990 until October 1996 when she decided to step out of politics. Labor Party leader Thorbjorn Jagland formed a new Labor government that stayed in office until October 1997. A three-party minority coalition government headed by Christian Democrat Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik moved into office when Jagland, after the September 1997 election, declared that his government would step down because the Labor Party failed to win at least 36.9% of the national vote, the percentage Labor had won in the 1993 election. Bondevik's nonsocialist coalition is composed of the Center Party, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party. The coalition parties control only 42 seats in the 165-member National Assembly, and the coalition governs on the basis of shifting alliances in Parliament.
Norway is one of the world's richest countries. It has an important stake in promoting a liberal environment for foreign trade. Its large shipping fleet is one of the most modern among maritime nations. Metals, pulp and paper products, chemicals, shipbuilding, and fishing are the most significant traditional industries.
Norway's emergence as a major oil and gas producer in the mid-1970s transformed the economy. Large sums of investment capital poured into the offshore oil sector, leading to greater increases in Norwegian production costs and wages than in the rest of Western Europe up to the time of the global recovery of the mid-1980s. The influx of oil revenue also permitted Norway to expand an already extensive social welfare system.
High oil prices from 1983 to 1985 led to significant increases in consumer spending, wages, and inflation. The subsequent decline in oil prices since 1985 sharply reduced tax revenues and required a tightening of both the government budget and private sector demand. As a result, the nonoil economy showed almost no growth during 1986-88, and the current account went into deficit. As oil prices recovered sharply in 1990 following the Persian Gulf crisis, the 1990 current account posted a large surplus which continued through 1997. Unemployment fell gradually to 4.1%. Given the volatility of the oil and gas market, Norway is seeking to restructure its nonoil economy to reduce subsidies and stimulate efficient, nontraditional industry.
Norway's exports have continued to grow, largely because of favorable world demand for oil and gas. Moreover, the flight of Norwegian-owned ships from the country's traditional register ended in 1987, as the government established an international register, replete with tax breaks and relief from national crewmember requirements.
Norway voted against joining the European Union (EU) in a 1994 referendum. With the exception of the agricultural and fisheries sectors, however, Norway enjoys free trade with the EU under the framework of the European Economic Area. This agreement aims to apply the four freedoms of the EU's internal market (goods, persons, services, and capital) to Norway. As a result, Norway normally adopts and implements most EU directives. Norwegian monetary policy is aimed at maintaining a stable exchange rate for the krone against European currencies, of which the "euro" is a key operating parameter. Norway is not a member of the EU's Economic and Monetary Union and does not have a fixed exchange rate. Its principle trading partners are in the EU; the United States ranks sixth.
Offshore hydrocarbon deposits were discovered in the 1960s, and development began in the 1970s. The growth of the petroleum sector has contributed significantly to Norwegian economic vitality. Current petroleum production capacity is more than 3 million barrels per day. Production has increased rapidly during the past several years as new fields are opened. Total production in 1997 was about 237 million cubic meters of oil equivalents, nearly 81% of which was crude oil. Hydropower provides nearly all of Norway's electricity, and all of the gas and most of the oil produced were exported. Production is expected to increase significantly in the 1990s as new fields come onstream.
Norway is the world's second-largest oil exporter and provides about 40% of Western Europe's crude oil requirements and 20% of its gas requirements. In 1997, Norwegian oil and gas exports accounted for 48% of total merchandise exports. In addition, offshore exploration and production have stimulated onshore economic activities. Foreign companies, including many American ones, participate actively in the petroleum sector
Norway supports international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, recognizing the need for maintaining a strong national defense through collective security. Accordingly, the cornerstones of Norwegian policy are active membership in NATO and support for the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Norway also pursues a policy of economic, social, and cultural cooperation with other Nordic countries -- Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland -- through the Nordic Council. On January 1, 1999, Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek became Chairman In Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In addition to strengthening traditional ties with developed countries, Norway seeks to build friendly relations with developing countries and has undertaken humanitarian and development aid efforts with selected African and Asian nations. Norway also is dedicated to encouraging democracy, assisting refugees, and protecting human rights throughout the world.
The United States and Norway enjoy a long tradition of friendly association. The relationship is strengthened by the millions of Norwegian-Americans in the United States and by about 10,000 U.S. citizens who reside in Norway. The two countries enjoy an active cultural exchange, both officially and privately.
Ambassador -- David B. Hermelin
Deputy Chief of Mission -- Jon Gundersen
Chief, Political Section -- Pam Pearson
Chief, Economic Section -- Alan R. Tousignant
Public Affairs Officer (USIS) -- Neil Klopfenstein
Administrative Officer -- Leo J. Hessian, Jr.
Chief, Consular Section -- Glenn Carey
Senior Commercial Officer -- James Koloditch
Defense Attache -- Capt. John D. Evanoff II
Labor Attache -- Christian M. Castro
The U.S. Embassy is located at Drammensveien 18, 0244 Oslo (tel. 47-22- 44- 85-50; FAX: 47-22-43-07-77).
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