The Kingdom of Norway is a sovereign nation on the Scandinavian peninsular in Northern Europe. Denmark, Norway and Sweden together make up Scandinavia, while the Scandinavian countries plus Finland and Iceland are collectively known as the Nordic countries.
Governance & Politics
Norway is a constitutional monarchy and divides state power between the Parliament, the Cabinet, and the Supreme Court. The signing of the constitution in 1814 was an important milestone for modern Norway, although full independence from Sweden was not achieved until 1905.
Currently, Norway is divided into 19 fylker (counties). In addition to Nord- and Sør-Trøndelag which are due to merge in 2018, there is Østfold, Akershus, Oslo, Hedmark, Oppdal, Buskerud, Vestfold, Telemark, Aust-Agder, Vest-Agder, Rogaland, Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane, Møre og Romsdal, Nordland, Troms and Finnmark. Svalbard and Jan Mayen is administered outside of the fylke system.
Norway is not a member of the European Union, although through its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), Norway is closely linked to the activities of the EU.
The country has experienced large-scale immigration over the past decades, initially because of the growth of the oil industry. The population has grown rapidly and recently passed 5 million people.
Geography & Climate
Norway shares a long eastern border with Sweden. The country is bordered by Finland and Russia to the north-east, with an extensive coastline facing the Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea. This long coastline influences the country’s climate. Coastal Norway is wet and mild whereas inland regions are cooler and drier with longer winters.
However, due to the Gulf Stream the coastal areas are rather mild in the winter time and all parts of the country can experience surprisingly warm summers.
The natural environment is diverse, ranging from some of Europe’s largest mountains to the famous fjords. Due to the country’s terrain, all major cities are located on the coastline.
Norway maintains a combination of a market economy and a Nordic welfare model with universal healthcare and a comprehensive social security system. According to both the World Bank and IMF, Norway has the fourth-highest per capita income in the world.
Despite the recent downturn, the oil and gas industry remains of critical importance to the nation’s economy. Outside of the Middle East, Norway is the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. The industry accounts for around 25% of Norway’s GDP. Seafood, shipping and tourism are other important industries.
The Government Pension Fund Global is saving for future generations in Norway. The market value today is more than NOK 7,000,000,000,000. The fund is integrated into the government budget. A fundamental principle of Norwegian fiscal policy is the so-called budgetary rule. It states that over the course of a business cycle, the government may only spend the expected real return on the fund, estimated at 4 percent per year. This helps to gradually phase oil revenue into the economy. Spending just the return on the fund rather than eating into its capital means that the fund will also benefit future generations.
About 10,000 BC, early inhabitants migrated north into modern day Norway as the ice sheets started to recede. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, coastal areas became popular and settlers sustained themselves through fishing and hunting reindeer. Agricultural settlements appeared around the Oslofjord and eventually spread into the southern areas of Norway, while inhabitants further north continued to hunt and fish.
From the late 8th century, the Vikings began to explore and expand their territory across the seas to the British Isles and later Iceland and Greenland in an era known as the Viking Age, which also saw the unification of the country. Christianisation took place during the 11th century and Nidaros, now Trondheim, became an archdiocese. Over the next 200 years the population of the country grew rapidly but was decimated by the Black Death from 1349.
Under the control of the Hanseatic League, Bergen became the country’s main trading port, before Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Sweden in 1397. During the unified period, the countries remained separate sovereign states, but their domestic and foreign policies were directed by a common monarch.
After Sweden left the union in 1523, Norway became the junior partner in the Denmark-Norway union. The Reformation was introduced in 1537 and absolute monarchy imposed in 1661. In 1814, Norway was ceded from Denmark to Sweden and a constitution was passed. Norway declared its independence but was then occupied by Sweden, although the Parliament was allowed to continue to exist.
Industrialisation started in the 1840s and from the 1860s large-scale emigration to North America began to take place, which is why they are so many Americans with Norwegian heritage alive today. In 1884 the King established parliamentarianism, and the union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905.
For almost the entirety of the Second World War, Norway was occupied by German forces. Parts of the country, especially the northern regions, suffered greatly. After the war, Norway joined NATO and underwent a long period of reconstruction.
The economy of the country was transformed in 1969 as oil was discovered off the Norwegian coast. By 1995 Norway was the world’s second-largest exporter. The Petroleum Fund was established in 1990 to counter the effects of the expected decline in oil income and to smooth out the disruptive effects of highly fluctuating oil prices.