U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Ethnically, Norwegians are predominantly Germanic, although in the far north there are communities of Sami 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 over 300,000; 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 6 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 169 members of the Storting are elected from 19 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.
Until the 1981 election, Norway had been governed by majority 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 coalition governments. The first government coalition led by Christian Democrat Kjell Magne Bondevik came to power in 1997, but fell in March 2000 over the issue of proposed gas-fired power plants, opposed by Bondevik due to their impact on climate change. The Labor Party's Jens Stoltenberg, a Brundtland protégé, took over in a minority Labor government but lost power in the September 2001 election when Labor posted its worse performance since World War I. Bondevik once again became Prime Minister, this time as head of a minority government with the Conservatives and Liberals in a coalition heavily dependent upon the right-populist Progress Party.
The September 2005 elections ended the Bondevik government, and the Labor party came back with its most substantial victory in years, securing 60 of the 169 seats in Parliament. While this election result once more made Labor the undisputed heavyweight in Norwegian politics, Stoltenberg, chastened by his previous stint as the head of a minority government, reached out to the far left Socialist Left party and agrarian Center party to form a coalition government that commanded a majority of seats in Parliament. The current government is the first majority government in Norway in over 20 years, but the governing coalition has had to bridge substantial policy differences to build this majority.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Jens Stoltenberg
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Jonas Gahr Støre
Minister of Defense--Anne-Grethe Strøm Erichsen
Ambassador to the United States--Knut Vollebaek
Ambassador to NATO--Kim Traavik
Ambassador to the United Nations--Johan Ludvik Løvald
Norway maintains an embassy in the United States at 2720 - 34th Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-333-6000) and consulates in Houston, Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco.
Norway is one of the world's richest countries in per capita terms. 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. Norway has established a state Petroleum Fund that exceeded $132.6 billion as of December 2004. The fund primarily will be used to help finance government programs once oil and gas resources become depleted. Norway is currently enjoying large foreign trade surpluses thanks to high oil prices. Unemployment remains currently low (3%-4% range), and the prospects for economic growth are encouraging thanks to the government's stimulative fiscal policy and economic recovery in the United States and Europe.
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 principal 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 2003 was about 263 million cubic meters of oil equivalents, over 63% of which was crude oil. This represents a slight decline in crude oil production over the past year, accompanied by sharp increases in gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) production. Hydropower provides nearly all of Norway's electricity, and all of the gas and most of the oil produced is exported. Production increased significantly in the 1990s as new fields come on stream.
Norway is the world's third-largest oil exporter and provides much of western Europe's crude oil and gas requirements. In 2003, Norwegian oil and gas exports accounted for 56% 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 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (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.
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.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador-- Benson K. Whitney
Deputy Chief of Mission--Kevin M. Johnson
Counselor for Political-Economic Affairs--Kristen F. Bauer
Counselor for Public Affairs (Acting)--Kirk Samson
Management Officer--James K. Stiegler
Chief, Consular Section--Maria Silver
Senior Commercial Officer--vacant
Defense Attache--Capt. James G. Stevens, USN
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Richard Harris, USAF
Labor Attache--George A. Noll
Regional Security Officer--Colin Sullivan
The U.S. Embassy is located at Henrik Ibsens Gate 48, 0244 Oslo (tel. 47-22- 44- 85-50; FAX: 47-22-43-07-77).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Apr. 2007