Norwegian history at a glance
Norway has a history closely linked to that of its immediate neighbours Sweden and Denmark. The three countries unified in the personal Kalmar Union in 1397, but while Sweden broke away from the union in 1523, Norway lost its sovereign status and became a Danish province in 1536. The era under Danish rule was marked by the reformation (1537), the warfare between Denmark and Sweden (1596-1720), royal absolutism (1660) and economic prosperity (18th century).
At the turn of the 18th century, the emergence of an urban middle class that questioned the state's economic policy and demanded a Norwegian national bank and university resulted in a national reawakening. The so-called “400-Years Night” came to an end in 1814 when Norway was ceded to Sweden as a result of Denmark-Norway’s participation on the losing side in the Napoleonic Wars. However, the agreement reached in Kiel provided for a limited Norwegian independence: a separate constitution, representative assembly and government. Fractions from the social and political Norway gathered in Eidsvold and adopted the constitution on May 17. In disagreement with the Kiel Treaty, they also elected the Danish prince Christian Fredrik as king. Sweden responded by waging a war on Norway. The dispute was, however, peacefully solved as Christian Fredrik relinquished his claims to the Norwegian throne, the Swedish king endorsed the Eidsvold Constitution and a loose personal union was established. Economic growth was followed by increased political awareness, which resulted in the introduction of parliamentarism in 1884, thus making the Norwegian government reliable upon the parliament (Storting) rather than the Swedish king. The union was finally dissolved in 1905 and the declaration of independency was followed by the crowning of a Danish prince as King Haakon of Norway.
In the period 1905-1940, the Norwegian society transformed from a primarily agrarian to an urban industrial society. The earliest decade was also marked by the Norwegian neutrality in World War I and by large-scale emigration to the US. The 1920s saw the Norwegian Labour Party increasingly becoming the predominant force in Norwegian politics, and the period lasting from 1940 to the 1960s has accordingly been descibed by historians as the epoch of the "one-party-state".
While again claiming neutrality, Norway was invaded and occupied by German forces during World War II. In the early years after the war, the country encompassed extensive economic reconstruction. The discovery of significant oil deposits in the Norwegian North Sea in the 1960s facilitated a speedy economic developement. The Norwegian people have twice voted down Norwegian EU membership, first in 1972 and latest in 1994, but a close relationship to the EU has developed through the membership in the European Economic Area (EEA).
Politics in the new era
Norway is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The monarch serves as the head of state, but has largely ceremonial functions and serves first and foremost as a national symbol. Executive powers are vested in the Council of State, which comprises the prime minister and her/his cabinet. The Norwegian parliament (Storting) comprises 169 members (165 prior to 2005) elected for a four-year term by proportional representation rules. Parliament has two chambers (Odelsting and Lagting) in legislative matters, but this division has not had too much significance in modern times.
The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) has been the largest political party, both in terms of voting support and in terms of representatives in the parliament during most of the post-war era. However, oppositional coalitions were in power during most of the 1980s. In 1990, the coalition government of the Conservative Party (H), the Centre Party (SP) and the Christian People's Party (KrF) headed by Jan P. Syse (H) collapsed internally owing to the issue of Norwegian membership in the EEA. Gro Harlem Brundtland (DNA), who had served as prime minister twice before, assumed office.
The issue of Norwegian EU membership dominated the political debate in the run-up to the 1993 parliamentary election. DNA increased its number of seats by four and retained the position in government. In 1996, Brundtland abdicated in favour of party leader Torbjørn Jagland. Before the 1997 election, Jagland declared that his cabinet would step down unless it received the same amount of support as in the previous election - 36.9 percent - and was thereby forced to leave office after obtaining "only" 35.0 percent of the votes. The Progressive Party (FrP) and the Christian People's Party (KrF) received substantial voting support and became the second largest parties in parliament with 25 seats each. The latter party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Party (V) and the Centre Party (SP) under the leadership of Kjell Magne Bondevik (KrF). The coalition eventually fell over the issue of proposed gas-fired power plants in 2000 and was replaced by a single-party Labour Party government this time headed by Jens Stoltenberg.
In the 2001 election, the Labour Party posted its worst performance since World War I. The party polled only 24.3 percent of the vote and lost 22 seats in parliament. The Conservative Party and the Socialist Left Party (SV) were both successful and added 15 and 14 representatives to their parliamentary groups of the previous period, respectively. Bondevik once again became prime minister in a coalition comprising, in addition to the Christian People's Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. The coalition was the first since the 1960s to stay in office for a complete four-year period.
Prior to the 2005 election, the opposition introduced the "Red-Green coalition" comprising the Labour Party, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party. The coalition took 87 seats (of which 61 belonged to the Labour Party) and formed a majority government with Stoltenberg as prime minister, thus marking the end of Labour's single-party governments. The Progressive Party became the second largest party in parliament with 38 seats.
K Heidar and E. Berntzen (1998). Vesteuropeisk politikk: Partier, regjeringsmakt, styreform. Oslo: Kunnnskapsforlaget.