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Norwegian (body) Politics

September 13, 2009

First of all I should mention that I’m totally not an expert on this. My knowledge is a combination of reading wikipedia, google translating websites and blogs, and talking to the Norwegians I know. As always, people are biased and party platforms don’t always represent what people do, but here is my general sense of things.

The Norwegian elections are tomorrow! Well, the results are coming in tomorrow, so it’s been a really exciting time to be in Oslo. Kiosks line the major streets, and posters are covering the subways as part of the campaigns. So just in case you happen to see the results on the last page of the international section here’s a little bit about Norwegian politics, focusing mostly on the issues we deal with on this blog.

The Basics:
Norway is a constitutional monarchy, but the King merely plays a symbolic role, and it’s for all practical purposes a republic. It’s also the only country in Europe with a state church, but I honestly don’t know that much about it. The government is divided into the executive, judicial and legislative branches, but the parliament has the most power. It’s a multi-party system where the parliament is elected by popular vote with proportional representation. Because no party gets the majority, they must cooperate to form coalition governments and appoint a Prime Minister. There are seven major political parties represented in the parliament (called the Storinget).

The Parties:
The multitude of political parties to be really positive, because I feel like people have the most opportunity to find a party that actually represents their views. It’s somewhat difficult to compare the parties here to the United States because they are basically all more liberal than either the Democrats or Republicans. Here’s a quick overview of the parties from left to right.

The Red-Green Coalition:
Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti) – Socialism – basically every liberal activist’s wet dream. They work for a society without class differences and social injustice and work for environmental sustainability. Ok, so everyone probably says that, but SV is the most socialist of all the parties and, in my opinion, has the most progressive platform to achieve their goals both domestically and globally.

Center Party (Senterpartiet) – Agrarianism, Centrism – also referred to as the “Farmer’s Party” and has most of it’s support in the rural areas (periphery) of Norway. For decentralization and regional development and very pro-environment.

Labor Party (Det norske Arbeiderparti) -Social democracy – has had power for 24 of the last 38 years and is currently the largest party in Norway, but by a very slim margin. I think the Labor Party is most comparable to the Democrats, their platforms are fairly similar, and although they are left they play pretty moderate in order to attract more votes. For example, they are tightening up on their Immigration policy, in order to reflect growing anti-immigrant sentiments, and don’t have firm stands on some divisive environmental issues.

The right: (currently doesn’t have set coalition)
Christian Democratic Party (Kristelig Folkeparti) – Christian democracy – I find the KrF pretty interesting, because although they are the most socially conservative their immigration, environmental, and economic views would place them on the left. They also are actively recruiting the Muslim population, because they believe they share similar values, although the verdict is still out on whether or not it’s working.

Liberal Party (Venstre) -Social liberalism- Honestly, I’m a little confused why this party is on the right, or “centrist”. Some of it’s views include: increased taxes on activities that damage the environment, abolishing the state church, better treatment for drug addicts, no drilling, guaranteed income and legal fire sharing. Maybe they just don’t want to go as far with these policies than the parties on the left? Or maybe because they want increased decentralization? I don’t know, it’s the least popular of the seven, anyway.

Conservative Party (Høyre) -Liberal conservatism- Once one of the biggest parties, Høyre has been losing votes recently, probably to the Progress Party. It’s for free market democracy based on christian cultural values and personal freedoms. Want’s to lower taxes, etc.

Progress Party
(Fremskrittspartiet) -National conservatism- Although it’s not as far to the right as Republicans, I’ve heard them referred to as “fascists” by multiple Norwegians. The party has exploded in popularity recently and is now neck and neck with the Labor Party in the polls. The party started as a protest movement against high taxes and the “nanny state”. The party is Libertarian and has it’s basis in Christian values. I think the party has become so popular recently because it has the strictest immigration policy.

The Labor Party and Progress Party are very close in the polls and these are the parties you should be looking for in the paper, as well as their leaders (and thus, Prime Minister candidates) Jens Stoltenberg(Labor) and Siv Jensen(Progress). Whether their will be a right or left wing coalition in power will make a huge difference on the following issues.

Major Issues in the Election:
Immigration!! Immigration had been pretty consistent to Norway up until the 90’s when it EXPLODED.

The biggest new groups are from Poland, because they joined the EU in 2004, and groups from the global south. Practically, this means that there has been a huge increase in the amount of people of color in Norway, and I honestly think the growing anti-immigration sentiment is a response to this. I’ve been surprised at how easily “of color” and “criminal” are equated in people’s daily language here, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the sentiment is broader than in the U.S. The majority of Norwegians view immigration as a “challenge” and the major debates are about integration and asylum policies. The Progress Party, for example wants to decrease the amount of refugees Norway accepts and have strict policies to expel criminals. But even the Labor Party has passed a measure where immigrants must have four years of work or education in Norway before family members can come; the UN expressed displeasure, but the Socialist Left (!!!) was the only party that dissented. All parties seem most concerned with how to best integrate immigrants into the labor market. I personally, would like to see more focus on including immigrant voices in these debates, and anti-discrimination measures.

Joining the EU: Norway is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) but not the European Union. This issue can’t be easily divided Left-Right because of the variety of factors. Questions of human rights, economics, sovereignty and peace all impact the debate. Seriously, it’s way complicated.

Environmentalism: The environment is a huge deal in Norway, and national identity is very much wrapped up in pride in their natural beauty, achievements in environmental sustainability and national heroes like explorer Fridtjof Nansen:

(Norwegian natural beauty)

However, National wealth is also based on their two major industries of fishing and oil production. The Oil Fund (Government Pension Fund – Global) is the largest pension fund in Europe, and is largely responsible for Norway’s wealth. One of the current issues which divides the country is whether to begin drilling in Lofoten and Vesterålen. The three right most parties want to drill, the labor party is “waiting for more research” and the rest oppose it.

Body Issues
Abortion: Since 1978, the policy on abortion has been: abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks, between the 13th and 18th week abortion by commission approval on medical, eugenic, criminal, humanitarian, or social reasons. (94% are approved) After the 13th week of gestation, abortion is in principle outlawed except under exceptional circumstances. However, abortion in cases where a mother is in danger has been legal since 1902.

The only major party that opposes abortion are the Christian Democrats, and this is one of the major issues which attracts voters to this party. However, they support abortion in the case of rape, and when a mother’s heath is at risk. They also think accessibility to contraception is a means to prevent it. Can you even imagine a pro-life side of the debate which is that reasonable? I bet they actually have productive conversations on the issue of choice. There are some crazies – the Christian Unity Party (0.1%) campaigns against abortion by driving around in a van with posters of aborted fetuses and uncensored video of real abortions. But they have been renounced by all parties, including the Krf.

Gender Equality: Gender Equality is a point of national pride for Norwegians. It’s considered a “Norwegian value” and some oppose immigration because they don’t believe immigrants hold this value like they do. Female Genital Mutilation (forbidden by law) and forced marriage, although very rare occurrences, have become major issues in Norway. Gender equality has been actively pursued through affirmative action methods and quotas, which are largely uncontroversial. It’s also helped by a strong belief in the rights of parents of small children (Jill – this link has all the rights of parents in relation to pregnancy, birth and adoption) with 6 weeks maternity leave after birth (2 weeks for the father), additional leave during first year if necessary, protection against dismissal and anti-discrimination laws. Some statistics:

– Men and women have a roughly equally amount of higher education, although subjects of choice are still pretty traditionally gendered.
– A roughly equal amount of men and women are in paid work, although more women work part time.
– Only 1 out of 5 executive managers are women
– Women make 85 øre on the krone

LGBT rights
Last year, Norway became the seventh country to recognize and perform same-sex marriage. Again the Christian Democrats are the only party to strongly oppose this act, but they support civil unions and have a lengthy bit in their platform against discrimination against LGBT people. Norway is well known for it’s liberal policies. I’m writing a research paper on support networks for LGBT youth in Norway, so expect more on this topic, but here’s a basic summary (from Wikipedia- for shame!):
– Homosexuality legal (1972)
– Equal age of consent (1972)
– Anti-discrimination laws in employment, provision of goods and services (1982)
– Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas: indirect discrimination, hate speech (1986)
– Same-sex marriage (2009)
– Immigration rights for same-sex couples
– Both joint and step adoption by same-sex couples (2009)
– Gays allowed to serve in the military (1994)
– Right to change legal gender (2000)
– Access to artificial insemination/IVF for women married to or in stable relationships with women ( 2009)

Body Positivity: I find Norway to be super body positive so far- but I’ll write more about my experiences soon.

Well that was a mouthful. If you have any more questions about Norwegian politics, just ask! I’m super into it right now, and would love to research more about areas people are interested in. There are a fair amount of links on here, and not all of them are in English, if you don’t see a “Språk: engelsk” button anywhere, google translate is normally pretty good. A great place to find more info is also Statistics: Norway, which I linked to a couple times. Apparently along with cheese graters, spandex and frozen pizza, Norwegians also have a fondness for up-to-date statistics.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Samantha permalink
    September 14, 2009 6:26 AM

    This was most excellent work, Becky. I’m so glad that you did all the work to research this and put it all together in a palatable and organized fashion for me to read. I especially love that we share many of the same primary concerns and that you focused in on those issues. I am highly impressed with you right now. A++ THANKS FOR THIS! 🙂

  2. September 14, 2009 7:06 AM

    An interesting analyses of the Norwegian system from a none Norwegian. Here is why EU was not, and should not have been, a major issue in the elections: Erik Sandquist: Why the EU-membership question will not be raised in Norway at this time

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