Europe

Norway country profile

  • 25 February 2016
  • From the section Europe

Europe's northernmost country, the Kingdom of Norway is famed for its mountains and spectacular fjord coastline, as well as its history as a seafaring power.

It also enjoys one of the world's highest standards of living, in large part due to the discovery in the late 1960s of offshore oil and gas.

It is the world's number seven oil exporter and has resisted the temptation to splurge its windfall, choosing instead to deposit the surplus wealth into its oil fund - now the world's largest sovereign wealth fund.

What to do with the money is a hot political issue: whether to use more of it to improve infrastructure or keep it for a rainy day and future generations.

Norway plays an active international role. It has mediated between Israel and the Palestinians as well as in the Sri Lankan conflict, and has participated in military action in Afghanistan and Libya. Ex-premier Jens Stoltenberg is Nato's secretary general.

It defies a global ban on commercial whaling, along with Japan and Iceland.

FACTS

Kingdom of Norway

Capital: Oslo

  • Population 5 million

  • Area 323,759 sq km (125,004 sq miles)

  • Major language Norwegian

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 79 years (men), 83 years (women)

  • Currency Norwegian krone

Getty Images

LEADERS

King: Harald V

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The royal family symbolises Norway's strong sense of national identity

Crown Prince Harald became king on the death of his father Olav V in 1991. Born in 1937, he fled with his mother and siblings to the United States after the German invasion in 1940, while his father and grandfather, the then King Haakon VII, joined the government in exile in London.

King Harald is a keen sportsman, and represented Norway with distinction as a yachtsman at the Tokyo, Mexico and Munich Olympics. He caused some controversy by marrying a commoner, rather than a royal princess.

The king has clearly defined constitutional duties. Apart from being head of the armed forces and Church of Norway, he chairs the Council of State once a week. He appoints the government according to which party commands the largest number of seats in parliament, or else on the advice of the head of parliament and the prime minister of the day.

King Harald has continued the royal family's tradition of unpretentious public duty, and serves as a symbol of the country's strong sense of national identity.

Prime minister: Erna Solberg

Image copyright Getty Images

Erna Solberg heads a right-wing coalition government assembled following elections in September 2013.

Her government rules in a minority after failing to win over several small centrist parties. But minority governments are common in Nordic countries and her Conservative Party has enlisted the formal outside backing of the Liberals and the Christian Democrats to ensure stability.

Ms Solberg is Norway's second female prime minister. She appointed women to half of the cabinet posts, in line with an unwritten rule about gender equality.

Nicknamed "Iron Erna" for her tough stance as local government minister in charge of asylum and regional development in 2001-2005, Ms Solberg took over leadership of the Conservative Party in 2004 and steered it to third place in the 2009 elections.

MEDIA

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Norwegians are among the world's keenest newspaper readers. The number of titles is impressive, given the small population. Most of the press is privately-owned and openly partisan.

About 96% of the population is online.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Norway's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sailors on a replica Viking boat recall an era when their forebears traded and raided across Europe

Circa 800-1050 - Viking Age, in which Scandinavians go on plundering expeditions abroad. Some Norwegians settle at their destinations, including Scotland and Greenland.

Circa 900 - Norway is unified into one kingdom.

1536 - Norway becomes a dependency of Denmark.

1814-1905 - Union with Sweden.

1905 - Independence from Sweden. Prince Carl of Denmark becomes King.

1940 - German forces invade, facing face strong resistance during the occupation lasting until the end of the war.

Late 1960s - Oil and gas deposits discovered in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. By the early 1980s they constitute nearly one-third of Norway's annual export earnings.

1994 - Norwegians for the second time reject membership of the European Union in a referendum, by a margin of about 5%.

2011 - Extreme right-winger Anders Behring Breivik carries out a bomb attack and mass shooting, killing more than seventy people in the worst massacre in Norway's modern history.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Norway includes high mountains and some 50,000 islands

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