Freedom in the World 2021 - Norway

/ 100
Political Rights 40 / 40
Civil Liberties 60 / 60
Last Year's Score & Status
100 / 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Norway is one of the most robust democracies in the world. Elections are free and fair, and power regularly rotates between parties. Civil liberties are respected, with independent media and civil society actors holding the government to account. Discrimination against Roma and other marginalized groups remains a problem.

Key Developments in 2020

  • In August, the Norwegian Journalists’ Association, Verdens Gang, and the Norwegian Editors’ Association sued the Attorney General for denying access to documents in a court case concerning police handling of guns. The case was with the Supreme Court at year’s end.
  • As part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, freedom of movement was limited during the year. In March, strict rules prohibited travel outside of residents’ home county. Essential health workers were prohibited from traveling abroad, and only Norwegian nationals or residents were permitted to reenter Norway. By the end of the year, 48,278 people had tested positive for coronavirus, and 436 people had died, according to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The constitutional monarch, currently King Harald V, appoints the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party or coalition in the parliament. While the monarch is officially the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, his duties are largely ceremonial. The prime minister, Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg, took office in 2013 and received a new mandate following her center-right coalition’s victory in the 2017 general election.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

Norway’s unicameral parliament, the Storting, has 169 members who are directly elected for four-year terms through a system of proportional representation in multimember districts.

An election monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the 2017 elections were well conducted, offering notable praise for the country’s early voting mechanisms. However, the mission found that visually impaired voters experienced some difficulties. The opposition Labour Party led the voting with 49 seats, followed by the ruling Conservatives with 45 seats, the right-wing populist Progress Party with 27, the Centre Party with 19, the Socialist Left Party with 11, the Christian Democratic Party and the Liberal Party with 8 each, and the Green Party and Red Party with 1 each. The Conservatives renewed their governing coalition with the Progress Party, with the Liberal Party joining the bloc in early 2018 and the Christian Democrats joining in January 2019. In January 2020, however, the Progress Party left the governing coalition due to political differences over the government’s decision to bring home a woman and her two children from Syria. The governing coalition is now a minority government.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4

Elections are regulated by the constitution and the Representation of the People Act of 2002. The National Electoral Committee, whose members are appointed by the king from all parliamentary parties, oversees the conduct of elections with the support of local-level committees. The 2017 OSCE election monitoring mission noted a high degree of public confidence in the country’s electoral infrastructure.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

A range of political parties operate freely in Norway.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

Norway has a long history of democratic and peaceful transfers of power after elections. The center-left Labour Party on the one hand, and center-right coalitions led by the Conservatives or the Christian Democrats on the other, have typically rotated in and out of government. Smaller parties wield influence by participating in national and local coalitions.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4 / 4

Citizens are generally free from undue interference in their political choices, and no military, foreign, or religious entities exert undemocratic pressure on voters. Public funding is the main source of party revenue, though the 2017 OSCE election monitoring mission noted a sharp increase in private contributions and conveyed concerns that this could allow wealthy donors to acquire undue influence over Norwegian politics.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4

Women and minority groups enjoy full political rights and electoral opportunities. Women are well represented in Norwegian politics: The posts of prime minister, foreign minister, and justice minister, among others, were held by women in 2020, and 41 percent of parliamentarians are women. Minority ethnic groups and the interests of LGBT+ people are addressed through robust antidiscrimination laws and various protections for same-sex couples.

The Indigenous Sami population, in addition to participating in the national political process, has its own legislature, the Sameting, which has worked to protect the group’s language and cultural rights and to influence the national government’s decisions about Sami land and resources. The national government has a deputy minister tasked specifically with handling Sami issues.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4

The freely elected government and parliament develop and implement policy without undue influence from actors who are not democratically accountable. In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parliament approved a law that gave the government discretionary powers to address the public health crisis. The draft law enabled the government to make exceptions from current laws without going through the parliament for up to six months. Parliamentary consultations adjusted the law to only apply in urgent cases when ordinary parliamentary procedures would not be possible and to only last one month.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4

Provisions of the penal code criminalizing corrupt activity are generally upheld. Official corruption is not viewed as a significant problem in Norway, though cases of corruption have surfaced at major firms in recent years. Norwegian bank DNB faced a money laundering probe in November 2019 after an Icelandic news outlet reported that it was used to route funds from Icelandic fishing company Samherji to shell firms; those funds were allegedly used to bribe Namibian officials.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4

The government generally operates with transparency. Several audits of public grants and other government spending were conducted in 2017, with auditors finding evidence of inadequate management.

The 2006 Freedom of Information Act provides for access to government documents, though it contains exemptions for some information pertaining to national security and foreign policy. Investigative journalists have previously complained that senior government officials use various tactics to avoid or delay inquiries that would expose negligence or wrongdoing.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4

Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Norwegians have access to news and commentary from a wide variety of independent outlets. In recent years, the courts have grappled with legal questions related to the protection of journalists’ sources in criminal cases. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Norwegian government could not compel journalists to reveal their sources, even if the source had come forward independently. In August 2020, the Norwegian Journalists’ Association, Verdens Gang, and the Norwegian Editors’ Association sued the Attorney General for denying access to documents in a case concerning police handling of guns. The case was with the Supreme Court at year’s end.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution and generally upheld in practice. However, religiously motivated hate crimes do occur. The government also launched an action plan against discrimination and hatred against Muslims, which includes requirements for police to separately register anti-Muslim crimes.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

Academic freedom is generally respected.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

Private discussion in Norway is free and vibrant.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

The right to freedom of assembly is generally respected. There have been tensions in recent years over demonstrations by extremist groups and their potential threat to public security, with some critics calling for far-right marches to be prohibited. Public health measures instituted in 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 limited the size of public gatherings. In June 2020, Black Lives Matter protests in response to the killing of George Floyd in the United States and against racism in Norway took place despite these regulations. The protests in Oslo and Bergen drew thousands of protestors, and other demonstrations took place across Norway. Police requested that those who took part stay home after participating and get tested if they showed symptoms of the virus.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) form and operate without undue restrictions.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4

The right to strike is legally guaranteed—except for members of the military and senior civil servants—and is generally respected in practice. All workers have the right to engage in collective bargaining.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4

The judiciary is generally considered independent, and the court system, headed by the Supreme Court, operates fairly at the local and national levels. The king appoints judges on the advice of the Judicial Appointments Board, which is composed of legal and judicial professionals as well as representatives of the public.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4

Law enforcement agencies and the courts generally observe legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. Criminal defendants have access to counsel at the government’s expense, and the principles of due process are typically respected during trial.

In October 2019, the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV) was found to have wrongfully imprisoned at least 48 people on charges of welfare fraud, having misinterpreted European Union (EU) rules on social security when it denied benefits to over 2,400 people who travelled to EU and European Economic Area (EEA) states since 2012. In September 2020, the NAV requested that individuals affected by the scandal contact them, to attempt to resolve the issue. They had already processed about 42,000 cases.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4

The police are under civilian control, and physical abuse by law enforcement authorities is rare. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.

Far-right and extremist violence is a recognized threat in Norway; the national Police Security Service has warned of an increased risk of far-right terrorism. In August 2019, a Neo-Nazi sympathizer murdered his adopted sister, an ethnic Chinese woman, before unsuccessfully attacking a mosque in the southwestern municipality of Bærum. In June 2020, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison with a minimum term of 14 years for the murder of his sister in June 2020.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 4 / 4

The equality and antidiscrimination ombudsman enforces the Gender Equality Act, the Antidiscrimination Act, and other laws designed to protect the basic rights of women, minorities, and other groups at risk of mistreatment. These laws are generally upheld in practice.

Norwegian authorities reported 761 hate crimes in 2019, the majority of which were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. A Neo-Nazi group conspicuously handed out leaflets outside the Synagogue in Oslo during the Jewish New Year service.

The national government also supports Sami-language instruction and media outlets in the relevant regions. The Norwegian national human rights institution, however, has highlighted that Norway does not currently disaggregate statistical data by ethnicity or Indigenous status, which limits the evidence base for human rights monitoring and improving policy and service delivery for Indigenous groups such as the Sami.

In the 2020 UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights report on Norway, it noted concern over evidence of people with visual impairments facing technological barriers at work; persons with an immigrant background continue to face discrimination in employment and access to healthcare; one third of older persons in hospitals and in health and care services are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition; and women still face a persistent pay gap of 12.4 percent as of 2019.

In recent years, the Council of Europe has encouraged Norwegian authorities to address widespread discriminatory attitudes toward Roma, and to ensure that they have equal access to education and employment.

Norway is increasingly coming under scrutiny for its restrictive refugee and asylum policies. In November 2020, 18-year-old Mustafa Hasan—who came to Norway as a 6-year-old—was deported by an Immigration Appeals Board because his mother had provided inaccurate information. The case stoked widespread criticism of the country’s asylum policies. In December, the government increased the requirements for permanent residency from 3 to 5 years of living in Norway.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4

Freedom of movement in Norway is generally respected. People can change their place of residence, employment, and education. However, some EU- and EEA-born welfare recipients living in Norway reportedly refrained from traveling abroad for fear of losing benefits; in November 2019, local NGO Caritas reported that several thousand were discouraged or stopped from traveling abroad in recent years.

As part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, freedom of movement was limited in 2020. In March, strict rules prohibited travel outside of residents’ home county. Essential health workers were prohibited from travelling abroad, and only Norwegian nationals or residents were permitted to reenter Norway. Regulations in place at the end of 2020 require that anyone coming into Norway from countries or areas with a high infection rate must present a negative COVID-19 test to officials and quarantine upon arrival for 10 days.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4

The rights to own property and operate private businesses are established in Norwegian law and upheld in practice.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4

The government generally does not restrict personal social freedoms. The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women with respect to marriage, divorce, and other personal status matters.

Domestic violence is a problem. In June 2019, Norway’s Institute for Human Rights (NIM) estimated that 150,000 people experience domestic violence annually. Later that summer, the government launched a plan of action to combat domestic violence, which included a specific focus on Sami communities. Amnesty International has also expressed concern that the penal code does not use a consent-based definition of rape and imposes a limited set of qualifying circumstances.

In 2018, the parliament passed a government-proposed law that bans face coverings, including the niqab and burqa, from teaching environments at all levels of education, effectively placing limits on individuals’ choice of dress and personal appearance. The ban did not apply outside classroom settings, for instance during recess or staff meetings.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4

The principle of equality of opportunity and legal protections against economic exploitation are generally upheld. The government has been active in combating labor and sex trafficking and works to provide services to victims. There have been reports of forced labor in the agriculture and construction sectors, including a case of Bangladeshi migrants being exploited on Norwegian farms through a Portuguese trafficker.