Editor’s Note: Today we publish the 2016 Report on Norwegian constitutional law, which appears in the larger 44-country Global Review of Constitutional Law, now available here in a smaller file size for downloading and emailing.
–Anine Kierulf, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Oslo School of Law
Developments in Norwegian constitutional law 2016 were marked by courts’ adjustments to a major constitutional reform of 2014. In it, the 1814 Norwegian Constitution was amended with a bill of rights, thus constitutionalizing international human rights that had until then been incorporated by ordinary legislation. Questions of rights dominated constitutional adjudication. The political debate saw some discussion of two separation of power issues: one, the preparations towards the separation between church and state, a constitutional alteration of 2012 effectuated from January 1, 2017; the other questions of parliamentary competence to instruct the government in concrete cases in connection with a government decision to reduce quotas in the licensed hunt of wolves.
Norway is a monarchy functioning as a constitutional democracy. It was established as a state independent from Denmark in 1814, enacted its Constitution, and was then unionized by Sweden until 1905. In the 1800s, the Norwegian Constitution was considered positive law and played a significant role in adjudication, both due to the lack of statutes in the new country and to its symbolic value as a Norwegian base of law. Less used in legal adjudication through the 1900s, it has remained a central political and legal document.
While not a party to the EU, EU legal influence is significant due to the Norwegian membership in the European Economic Area (EEA), which grants access to the internal market on the condition that Norway implements relevant EU legislation. The core international Human Rights conventions, and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) are incorporated into Norwegian law through the Human Rights Act of 1999 (HRA), and influences Norwegian law in a constitution-like way as the provisions of these instruments take precedence before conflicting Norwegian law.
In politics, 2016 was Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s (Conservative) third of her four-year-term coalition government. The minority right-of-centre government, comprising the Conservatives and the right wing Progress Party (FrP), is reliant on parliamentary support from two centrist parties, the Liberal Left and the Christian Democrats. Areas of political disagreement within this group of parties have been environmental policies and stricter immigration and asylum regulations.
The Norwegian economy was influenced by the decrease in oil prices in 2015 and parts of 2016. Norges Bank (the central bank) has left its main policy interest rate on hold at a record-low 0.5% since March 2016. Real estate prices are still rising, particularly in the capital, Oslo, and other larger cities. The unemployment rate continued to rise in 2016, but is still low compared to other European countries, at 4.5%.
Among social developments, questions of immigration and asylum following the refugee crisis of 2015 are still high on the public and political agenda, as is the fear of increasing terror in Europe. Areas of particular concern are how to ensure the protection and care for unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers, and how proposed expansions of police and security forces’ investigative and preventive measures balance the public need for security against the right to privacy and freedom of expression.