Norway is a constitutional
monarchy with a parliamentary system of government.
The Royal House is a branch of the princely family of Glücksburg, originally
from Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. As it stands, the functions of the King,
Harald V, are mainly ceremonial, but he has influence as the symbol of
national unity. Although the constitution of 1814 grants important executive
powers to the King, these are always exercised by the Council of State in
the name of the King (King's Council, or cabinet). The reserve powers vested
in the Monarch by the constitution are in reality symbolic, but has on a few
occasions been important like World War II, when the Monarch said he would
step down if the government should accept the German demand. The Council of
State consists of a Prime Minister and other ministers, formally appointed
by the King. Parliamentarism has evolved since 1884 and entails that the
cabinet must not have the parliament against it, and that the appointment by
the King is a formality when there is a clear majority in Parliament for a
party or a coalition of parties. But after elections resulting in no clear
majority to any party or coalition, the leader of the party most likely to
be able to form a government is appointed Prime Minister by the King. Norway
has often been ruled by minority governments. The King has government
meetings every Friday at Oslo Palace (Council of State), but the government
decisions are decided in advance in government conferences, headed by the
Prime Minister, every Tuesday and Thursday. The King opens the Parliament
every September, he receives ambassadors to the Norwegian court, and he is
the symbolically Supreme Commander of the Norwegian Armed Forces and the
Head of the Church of Norway.
The Norwegian parliament, Stortinget, currently has 169 members (increased
from 165, effective from the elections of 12 September, 2005). The members
are elected from the nineteen counties for four-year terms according to a
system of proportional representation. When voting on legislation, the
Storting – until the 2009 election – divides itself into two chambers, the
Odelsting and the Lagting. Laws are in most cases proposed by the government
through a Member of the Council of State, or in some cases by a member of
the Odelsting in case of repeated disagreement in the joint Storting.
Nowadays, however, the Lagting rarely disagrees, effectively rubber-stamping
the Odelsting's decisions. A constitutional amendment of February 20, 2007
will repeal the division after the 2009 general election.
Impeachment cases are very rare (the last being in 1927, when Prime Minister
Abraham Berge was acquitted) and may be brought against Members of the
Council of State, of the Supreme Court (Høyesterett), or of the Storting for
criminal offenses which they may have committed in their official capacity.
Prior to an amendment to the Norwegian Constitution on February 20, 2007
indictments were raised by the Odelsting and judged by the Lagting and the
Supreme Court justices as part of the High Court of the Realm. In the new
system impeachment cases will be heard by the five highest ranking Supreme
Court justices and six lay members in one of the Supreme Court courtrooms
(previously cases were heard in the Lagting chamber). Storting
representatives may not perform as lay judges. Indictments will be raised by
the Storting in a plenary session.
The Storting otherwise functions as a unicameral parliament and after the
2009 general election the division into Odelsting and Lagting for passing
legislation will be abolished. Legislation will then have to go through two
– three in case of dissent – readings before being passed and sent to the
King for assent.
The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court (eighteen permanent judges and a
chief justice), courts of appeal, city and district courts, and conciliation
councils. Judges attached to regular courts are appointed by the King in
In order to form a government, more than half the membership of the Council
of State is required to belong to the Church of Norway. Currently, this
means at least ten out of nineteen members.
In December each year, Norway gives a Christmas tree to the United Kingdom,
in thanks for the UK's assistance during World War II. A ceremony takes
place to erect the tree in Trafalgar Square.