Many foreigners believe that almost any political change is possible in a democracy like Norway, and they are right in theory. But in practice some debates are just dead in Norway and political parties don’t even fight for them. Most of the time it is because there is a general consensus in the population that no change is wished for. they are listed in their political programmes (such as entering the EU or not), but polls showing that the Norwegian people agree with the status quo make these debates unworthy of bringing up. Some of these changes could however seem natural for foreigners, especially depending on the system in their country of origin. But get over it, these following major policy changes are not happening anytime soon in Norway.
- Abolish the State monopoly on alcohol
Since 1939, the Norwegian state is the only authority allowed to sell alcohol above 4,75% of alcohol volume. The ruling government also decides on opening hours of these shops (called Vinmonopolet- the monopoly of wine in English), as well as the legal hours other shops (such as supermarkets) can sell alcohol beverage with lower percentage than 4,75%. This is the state monopoly on alcohol, and in Norway one could say it is quite conservative. For example before a long week end with a bank holiday the state-controlled shops close even earlier than usual. It is almost as if they don’t want Norwegians to drink.
For a French like me, having to look up opening hours of a single shop and pay the same for a glass of wine in a bar than what a good bottle costs in France is close to social torture. But in Norway, there does not seem to be many people or parties who want to abolish that monopoly. In 2013, a poll showed that 74% of Norwegians were satisfied with Vinmonopolet. Sure, political parties disagree on details such as the opening hours for Vinmonopolet, or how much alcohol quota one can get in the country from abroad without paying taxes, but nothing on abolishing the whole system. Some parties such as the Christian Democrats would like the existing system to be every stricter. The Progress Party is historically the one party fighting for more liberal alcohol policy in Norway, higher quota when coming from abroad etc.
Neighbouring country Denmark has wine sold much cheaper in every other store, even open AFTER 6PM, LIKE THAT IS ALMOST NIGHT TIME. But you know, Danes are SO liberal, would be Norwegians’ answer.
So as much as you hate it, Vinmonopolet is here to last. Strangely enough, Norwegians loving the cheap booze everywhere else in the world including on their way to Sweden, will also defend their system. Others will tell you that if it wasn’t for Vinmonopolet people would be drunk all the time and not going to work. It does not prevent them from using every trick in the book to bring back as much cheaper alcohol as legally possible, but somehow the system is socially accepted.
2. Abolish the Monarchy
Mind you, some people in Norway would love to abolish the monarchy and have made that pretty clear. But the King himself does not seem to want to abolish it (surprise surprise), and it seems like Norwegians in general don’t want that either. In January 2019 a vote in the Parliament showed 36 members of parliament voting to abolish the monarchy and make Norway become a republic. That would send the King to become a regular citizen. But that is far from what regular Norwegians want. Almost 70% are pro keeping the monarchy and the rest wants a republic. The King and his family cost quite an amount of our tax money. In the latest state budget their yearly running costs were at 22,95 million NOK. But somehow Norwegians are ready to pay that to have the King waving at them from his palace with his family on the 17th of May, giving speeches about how the best in Norwegian culture and represent this country’s soft power. A friend from Indonesia once asked me: But what is the point of a King, if he has no power? Norwegians love their King, his wife Sonja, their children and their grand children, and that is not about to change anytime soon so get used to it.
3. Norway entering the EU
There has been a public debate for several decades around this issue since the creation of the European Community, and intensively at least twice during the referendums. In 1972 the first referendum was about Norway joining the European Community, and in 1994 a second referendum was held to ask the people as to whether they wanted Norway to join the European Union. Both referendums had over 52% of “no’s” and a poll made in 2016 showed that over 70% of Norwegians were happy not to be part of the European Union.
Therefore, despite most significant political parties having a position on entering the EU or not (Labour party, Liberals and the Conservatives want in, while Socialists Left, Red party and Far right refuse), it is not a political debate I have seen rise before an election in the past 10 years while living here. Some parties are putting on the table to get out of the EEA though, but that has not passed. So if you believe that Norway is entering the EU anytime soon, you might as well move to another country. On the bright side, if this is important for you, Norway is implementing more EU regulations than any EU country. Downside: paying fees to import goods you bought on the internet: the rule will change from 1st January 2020. Some rules which are not in the EEA agreement are still for Norway to decide for their own country.
4. Legalisation of any drugs besides alcohol
“Ruspolitikk” or Drugs policy is a very touchy topic in Norway. The controversy is not legal but social, where Norwegians in general give much less credit to alcohol as a drug and much more to all others. If you go on Rustelefonen.no, the national drug helpline in Norway, you will see that alcohol is listed as a drug alongside Metamfetamin, MDMA, Cannabis, Heroin, Cocaine, LSD and all other usual suspects. But here is the trick: alcohol is legal, the others aren’t. In Norway among the general public there seems to be a slight delusion as to how alcohol is not a drug, but for example cannabis is extremely dangerous. I am not saying cannabis isn’t a drug, I am just saying many can argue it is just as recreational as alcohol, with much less deaths, addiction and overdose. Yet in Norway getting smashed drunk every Friday and Saturday evening will just make you look cool, while pulling out a joint and sharing it with 10 friends on a Saturday evening once a year will get some Norwegians to react as if you were injecting yourself with 1 gram of heroin every morning before eating your cereals.
To illustrate this taboo, a very recent example can be used. InAugust this year during the election campaign period in Norway, the Youth branch of the Liberal Party (Ung Venstre), raised this issue in NRK of legalising cannabis. They made a sticker which was censored in no time. A hand with a joint saying “legalise it”. I believe they would have been less censored if they had made a super racist poster, because then it would have been categorised and debated under the freedom of expression of those making such poster.
So legalisation of cannabis is not happening anytime soon. And changes in the Drug policy in Norway in general is something no party wants to talk about, such as for example adopting the same liberal policies as in Portugal and the Netherlands.
5. Make Whale Hunting Illegal
This is really a tricky one, because Norway is one of the only countries in the world to authorise whale hunting, and this is something very difficult to understand for many outsiders. Is Norway poor and in need of whale meat to feed its population? Nope. Is whale hunting still going on because indigenous communities have claimed that this is part of their way of life, and they continue hunting traditionally? Not really, but Norwegians have. Sure, whale hunting is a Norwegian tradition as it has been going on since the 800’s, but now with their 1278 whale-quota to hunt every year with their mechanised boats, and their immense wealth, there are concerns raised internationally as to whether this is really necessary. Especially since there is a global moratorium on whale hunting since 1982. There are many Norwegian myths about whale hunting: it is really good for the environment to hunt whale since they would become a plague for the ocean if not killes (note they only hunt minke whales). Whale hunting is done with “humane practices”, they say, but then it looks like they use explosive weapons. And the most crazy of all: tNorway wants to hunt it full quota but due to decline of demand from consumers who prefer other kinds of fish and meat, they end up selling it to Japan (who is already fishing like crazy) or throwing it away. Good news is that in 2019 even fishermen are not so keen on fishing whale anymore due to decline in prices, according to NRK.
The government still promotes whale meat at festivals and in restaurants and hopes the demand will rise. But one can wonder how low the demand needs to be for them to stop. I predict when the last fisherman will have decided to use his time fishing something else that sells better, Norway might give up on whale hunting. Not before.
This article was published in Norwegian in the daily newspaper VG on the 9th of September 2019 under the title Politikkens aller dødeste saker.
9 thoughts on “EU, Alcohol policy, the King, Whale Hunting. A List of Dead Political Debates in Norway.”
Takk, merci, thank you for these regular snippets of Norwegian culture. Having lived in Sweden for a year (during the last Ice Age 🙂 ) most of these are more or less familiar, but the whale hunting I never understood previously. So, keep up the good work!
My Norwegian cousins came to visit me in Toronto last autumn right after cannabis was legalized here. My most liberal and well-travelled cousin was pretty scandalized seeing people smoking in parks and smelling it while we walked around. I was surprised! Norwegians really are quite conservative with drugs.
hahahha. Thats a good one. Beserkers, anyone?
Well there is a ongoing debate about drugs, and Stortinget has decided that drugs will be decriminalized, they just haven’t decided on what form yet, but most likely the Portugal model. And we are many that are working for the regulation of cannabis. So I would say that you are wrong on that point.
Hehe, many interesting observations here. But please allow me some minor corrections and comments:
The sales hours from supermarkets for alcoholic drinks < 4,75% is set by local authorities (community/"kommune"), but limited to what is allowed by the Alcohole Law (set by Stortinget). So if you visit a restrictive kommune, you risk arriving too late if you want to buy a beer Friday evening.
Te Wine monpoly / "It is almost as if they don’t want Norwegians to drink." Nom not "almost" – its main purpose is to reduce the consumption of alcoholic beverages. And according to a poll done by Aftenposten in 2013, maintaining the monopoly is supported by 70% of the population (!) A bit of a paradox when you see the buzz in the taxfree shops with cheaper alcohol available when you arrive from abroad to a Norwegian airport.
Most of us simply cannot see a single Norwegian politician able to fill the role of an elected President.
Don't even get me started on commenting this, as I am very pro EU. Being outside of EU is a big mistake in my opinion, but EØS/EEA is considered an acceptable compromise. (Norwegians love compromises.)
This is a Norwegian parallel to the Spanish bullfighting arenas. The arguments to continue are virtually the same: Cultural / tradition.
A recent article in The Economist quoted Norway as having one of the highest rates of drug induced deaths in Europe, coming third after Estonia and Sweden. Therefore there seems to be a point against drugs.
I discovered you website today and must congratulate you for it.
French as well, my presence in Norway now amounts to 34 continuous years plus some odd ones before that.
A few comments:
– State monopoly on alcohol.
To understand a country, one need to look into its history. Before the set-up of the alcohol monopoly, Norway was ridden by tuberculosis and alcoholism. There were more “watering holes” in Norway than in Brittany at the same period. The monopoly was therefore an act of public health. And it worked.
Based on the disastrous effects of alcoholism on families, many women joined movements to limit or abolish the use of alcohol. Some of this remains and may explain the 70% appreciation of the monopoly.
A short story about alcohol in Norway: in the seventies a big fishing vessel from Brittany came to Norway to support exploration activities offshore. Upon arrival, the Norwegian custom officer did his inspection, was shown the locked-up cupboard with pastis, cognac and so on. Satisfied, he went to the mess-room with the Captain to sign the papers. While sitting on the benches along the table, the Captain asked the custom officer if he could be offered a drink. The proposition was accepted, so the Captain stood-up, opened the bench and fetched a bottle of red wine. The custom officer became nearly apoplectic, shouting that this was alcohol and should have been declared. No, no answered the Captain, this is wine, not alcohol, and is the daily beverage of the whole crew. Indeed, all the benches were filled-up with bottles of red wine. After a lot of discussions, the Captain threatening to sail back, the custom officer allowed a daily quota of red wine for the crew, against some duty fees paid by the charterer.
Two conclusions from this story:
– A Frenchman must understand that alcoholic beverages means everything with alcohol in it. We usually have a hard time admitting that wine is an alcoholic drink.
– Norwegian, even civil servants, are not as square minded as we like to believe.
Remember also that if Norway has an alcohol state monopoly, so does France about tobacco.
– Car import duties
You have left another Norwegian peculiarity which infuriate foreigners (not only Frenchmen), The import taxes imposed on motor vehicles (cars, trucks, busses,…) which amount to about 110 % of the original price.
Again, history. Norway came out of the WW2 quite shaken, and had to be rebuilt or built-up as Norway was not an industrial society (fishing, lumbering and shipping were the main activities, and in particular no indigenous car industry of note).
Up to 1962, one had to apply formally to be allowed to purchase a car. Only people with a professional need, like doctors, were granted permission. Customs duties were therefore put quite high as it had no mass consequence and was providing much needed funds.
And like the alcohol monopoly, once established, no political party or government saw any point of losing good revenues.
– EU membership
You do not mentioned Senterpartiet (party du centre and originally very much a party of farmers, together with the Christian party) which was instrumental to the no to EU, with a lot of lies as we heard during the Brexit campaign.
For us, EU citizens, the EØS/EES agreement mentioned above gives us free access to Norway as equal to Norwegians. Our only (correct) restriction is not to vote for parlement (Storting) elections. But we do vote for local elections.
– Whale hunting
I remember some T-shirts in the eighties sporting the words: “Intelligent minds need intelligent food”.
All for now.
I’ve written my Senator that the US should cut ties with Norway unless and until they end Whale fishing. You guys can defend yourselves against the Russians or get Grande to help out. Good luck. I couldn’t care less Whalw fishing is your tradition. We have a tradition of slavery and we ended that, sort of. Only assholes hunt Whales.
PS, grande = France. Stupid Apple spellchecker. Apple sucks.