The Storting, Norway
's national assembly, was constituted at Eidsvoll
in 1814, but its roots are far older.
Even before recorded history began in Scandinavia (around 800 AD), free men met in allting (common assembly) in the various districts scattered around the country, where they discussed legal, and to some extent, political matters of general concern. Later, during the Middle Ages, these tings, or assemblies, evolved into the local assemblies of rural districts and towns, and they acquired important functions in relations between the king and the common people. Moreover, it was at specific regional assemblies that a pretender to the throne was customarily acclaimed and "taken" as king.
When Norway was united as a kingdom (900 - 1030 AD), the first lagtings were constituted as superior regional assemblies. These were representative assemblies at which delegates from the various districts in each region met to award legal judgments and pass laws.
The first germs of democratic evolution appeared in matters of law. The ancient regional assemblies - Frostating, Gulating and Eidsivating - were eventually joined into a single jurisdiction, and King Magnus Lagabøte had the existing body of law put into writing (1263-80). This compilation of codified law which applied throughout the realm was exceptional for its time, and remained in force until Frederik III, king of the Danish-Norwegian union, promulgated absolute monarchy in 1660. This was codified in the King Act of 1665 which functioned as the constitution of the Union of Denmark-Norway until 1814.
In 1807, Sweden, Denmark and Norway were swept up into the Napoleonic Wars which raged in full force on the Continent, with Denmark-Norway and Sweden on opposite sides of the conflict. Napoleon's defeat in Russia in 1812 was the beginning of the end for the emperor and for the Union of Denmark-Norway. Sweden sided with Napoleon's adversaries, and the Allies promised the successor to the Swedish throne, Karl XIV Johan, Norway if he joined them in subduing France. Following the decisive victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, Karl XIV Johan hurried north to inflict a final defeat on Denmark. Frederik VI of Denmark yielded quickly, and on 14 January 1814 he signed the Treaty of Kiel, ceding Norway to the King of Sweden. The Danish Crown Prince Christian Frederik, who came to Norway in May 1813 as vice regent, played a prominent role in the drama which subsequently unfolded in 1814. He repudiated the Treaty of Kiel, and on 16 February 1814, called together the most influential men in Norway to an assembly at Eidsvoll, the purpose of which was to discuss Norway's future. At this assembly, Christian Frederik was dissuaded from his original intention to assert his hereditary title to the throne of Norway and have himself acclaimed king.
The delegates to this assembly called for a liberal constitution and a new king to be chosen by the people. They decided that the people should elect deputies to a constituent national assembly. The idea of the sovereignty of the people had prevailed. Christian Frederik was to govern the country for the time being as regent.
Of the 112 representatives to the Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll, 25 represented the towns, 33 represented the army and navy, and 54 represented the rural districts (amt). By occupation they included 37 landowning farmers, 13 merchants, 5 industrialists and 57 government officials. Due to its remoteness and the shortness of time, northern Norway was not represented.
The assembly celebrated Easter Sunday together on 10 April 1814, and the following day, the Prince Regent convened the Constituent Assembly. The assembly had to work swiftly in order to draft and adopt a national constitution before the Great Powers stepped in.
On Tuesday the 17th of May, the constitution was signed and sealed. On the same day, Christian Frederik was elected King of a free, sovereign and independent Norway - unanimously, though 16 delegates expressed some reservations. On 19 May, the newly-elected King presented himself to the Constituent Assembly and swore an oath on the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly held its last meeting the following day, and in closing, all the delegates joined hands and raised their voices with the cry, "United and faithful until the Mountains of Dovre should crumble!".
With this, Norway had established its Constitution and founded its national assembly - the Storting.
The founding principles of the constitution and the Storting
The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People: The people of a nation are entitled to govern themselves. The will of the people should determine the actions of the governing power, and the governing power governs on behalf of the people. The people elect representatives to a national assembly which is entrusted, among other things, with enacting the laws held to be in force in that society.
The Principle of Separation of Powers: The power of the State is divided between several branches of government which are independent of each other and act as checks and balances on each other. The aim of this principle is to prevent the concentration and abuse of power. In 1814, legislative, executive and judicial powers were divided between the Storting, the King and the courts.
The Principle of Human Rights: It is essential to safeguard the fundamental and inalienable rights of the people. The Constitution establishes the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly and the rule of law, but the implementation of these civil rights came about only gradually. For instance, prohibitions against lay preachers and religious minorities existed for many years.
The Legislative Procedure
In the process of passing legislation, the Storting is divided into two cambers, the Odelsting and the Lagting. When a Storting first convenes following an election, it elects one quarter of the representatives (41) to serve as members of the Lagting. The remaining three quarters (124) become members of the Odelsting.
A bill is introduced by the Government (see Links) in the form of a proposition to the Odelsting. This proposition is the product of an exhaustive preparatory procedure. When a major item of legislation or an extensive revision of existing law is on the agenda, the Government generally appoints an expert committee or commission to study the matter and submit a report to the ministry in charge of the bill. The ministry makes a draft bill and consults the organizations, other government bodies and institutions. This is referred to as hearings. When statements from the official consultations have been collected, the ministry prepares a proposition to the Odelsting. The proposition is first submitted to the King in Council and after approval there the royal proposition is submitted to the Odelsting, which normally refers to the appropriate committee.
The committee considers the bill and returns it to the Odelsting in the form of a recommendation. The recommendation is discussed (debated) in the Odelsting. If the Odelsting accepts or amends the recommendation, it goes to the Lagting in the form of an Odelsting resolution. The Odelsting resolution is deliberated in the Lagting and if approved there, it is sent to the King in Council. When the King has sanctioned or signed the bill, it becomes valid law. The role performed by the King has become symbolic.
This is the normal legislative procedure. However, if the Lagting does not approve an Odelsting recommendation, it returns to the Odelsting with comments. If an Odelsting accepts the comments, the bill is passed. It then goes back to the Lagting where it is merely reported and sent directly to the King for his approval. If the Odelsting rejects or modifies the amendments the measure must go back to the Lagting for consideration.
If the Lagting still does not approve, the measure is sent back to the Odelsting, which submits it to the plenary Storting. To pass the plenary session a two-thirds majority is required. There shall be an interval of at least three days between such deliberations in the Odelsting and the Lagting.
In reality, most matters business are decided when the committee had made its recommendation even though the final vote still remains. Proportional party representation is approximately the same in both the Odelsting and the Lagting so votes in the Lagting seldom go against Odelsting resolutions. The primary function of the Lagting is to act as a check. Sometimes the Lagting votes to reject or drop a bill and bills which finally pass both the Odelsting and the Lagting may differ substantially from the original proposition submitted by the Government.
© 2001 The Storting Administration Committee. Reproduction allowed as long as the text is unchanged and this copyright notice follows.