Fjord Focus

The threat of a no-deal Brexit is becoming increasingly likely. Roger Williams investigates Norway – another European nation outside of the EU and one of the top ten countries (out of 189) for ease of doing doing business. Most Norwegians are fluent English speakers and the UK is Norway’s most important export market.

Fjords and mountains cover most of the country’s land which shares a thousand mile border with Sweden. It also has smaller borders with Finland and Russia, and a sea border with Denmark, which lies across the Skagerrak strait to the south. The population of Norway is just over 5 million. Oslo, Norway’s capital city, is home to nearly one million people and is followed in size by Bergen and Stavanger.

Although not a member of the EU, Norway is also member of the EEA, the European Economic Area. This is made up of the EU countries and the three out of four EFTA countries that have chosen to join it; Switzerland did not. Indeed, some in UK think the Norway-Efta model is what the UK should adopt on Brexit but it does mean accepting free movement of people and paying somewhere close to two-thirds of what the UK pays into the EU with little say in the governance of the EU.

It is a country of contradictions. Norway provides the socialist dream: values rooted in the idea that everyone is equal; universal free healthcare; a comprehensive social security system and extensive state ownership in key industrial sectors such as water, natural gas, petroleum, lumber and seafood. State ownership includes large stakes in Statoil, Statkraft (power production), Norsk Hydro (aluminium) and Telenor (telecoms) amongst others.

It is 95 per cent self-sufficient in energy from its hydro-electric facilities alone and has the sixth largest merchant fleet in the world.

The country is fourth in a league table of income per capita1 and ranks first on the World Happiness Report. Yet, Norway is a capitalist country and, through its government pension fund, it is estimated that Norway owns over one per cent of the world’s companies.

This ‘sovereign wealth fund’ is now thought to be the largest such fund in the world and valued at nearly a trillion dollars or closing on $200,000 per person.3 Norway’s currency, the Kroner, is trading today at a level comparable with that of five years ago although currently, it is over six per cent down on the year, after a recovery from a fall to almost 12 per cent down, at the end of 2017. The country has no government debt and the state controls approximately 30 per cent of the Oslo Stock Exchange. Norway has one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Norway is not a member of the EU despite holding two referenda. Norway, is a member of EFTA (the European Free Trade Association which also includes, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). The country stated earlier this year that, Post-Brexit, it will look to roll-over the existing relationship of free trade that Britain enjoys as a member of the EU.

Britain is close both culturally and economically to Norway. This relationship is marked by the people of Oslo presenting a Christmas tree to the UK, commemorating Britain’s assistance during WWII. Norway’s experiences during WWII also contributed to the country’s founder status in NATO and its continuing relationship with the UK. A third of the energy consumed in the UK is supplied by Norway and by 2019, the world’s longest electricity inter-connector will be linking the West coast of Norway and the British Midlands.

The Norwegian Embassy in London actively promotes closer links and boasts: “In fact, almost half of British gas imports originate from the Norwegian continental shelf. Also about 70 per cent of British oil imports come from Norway, and the UK is, alongside Germany, Norway’s largest and most important export market. More than 300 Norwegian companies are present in the UK, of which 100 are situated in Scotland. A large amount of these companies operate within the energy sector.”

Hunting is in Norway’s culture and Norway is in the top ten countries in terms of guns per capita. In this list, the USA is number one, with an estimated 121 guns per 100 of population. Norway ranks 10th at just under 32 guns. Approximately 10 per cent of Norway’s population are registered hunters.

Despite this, Norway’s advanced western democracy means the country has some of the strictest gun laws as well as strict immigration restrictions, particularly against economic immigration from outside the EU. It has very high levels of gun ownership, ranking tenth in the world, in front of France and just behind Sweden and Switzerland. Sadly, Norway can lay claim to one of the more well-known gun massacres, when 69 people, mostly teenagers, were hunted down and shot on Utoya island in 2011 by Anders Breivik.

As a result, Norway intends to ban the ownership of semi-automatic rifles from 2021. It is currently only possible to own a weapon by having documented an acceptable use for the weapon with the local police and having passed relevant training for the weapon either hunting or shooting sports. The firearms permit holder must be 18 years old for rifles and shotguns and 21 for handguns.

The ability to hold firearms is limited in number and can require gun club membership and participation. Further restrictions are on the cards. Seven years after the mass shooting by the Anders Breivik, Norway has proposed a ban on semi- automatic guns to begin in 2021. The proposed bill will allow an exemption for shooting sports.

The country’s statistics for gun ownership and use are extensive, easily found and well-documented online. This availability of information can be found on ‘How to do business in Norway’ and also when you wish to check on who you are dealing with in Norway. All is easy to find. The UK Department of Industry provide good background information, albeit some of the statistics are dated, and the Oslo office will be helpful to those seeking to do business in Norway.

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