Norway 1814 – 1994 – 2014: Sovereignty and Democracy


By Heming Olaussen

2014 is a year of political jubilees. 200 years ago Norway got her Constitution (Grunnloven), which is celebrated every year on May 17 in every place in the country with children’s processions and speeches. And on November 28, it is also 20 years since the last No of the Norwegian people to EU membership. Where is the connection between these two great events in Norway’s political history – and why is No to the EU calling this a ”double jubilee” and making a campaign on it? In 1814 Norway was subjected to Denmark, formally in a ”union”, but really governed as a colony. After the Napoleonic wars Denmark was left as one of the losers, and through the Treaty of Kiel in January 1814 it was decided that Norway should be surrendered to Sweden as war booty. This led to an insurrection in Norway, and the elites (the nobles, the big farmers and others) met and decided to reject the Treaty of Kiel and set up a Norwegian Constitution and call a constituent assembly named Stortinget. And this came to be the result after people all over the country had gathered at church assemblies and elected their representatives. Strongly inspired by the French revolution and the American constitution one of the most radical constitutions in Europe was adopted and signed on May 17, 1814. Even though Norway was in the Autumn of 1814 forced to accept the Swedish king and a personal union with Sweden after an invasion of superior Swedish troops the Storting stuck to the Constitution as the legal framework of the Norwegian democracy during the union with Sweden. In actual fact Norway had self government except for foreign policy.

Norway’s upholding of the principle of the Sovereignty of the People was a unique phenomenon in Europe. When the democratic wave of the French revolution had passed almost all the royal houses had their revenge, and most constitutions were annulled or set aside. The Norwegian constitution survived. And moreover – it was on the foundation of this constitution that Norway’s democracy was continually expended until 1913 (votes for women) and 1919 (full voting rights, even to people on poor relief).

”Norway is a free, independent, inalienable and indivisible realm,” according to the first article of the constitution.

And this was just what the campaign in 1994 (as well as in 1972) was about: Should Norway continue as a free and independent realm, or should Norway be subjected to remote government from Brussels? In both referenda the people said clearly that”we want to govern ourselves, we will not be governed by others”. And when No to the EU now celebrates as well the 200 year jubilee of the Constitution as the 20 year jubilee of the No victory in 1994 it is on the foundation of these quite fundamental principles:

Norway should be governed by the Norwegian people

Norway should be an independent and sovereign country.

And this is where the struggle is still going on in 2014. Not so much about EU membership. As many as 70 per cent of the people are now saying No to the EU. But through the EEA agreement we are nevertheless a member of the EU Single Market and have to accept a number of laws and directives which, according to many, ought never to be accepted as we are just not a member of the EU.

So the struggle continues – for Norway’s freedom, democracy and independence. In 2014 as in 1994 and in 1814.

Heming Olaussen is the leader of “No to the EU“,


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