Liberal Party (Norway)

The Liberal Party (Norwegian: Venstre, lit.'Left', V; Northern Sami: Gurutbellodat) is a centrist political party in Norway. It was founded in 1884 and it is the oldest political party in Norway. It is positioned in the centre on the political spectrum,[4] and it is a liberal party which has over the time enacted reforms such as parliamentarism, freedom of religion, universal suffrage and state schooling.[5][6][7][8]

Liberal Party
LeaderGuri Melby
Founded28 January 1884
HeadquartersMøllergata 16
0179 Oslo
Student wingLiberal Students of Norway
Youth wingYoung Liberals of Norway
Membership (2017) 7,057[1]
Political positionCentre
European affiliationAlliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
International affiliationLiberal International
Nordic affiliationCentre Group
Colours  Teal
8 / 169
County Councils[2]
39 / 728
Municipal Councils[3]
544 / 10,781
Sami Parliament
0 / 39

For most of the late 19th and early 20th century, it was Norway's largest and dominant political party, but in the postwar era it lost most of its support and became a relatively small party. The party has nevertheless participated in several centrist and centre-right government coalitions in the postwar era. It currently holds eight seats in the Parliament, and was previously a part of Norway's government together with the Conservative Party and the Christian Democratic Party. The leader of the party is Guri Melby.

The party is regarded as social-liberal[9][10][11][12] and advocates personal freedom under the pre-condition of an active state. Since the 1970s, the party has maintained a green liberal position,[13][14] which was an important part of the party profile when it came back to parliament in the 1990s. The Liberal Party was rated the second best party after the Green Party by the environmentalist organisation Framtiden i våre hender.[15] The party is also a strong supporter of multiculturalism, increased labour immigration to Norway, and relaxed integration measures.[16] It is supportive of Norway's membership in the European Union,[17] and the replacement of the monarchy with a republican form of government.[18]

Founded in 1884, then with the main support from farmers and progressive members of the bourgeoisie, it was the first political party that came into existence in Norway, and was the dominant government party for several decades. From the beginning it had a close relationship with the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights, which was founded in the same year by most of the Liberal Party's leading politicians, and the party played a central role in advocating for women's suffrage.[19] Since the 1880s, the party has seen many internal schisms. A politically moderate and religious wing broke out in 1888 to form the Moderate Liberal Party, and the conservative-liberal faction, including among them the first Prime Minister of Norway Christian Michelsen broke out in 1909 to form the Free-minded Liberal Party (both parties eventually merged into the Conservative Party). The most notable recent schism was in 1972, when the Liberal Party decided to oppose Norwegian membership in the European Economic Community (EEC), and the faction supporting membership broke out and formed the Liberal People's Party.[20]


Eva Kolstad, a major figure in the history of liberal feminism and a former president of the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights, became the first woman to lead the Liberal Party in 1974

The party Venstre was formed in 1884 in connection with the dispute about whether or not to introduce parliamentarism in Norway. Venstre (which means "Left" in Norwegian) was the party advocating parliamentarism, whereas the conservatives, who opposed parliamentarism, formed the party Høyre (which means "Right"). When the fight for parliamentarism was won, Venstre's leader Johan Sverdrup became the first Norwegian prime minister to be appointed on the basis of having the support of a majority in the Storting. Later, Venstre advocated universal suffrage for men, which was achieved in 1898, the break-up of the Swedish-Norwegian Union, which happened in 1905, and universal women's suffrage, which was introduced in 1913. In the first decades after 1884, Venstre formed several governments, interspersed with periods of Høyre-governments. Six different Prime Ministers of Norway have come from Venstre, all of them before 1935. With the growth of the Labour Party, Venstre gradually lost ground. The election of 1915 was the last in which Venstre was the largest party and won an outright majority in the Storting. Venstre was further weakened with the formation of Bondepartiet (the present day Centre Party) in 1920, and Christian People's Party in 1933, both of which were formed partly by former Venstre members. After World War II, Venstre has been part of five coalition governments, the most recent one being Solberg's Cabinet from 2018.

A dispute over Norwegian membership in the European Community, now the European Union, made the party split up at Røros in 1972, with the people favoring EC membership departing, and forming the Liberal People's Party. These included the party leader, Helge Seip, and 9 of the 13 members of parliament. Since then, Venstre has been a fairly small party. The parliamentary group was reduced to two after the 1973 election.

In 1974, Venstre elected the first female leader of a political party in Norway, Eva Kolstad.

Election results continued to be poor for Venstre. Before the 1985 elections, the party announced for the first, and so far only, time that they would support a Labour Party government. At the following election they lost their two remaining seats, and were without representation in the Norwegian Parliament for the first time. In 1988, Venstre was re-united with the splinter party from 1972, now calling itself the Liberal People's Party, but at the elections of 1989, the re-united party again failed to win parliamentary seats. In 1993 the party again failed to achieve the 4% threshold which would make them eligible for the leveling seats in parliament, but Lars Sponheim was elected directly from Hordaland county. (Before the election, Sponheim had made the wager that he would walk across the mountains from his home in Ulvik to the parliament in capital city Oslo if elected—a wager he delivered on, to much good-humoured interest from the press.)

In 1997, Venstre passed the 4% threshold, increasing their seats in parliament to six. As a consequence Venstre also saw their first participation in cabinet since 1973. The party held four seats in the minority first government of Kjell Magne Bondevik. Lars Sponheim became minister of industry and commerce, Odd Einar Dørum; minister of communications, later minister of justice, Guro Fjellanger; minister of environmental protection, and Eldbjørg Løwer; minister of administration, later minister of defense. Mrs. Løwer was the first female minister of defense in Norway. This cabinet resigned in 2000, refusing to accept the Storting's decision to build gas power plants. In 2001, Venstre narrowly failed to reach the 4% threshold, but got two representatives elected, Sponheim and Odd Einar Dørum. However, due to Venstre becoming part of the second coalition government of Kjell Magne Bondevik, with Sponheim and Dørum entering the cabinet, the two were represented in parliament by deputies. The party also got a third member of the cabinet, with the appointment of Torild Skogsholm as Minister of Transport and Communications.

The 2005 elections gave Venstre 5.9% of the vote, their best result since the 1969 elections. Venstre won 6 seats directly, and an additional 4 seats through the 4%+ compensatory system. Due to the majority of the Red-Green Coalition, Venstre became an opposition party.

In the 2009 general elections.[21] Venstre ended up below the 4% threshold for levelling seats, leaving the party with only two seats in parliament, Trine Skei Grande and Borghild Tenden, whereas they had ten seats before the election. The same evening, 14 September 2009, Lars Sponheim announced that he would step down as party leader, as a consequence of the poor result. After the election, the party experienced growth in members. At the party conference in April 2010, Trine Skei Grande was unanimously elected as the new leader of the party.[22]

Venstre climbed over the threshold with 5.2% in the 2013 elections and entered into coalition talks with the Conservative, Christian Democratic, and Progress parties. Venstre and the Christian Democrats decided not to enter the new Solberg Cabinet, thus leaving it without a parliamentary majority, but made a confidence and supply agreement with it.[23]

Winning 8 seats in the 2017 elections, Venstre entered into new talks with the Conservative and Progress Party coalition, and joined the coalition in January 2018 with three cabinet posts; Ola Elvestuen became Minister of Climate and Environment, Iselin Nybø Minister of Research and Higher Education, while party leader Trine Skei Grande became Minister of Culture.[24]


Venstre is a liberal, social-liberal and centrist party. Through its history, it has taken part in both centre-right and pure centrist coalition governments. From 2001 to 2005, it was in a centre-right coalition government with the Conservative Party and Christian Democratic Party; since the 2005 general election, the party has been in opposition. More recently the party has been a proponent of a blue–green alliance in Norwegian politics, with Venstre constituting the green part.[25][26]

In the last few election campaigns, Venstre's main focus has been on environmental issues, education, small-business and social issues. Venstre advocates higher taxes on activities that damage the environment.[27] Some other issues Venstre advocate are increased labour immigration, abolition of the Church of Norway as the state church, abolishing the wealth and inheritance taxes, and more power to local authorities (kommuner).

At the national convention in 2005, Venstre decided with a margin of only five votes to still oppose Norway joining the European Union, albeit weakly, while still advocating that Norway remain part of the European Economic Area. In 2020, however, a majority at the national convention voted for Venstre to support EU membership for Norway. Thus, the official stance of Venstre is now in support of Norwegian membership of the European Union. Regardless, the party retains the position that the question of potential Norwegian EU membership should only be decided by a national referendum, similar to referendums held in 1972 and 1994.[17]

In 2007, Venstre became the first Norwegian party to advocate legalizing sharing of copyrighted digital material.[28][29]


While the name of the party means Left in Norwegian, the party refers to itself as a centrist party. Since the Centre Party was a component of the governing centre-left Red-Green Coalition, and Venstre was part of the "non-socialist" opposition, a situation has been produced where the centre party is more on the left than Left itself. When the name Left was chosen in 1884, the word did not refer to socialism in the way "Left wing" does today. It meant liberal or radicalism in comparison to the conservatives on the right, and referred to the position of the seats in Parliament. The use of the word for "left" in the names of the Danish political parties Venstre and Radikale Venstre is also meant to refer to liberalism and radicalism rather than socialism.

Party leaders

Campaign booth at Karl Johans gate ahead of the 2007 Norwegian local elections.

Prime ministers from Venstre

Electoral results

Date Votes Seats Position Size
#  % ± pp # ±
1885 57,683 63.4 0.6[lower-alpha 1]
84 / 114
1 Majority 1st
1888 37,320 41.8 21.6
38 / 114
46 Minority (1888) 2nd
Opposition (from 1889)
1891 51,780 50.8 9.0
63 / 114
25 Majority 1st
1894 83,165 50.4 0.4
59 / 114
4 Majority 1st
1897 87,548 52.7 2.3
79 / 114
20 Majority 1st
1900 127,142 54.0 1.3
77 / 114
2 Majority 1st
1903 101,142 42.7[lower-alpha 2] 11.3
48 / 117
29 Opposition 1st
1906 121,562 45.1 2.4
73 / 123
25 Majority 1st
1909 128,367 30.4 15.0
46 / 123
27 Minority (1909–1910) 7th
Opposition (from 1910)
1912 195,526 40.0 9.6
76 / 123
30 Opposition (1912–1913) 1st
Majority (from 1913)
1915 204,243 33.1 6.9
74 / 123
4 Majority 1st
1918 187,657 28.3 4.8
51 / 126
23 Minority (1918–1920) 3rd
Opposition (from 1920)
1921 181,989 20.1 8.2
37 / 150
14 Minority (1921–1923) 3rd
Opposition (from 1923)
1924 180,979 18.6 1.4
34 / 150
3 Minority (1924–1926) 2nd
Opposition (from 1926)
1927 172,568 17.3 1.5
30 / 150
4 Opposition (1926–1928) 3rd
Minority (from 1928)
1930 241,355 20.2 2.9
33 / 150
3 Minority (1930–1931) 3rd
Opposition (from 1931)
1933 213,153 17.1 3.1
24 / 150
9 Minority (1933–1935) 2nd
Opposition (from 1935)
1936 232,784 16.0 1.1
23 / 150
1 Opposition 3rd
1945 204,852 13.8 2.2
20 / 150
3 Opposition 3rd
1949 218,866 13.1[lower-alpha 3] 0.7
21 / 150
1 Opposition 3rd
1953 177,662 10.0 3.1
15 / 150
6 Opposition 3rd
1957 171,407 9.7[lower-alpha 3] 0.3
15 / 150
0 Opposition 3rd
1961 132,429 8.8[lower-alpha 3] 0.9
14 / 150
1 Opposition[lower-alpha 4] 4th
1965 207,834 10.4[lower-alpha 3] 1.6
18 / 150
4 Coalition (V–HSpKrF) 3rd
1969 202,553 9.4 1.0
13 / 150
5 Coalition (1969–1971, V–H–Sp–KrF) 5th
Opposition (1971–1972)
Coalition (from 1972, V–Sp–KrF)
1973 49,668 3.5[lower-alpha 3] 5.9
2 / 155
11 Opposition 7th
1977 54,243 3.2[lower-alpha 3] 0.3
2 / 155
0 Opposition 6th
1981 79,064 3.9[lower-alpha 3] 0.7
2 / 155
0 Opposition 7th
1985 81,202 3.1 0.8
0 / 157
2 Extra-parliamentary 7th
1989 84,740 3.2 0.1
0 / 165
0 Extra-parliamentary 7th
1993 88,985 3.6 0.4
1 / 165
1 Opposition 7th
1997 115,077 4.5 0.9
6 / 165
5 Coalition (1997–2000, V–Sp–KrF) 7th
Opposition (from 2000)
2001 98,486 3.9 0.6
2 / 165
4 Coalition (V–H–KrF) 7th
2005 156,113 5.9 2.0
10 / 169
8 Opposition 7th
2009 104,144 3.9 2.0
2 / 169
8 Opposition 7th
2013 148,275 5.2 1.4
9 / 169
7 Confidence and supply 6th
2017 127,483 4.4 0.8
8 / 169
1 Confidence and supply (2017–2018) 6th
Coalition (2018–2019, V–H–FrP)
Coalition (2019–2020, V–H–FrP–KrF)
Coalition (from 2020, V–H–KrF)
2021 137,433 4.6 0.2
8 / 169
Opposition 7th

See also


  1. Compared to the Liberals, a broad movement advocating parliamentarism prior to the creation of political parties (in contrast with the Conservatives which opposed it). The Liberal Party was formed in 1884 in connection with this dispute.
  2. Contested the election in alliance with the Labour Democrats.
  3. The Liberal Party ran on joint lists with other parties in a few constituencies in most elections from 1949 to 1981. Vote numbers are from independent Liberal Party lists only, while vote percentage also includes the Liberal Party's estimated share from joint lists (Statistics Norway estimates).[30]
  4. In government coalition from 28 August 1963 to 25 September 1963, see Lyng's Cabinet.


  1. "KrF og Venstre mistet over 2.000 medlemmer på ett år". Dagens Næringsliv (in Norwegian). 11 January 2018.
  2. "Valg 2011: Landsoversikt per parti" (in Norwegian). Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. Archived from the original on 24 September 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  3. "Venstre". Valg 2011 (in Norwegian). Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  4. Svante Ersson; Jan-Erik Lane (28 December 1998). Politics and Society in Western Europe. SAGE. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7619-5862-8. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  5. Christina Bergqvist (1 January 1999). Equal Democracies?: Gender and Politics in the Nordic Countries. Nordic Council of Ministers. p. 320. ISBN 978-82-00-12799-4.
  6. Allern, Elin Haugsgjerd (2010). Political Parties and Interest Groups in Norway. ECPR Press. pp. 163–164. ISBN 9780955820366.
  7. "Norway - Political parties". Norwegian Social Science Data Services. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  8. Venstre Archived 8 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine TV2/, retrieved 8 April 2013 (in Norwegian)
  9. Hans Slomp (30 September 2011). Europe, A Political Profile: An American Companion to European Politics: An American Companion to European Politics. ABC-CLIO. p. 425. ISBN 978-0-313-39182-8.
  10. Oyvind Osterud (18 October 2013). Norway in Transition: Transforming a Stable Democracy. Routledge. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-317-97037-8.
  11. Thompson, Wayne C. (2014). Nordic, Central, and Southeastern Europe 2014. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 55. ISBN 9781475812244.
  12. Reinhard Wolff (15 January 2018). "Neue Regierung in Norwegen: Drei Frauen sind am Ruder". Die Tageszeitung.
  13. "Die norwegische Parteienlandschaft". Norwegen Service. 30 August 2018.
  14. retrieved 11 December 2013
  15. "Integrering – Venstre". 1 June 2009.
  16. Krekling, David Vojislav (27 September 2020). "Venstre går inn for at Norge skal bli medlem i EU". NRK (in Norwegian Bokmål). Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  17. Sofie Prestegård (27 September 2020). "Skjerper tonen mot monarkiet". TV2.
  18. Aslaug Moksnes (1984). Likestilling eller særstilling? Norsk kvinnesaksforening 1884–1913, p. 35, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, ISBN 82-05-15356-6
  19. Bakken, Laila Ø.; Helljesen, Vilde (24 July 2009). "Venstre – lite parti med stor arv". Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.
  20. Sponheim: – Jeg trekker meg – Nyheter – Politikk – Archived 22 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  21. "Skei Grande ny leder i Venstre". 17 April 2010.
  22. Wright, Martin Aasen (30 September 2013). "Her er avtalen mellom de borgerlige partiene" (in Norwegian). Aftenposten. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  23. "Disse 20 skal styre Norge" (in Norwegian). Adresseavisa. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  24. Venstre-lederen vil ha makt i blågrønn regjering. NRK. 12 April 2013.
  25. Venstre med «blågrønt» budsjettforslag. Dagbladet. 3. november 2014.
  26. "Venstre official English website". Archived from the original on 12 June 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2009.
  27. "Culture wants to be free!". Archived from the original on 18 April 2007. Retrieved 16 April 2007.
  28. "Slipp kulturen fri! (Norwegian original resolution)". Retrieved 17 April 2007.
  29. "Tabell 25.3 Stortingsvalg. Godkjente stemmer etter parti1. Prosent".
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