Norway's constitution beats US rival: experts
Norway's constitution may be 25 years younger than that of the US, but according to a paper released to mark the bicentenary by two prominent academics, its greater flexibility gives it a greater chance of enduring.
In their paper, Norway's Enduring Constitution, Professor Tom Ginsburg at the University of Chicago Law School and James Melton at University College London, examine what it is about Norway's constitution that has made it last for 200 years when only 14 of the 900 national constitutions ever enacted have even made it to 100.
They conclude that the Norwegian constitution's best point is how easy it is to change.
"Norway’s constitutional flexibility has allowed a document designed in a very different era to survive and indeed thrive," they argue. "A constitution that is too rigid and cannot adjust to the times will force its subjects to replace it."
To alter the constitution in Norway, a proposal must be made shortly after a general election. But it can then only be voted on after the following general election, when it must receive the backing of a two-thirds majority of MPs.
According to the two authors, while this is a slow process, it is nonetheless a lower threshold than that required for changing the constitution in most other countries.
As a result, there have been 316 different constitutional amendments carried out in 67 different years since the constitution was first enacted in 1814.
"Norway’s Constitution has been exceptionally enduring," they conclude. "In some sense it provides a better model for how to make an enduring constitution than does the only older constitution, that of the United States."
The US constitution, they argue, is something of an outlier, failing on all three dimensions that typical make a constitution last: inclusion, specificity and flexibility.
"It was adopted by a small group of men who ignored their mandate; it is not particularly detailed; and it is exceedingly hard to change."
The two professors' conclusions may not be 100 percent objective however, as International IDEA’s Constitution Building Processes (CBP) Programme, through which they published the paper, is funded wholly by Norway's foreign ministry.
Here is a list of the world's most long-lived constitutions:
1 United States 1789- 225
2 Norway 1814- 200
3 Netherlands 1815- 199
4 Belgium 1831- 183