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Bridging the GapsLinking Research to Public Debates and Policy Making on Migration and Integration$

Martin Ruhs, Kristof Tamas, and Joakim Palme

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198834557

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198834557.001.0001

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Investigating Immigration and the Sustainability of the Norwegian Welfare State

Investigating Immigration and the Sustainability of the Norwegian Welfare State

The Role of Government Commissions

(p.98) 7 Investigating Immigration and the Sustainability of the Norwegian Welfare State
Bridging the Gaps

Grete Brochmann

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter deals with a specific part of research-based policy-making in the Norwegian context—the institution of Norwegian Official Commissions (Norges Offentlige UtredningerNOU). This institution, which is a significant element of the consensual Norwegian governance, has since the 1970s increasingly been dominated by academics. The NOU tradition, with its high legitimacy within the polity, thus serves as a bridge between research and policy-making. The chapter uses two Commissions on the relationship between international migration and the sustainability of the national welfare model as cases, the first one with an emphasis on labour immigration, the second one on refugees. The chapter describes and discusses the political context in which they were commissioned as well as how they have impacted on public discussion and concrete reform processes in the aftermath. The two commissions can serve as examples of how research can contribute constructively in relation to policy-making on a particularly contentious issue.

Keywords:   immigration, welfare model, sustainability, consensual governance, commissioned research, research integrity

Research based policy-making has held a prominent position in the Norwegian polity—particularly since the Second World War. The development of the comprehensive welfare model, the basis of which was established before the War, required intensive expertise. Economics, in particular, served as a ‘master-profession’ in the formative years of the Norwegian post-war political economy. Economists—within and without government—played a prominent role in policy-making, as ‘doers’ and as ‘premise providers’ (Slagstad 1998; Sejersted 2011). Following completion of the basic structure of the welfare model in the late 1960s, other academic professions also entered the arena, contributing to the unremitting task of ‘social engineering’ that characterized post-war policy-making in Norway.

In 1972, the contribution by experts to policy-making processes was formalized through a new institution—the Norwegian Official Commissions (Norges offentlige utredninger NOU). The Official Commissions have since played a significant role in policy-making in Norway,1 arguably representing a core factor of the consensual Norwegian governance (see also Chapter 9 in this volume; Christensen and Holst 2017).

The composition and content of the NOUs have changed somewhat over the years; it can also be argued that the NOU genre covers different kinds of consideration under the general heading. This variation can be related to the importance of the subject under scrutiny; committees directly responsible for (p.99) preparing legislation have their own rationales, and there has been a quite significant difference between clear-cut expert committees and more corporative committees, where social partners, members from the civil services and other relevant organizations are represented. But, by and large, they represent ad hoc advisory commissions, appointed by the government (sometimes a ministry), led by a chairman and supported by a secretariat. Having been assigned to investigate a specifically defined policy problem, the commissions are expected to come up with appropriate policy advice after having conducted a thorough examination in accordance with their terms of reference. Usually, the advice contributes to the policy-making process before concrete proposals are handed over to parliament. These commissions usually last for approximately one year, sometimes longer, depending on the scope of the task and—quite often—the urgency of the problem for the government. The commission reports are often ‘state-of-the-art’ in character due to the commission synthesizing existing research, in addition to commissioning new studies and, occasionally, undertaking its own. Over the years, the level of academic representation on these commissions has risen substantially. Over recent decades, the leaders of commissions have increasingly recruited from academia, to the extent that criticism has been raised to the effect that a ‘scientization’ is taking place in this democratic institution (Christensen and Holst 2017).

Since the 1970s, many researchers have been prepared to serve in such functions, although social/political scientists may have felt less than comfortable with regard to engagement with government—this was more so during the 1970s and 1980s than is the case today. The critical voices have been prevalent throughout; however, ultimately, many—and perhaps most—social and political researchers would make themselves available when called upon by the Norwegian Welfare State. Even during the radical 1970s, when the modern Norwegian immigration policy was formulated, researchers possessed the field knowledge; thus, they were used extensively as advisors to the state administration. State officials often sympathized politically with the radical researchers and, together, they could influence government to some degree in what they considered the right direction (Brochmann and Kjeldstadli 2008). Regarding the Official Commissions, the understanding among academics has on the whole been that, even though the terms of reference are formulated by the government, one can usually maintain academic integrity and independence throughout the process, and one may dissent from majority conclusions if necessary. Besides, being a member of a commission is interesting and rewarding in terms of access to information and influence.

Thus, the NOUs have had a high level of legitimacy generally speaking, to the degree that a popular weekly Norwegian newspaper hailed the NOU (p.100) institution as ‘the prose that builds the country; the intellectual footprint on policy-making’ (Lien and Gundersen 2014). This assertion should nevertheless be nuanced by the fact that NOUs not only sometimes trigger vast debates, but may also be highly controversial.

Norwegian academics working on an issue may also serve as a ‘bridge’ between research and policy-making outside of the NOU institute. Norwegian social science has a long tradition in dealing with policy relevant issues and, in fact, a large part of Norwegian research is ‘commissioned’—that is, ordered and financed by the authorities in order to feed policy-making processes. An unrelenting discussion on the pitfalls of commissioned research has taken place over the years, in which the question of academic freedom has been a core issue.

In this chapter, I will concentrate on the NOU institute and use my experience from a number of such commissions to describe and analyse preconditions for bridging some of the gaps between academic knowledge and policy-making in the Norwegian context. As cases, I will draw on my experience with two commissions on the relationship between international migration and the sustainability of the Norwegian welfare state (NOU 2011:7 and NOU 2017:2). Since I served as head of both endeavours, I had direct access to all the investigation processes; also, to a certain extent, I had access to the preparatory phases, as well as the important dissemination periods afterwards. Yet, when it comes to the appraisal of impact, my opinion will necessarily be subjective. It is possible to trace the influence of these commissions on policy changes—concrete reforms, as well as references in the press and in research documents—but, in my view, the most interesting impact has been in terms of the change of public discourse. In assessing this, I rely on my own impressions, as neither I nor anyone else—yet—systematically evaluated this specific part of the impact of the work of these two commissions.

Context: Challenges to the Welfare Model

Before discussing the two commissions, it is important to understand the broader socio-economic and political context. As in the other Scandinavian countries, the welfare state in Norway has had an outstanding political position—‘Scandinavia’s holiest cow’, as it was labelled in the Danish periodical Weekendavisen in April 2007. No political party would challenge this major institution in a basic sense. The welfare model has represented a fine-tuned institutional set-up: a small, open-market economy relying on an interplay between stability oriented macro-economic policies, an organized working life with coordinated wage setting and a comprehensive public, tax-based welfare system. Based on a regulated labour market governed by social partners, its key (p.101) traits are: pooling of risks through extensive social insurance, public services, corporatist coordination, and low inequality.

Today, the welfare model is challenged by multiple forces, many of which are related to globalization. The most central fiscal challenges are represented by demographic changes—an ageing population—and the decline in oil revenues. Yet, a growing worry has developed as to the potential fiscal and structural challenge of immigration. The universally oriented Norwegian welfare model—in which legal residency in principle is the only qualifier2 for basic access to benefits and services—is particularly vulnerable to a large increase in the number of low-skilled persons. The compressed wage structure in combination with the equal treatment policy implies that newcomers with low productivity tend to become reliant on welfare. Challenges with enduring underemployment in significant parts of the immigrant population have come to the fore politically speaking, particularly at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Before 2004, these challenges were associated with people coming from the global South (refugees and family members). Lacking education, they typically experienced problems in a highly paid labour market that required good skills, thus imposing a challenge to systemic inclusion. After 2004, when the enlargement of the European Union (EU) eastward resulted in the largest influx ever of semi-skilled and low-skilled labour migrants in Norway, different challenges occurred. By and large, the inflow of new migrants from Eastern Europe has served the Norwegian economy well, yet there have been concerns about low wage competition and ‘social dumping’ which, arguably, could disturb the fine-tuned labour–welfare nexus in the longer run. What is at stake is general social protection by means of the balancing mechanism of the welfare model: having an income from work is a fundamental pillar of the expensive, tax-based welfare system in Norway. If the wage level is pressured downwards through low wage competition, the level of welfare benefits will also come under downward pressure to maintain the incentives to work.

The First Commission: 2009–2011

Even though concerns about underemployment among (some) immigrant groups, value conflicts, and social marginalization had grown among the Norwegian public, the impact of immigration on the Norwegian welfare system was still highly contentious at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The only party in parliament to have addressed this issue earlier was the Progress Party, which was not only critical of immigration, but had also, during the 1990s, called for a large-scale cost–benefit analysis of immigration to Norway. None of the other parties wanted to touch the issue at the time. (p.102) It was consequently a significant event when the Centre-Left government3 of Jens Stoltenberg appointed the first Official Commission on Migration and the sustainability of the Norwegian welfare model in 2009. The assignment came after a period of public debates about the future of the welfare state. Opposing fronts were asserting either that immigration was the largest threat to the sustainability of the welfare state or, conversely, that immigration was a central factor in securing labour supply and finances for the economy, which was confronted with the demographic challenge of an ageing population. The government thus wanted a thorough investigation and analysis based on as many reliable facts and as much robust evidence as possible. The time was seen to be politically right for such an undertaking.

The Commission was given comprehensive terms of reference, asking for both economic analyses, and more substantial descriptions and evaluations of the existing integration regime. The aim of the report was ‘to raise the level of knowledge on how the Norwegian welfare model functions in a time of increased migration; to identify mechanisms that impact the interplay between working life and welfare in light of this development and to propose a direction for future policy and some strategies to deal with the challenges’ (NOU 2011:7, 1). Three main themes were analysed: economic sustainability; relevance of existing policies; and the political legitimacy of the regime. Three policy areas were singled out as most relevant: welfare policy; policies on working life; and integration policy. Immigration policy—although an important parameter—did not form part of the terms of reference. The Commission was given a two-year period of operation and a large secretariat that included eleven persons. The Committee itself consisted of seven members, predominantly professors and researchers, but also two members from the state administration. Economists were in the majority although, as the leader of the Commission, I was a sociologist.

The main conclusions of the Commission were, in the main, in line with ongoing reform processes in the Norwegian model: better education, vocational qualification, activation, grading of benefits, inclusive working life, and the defence of high standards and equal income distribution in working life were all important components. The central elements suggested by the Commission’s report were a public cost–benefit analysis of public finances, including certain economic prospects for the future (based on a new model generated in the National Bureau of Statistics); overarching advice as to mechanisms to be applied to improve integration; and a number of concrete policy recommendations, based on an analysis of the existing regime.

The findings of the Commission were not dramatic but nonetheless provided a basis for concern. Improving labour market inclusion for marginalized groups was seen as essential, as were the efforts to keep up the orderly labour market regime. Even though the task was to evaluate the effects of (p.103) ‘immigration’ as such, the major part of public attention after publication of the Commission’s report was concerned with EU labour immigration, and—not least—the potential for the export of welfare benefits to countries of origin. This focus came as a surprise to us in the Commission, having expected a greater emphasis on refugees and their welfare dependency rates. The main explanation for this is most likely the novelty of the labour migration issues, combined with the volume of the influx at the time. The issue of exporting welfare benefits highlighted an important discussion on the potential threat to the generous benefit levels, considering new pressure on the sustainability of the welfare model with increasing internationalization.

Public attention was extensive after the publication of the report. The combination of the contentious nature of the issue and the great demand for data and reliable information probably explains the extraordinary level of public interest taken in the report. As the leader of the Commission, I had expected heated discussion and attacks, particularly from the immigration-friendly political Left. To a certain extent, this materialized. Some journalists and representatives of non-governmental organizations reiterated arguments that were present before the assignment, addressing the legitimacy of the whole operation. To investigate the relationship between immigration and the sustainability of the welfare model was, in itself, seen as illegitimate—potentially discriminatory, if not racist. Even though very few of these voices questioned the substance of the analysis, for these critics the research and report produced by the NOU represented ‘unwanted knowledge’.

There was heated discussion along these lines in social media and, occasionally, also in the print media. However, the main impression I was left with, once the dust had settled, was an immensely and surprisingly positive response, both among party politicians and, generally, among the public. There could be many and combined reasons for this. The government minister in charge of the NOU belonged to the Socialist Left Party, which may have soothed the critical reactions in that camp; the political Right—conservatives and liberals—found the analysis accommodating many of their concerns as well; and the general public were presented with allegedly more reliable and systematized data. Importantly, since the dominating discussion was occupied with labour immigration more than refugees, some of the most emotionally sensitive issues were under-communicated in the debates. Clearly, there existed milieus that continued to be in opposition to the whole undertaking, yet a new consensus had been established that these issues were important for all residents of Norway—both the majority and minorities—and, consequently, that open debates about these issues should be welcomed.

In the years following the finalization of the Commissions’ report and recommendations, the economic and sociological analyses of the NOU became standard reference in public debates on issues related to immigration (p.104) and the Norwegian model. The legacy of the report was, by and large, a constructive, scientifically based approach, largely occupied with the improvement of labour market integration and adjustments of the Norwegian welfare system, in order to make it more robust towards different kinds of immigration. Immigration, as such, was appraised as a social fact.

As to concrete impact, I believe this has been twofold. First, the NOU contributed to creating a new frame of understanding of the relationship between immigration and the welfare system, primarily through increasing the knowledge basis in the public. Since the content and the analysis were basically received as solid and reliable, it created legitimacy for the discussions on prospects and concerns in this area of policy-making. Second, the report has influenced a series of reform processes, predominantly through a new and more systematized thinking in terms of integrating immigration perspectives into general policy reform processes. It can therefore be difficult to ‘measure’ its direct impact. Reforms of welfare institutions are slow and complicated processes, and many critics have complained that only a few of the NOU’s recommendations have actually materialized in new policy-making. I believe this is only partly true, as ‘the immigration perspective’ has become a standard concern in reform endeavours after the NOU, yet the interconnectedness of general reforms with integration policy changes makes it difficult to claim unequivocal ‘ownership’ of this impact. It is, nevertheless, possible to trace the effects on family policy, on educational policy, welfare and integration policies, activation policies, and approaches related to EU immigration.4 The attention paid to the export of welfare benefits, ‘social dumping’, and low wage competitions has increased markedly following the NOU.

The Second Commission: 2015–2017

The high number of asylum seekers and refugees arriving in the summer and autumn of 2015 placed severe pressures on the Norwegian immigration regime. The number of asylum applications reached its highest level ever, and the magnitude of the international refugee crises indicated that this pressure was likely to persist. When viewed in relation to population, Norway was among the European countries that accommodated the highest proportion of asylum seekers and refugees during this period, with more than 31,000 asylum seekers arriving in 2015.

As a result of this development, emergency measures were implemented, much in line with other major receiving countries in the EU and the European Economic Area, with the support of a broad political coalition in parliament. Border controls were re-established, the prompt return of failed asylum (p.105) applicants was intensified, temporary protection was reinstated and retrenchments of various rights for asylum seekers were proposed to legislative bodies.

Faced with this extraordinary situation, the government also appointed an Official Commission to investigate the ‘long-term consequences of high immigration’. The Commission was asked to examine the consequences of this development for the national economy, the capacity to integrate newcomers, and for the continued development of trust and unity in society. Neither the immigration-policy nor the asylum-policy in Norway was to be reassessed, and the term ‘high immigration’ was not further specified.

The Commission chose to interpret this as meaning a level of immigration of sufficient scope to subject the vital institutions, in their present form, to significant pressure. This interpretation is intentionally not precise with regard to the number of immigrants. This approach was chosen because it is a dynamic issue. National institutions are being changed and adapted continuously, and increased immigration is only one reason for this. The ‘pressure’ on the system will always be dependent on the broader context, and it will also vary over time. The pace of change in the wake of the refugee crisis in 2015 is illustrative of this. Swift action at many levels, both internationally and nationally, contributed to the number of arrivals being drastically reduced from December 2015 onwards.

Therefore, the situation that motivated the appointment of the Commission in 2015 had already changed in 2016 and 2017. The mandate nevertheless called for a full assessment of continued high immigration in the coming years. Even though the pressure on the authorities and the tone of the public debate had waned due to the unusually low number of asylum seekers in 2016, there was little reason to believe that this would be a permanent situation. The conflicts that caused the refugee crisis in 2015 had not been resolved and new, serious conflicts in other regions were erupting. The Commission considered it important to look ahead and analyse how the Norwegian labour market and welfare system could be made more robust in order to cope with high pressure from immigration in the future.

There has been a significant increase in immigration to Norway in the past twenty years, particularly since the EU enlargements in 2004 and 2007. Net immigration of foreign citizens reached a peak of approximately 48,000 per year in 2011–2012. By the end of 2015, almost 850,000 people in Norway had an immigrant background—triple the number in 2000. Just over half of these immigrants were from countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin-America. Among countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Norway has had one of the highest rates of immigration in relation to the size of its overall population in the past decade and the national demographic picture has—within a short period of time—changed significantly as a result of this development.5

(p.106) Again, to understand the work and impact of the new Commission, it is important to understand its background and context. Even though the motivating setting was one of alarm and crisis, the terms of reference were in many ways similar to those of the first Commission. Both commissions focused on ‘the sustainability of the Norwegian Welfare Model’ as the central issue. What could be done to make it stronger in the face of large inflows of immigrants? The second Commission explicitly asked for an investigation based on the analysis of the first Commission. This is interesting considering the fact that the second Commission was assigned by a Conservative–Right coalition government, even with the Progress Party, a party critical of immigration, in charge. More than anything, this underlines the extraordinary standing of the Norwegian welfare model throughout the political landscape. The second Commission was, however, asked to put a specific emphasis on the inclusion of refugees. In addition, a brand-new issue was included in the mandate; namely, an evaluation of preconditions for maintaining unity and trust in Norwegian society in light of persistent, high immigration. Increasing inequality—economic, cultural, and social—was asserted as being an important factor for the analysis of the potential for diminishing trust and for polarization and conflict.

The composition of the group of people appointed to serve on the Commission was different the second time. Even though researchers were still in the majority, the representation of persons from government authorities and think tanks was stronger. A broader representation was obviously of concern for the government, and a total of eleven persons were appointed. The fact that I myself was asked to be leader of both endeavours, can be interpreted as the government wanting an independent academic direction for the overall task. It can also be interpreted as indicating a growing consensus in Norwegian politics on issues related to immigration and the welfare state.

The second Commission was also provided with a total of eleven persons in the secretariat; however, this time the working period was only one year. The limited time frame, the different composition of the Commission and, not least, the new theme to be analysed—preconditions for trust and unity—made the second undertaking much more demanding in terms of leadership.

The NOUs that are considered ‘expert committees’, with their academic robustness, hold a nimbus of ‘independence’ and ‘evidence basis’. Yet, when a commission is asked to enter a field where such evidence is hard to come by, and where the contentiousness is at its highest, researchers’ different normative platforms come to the fore. Researchers will disagree on how to approach the field of study, which factors to emphasize or omit, as well as how to interpret the findings. And such disagreements often spring out of normative cleavages. The issue of ‘trust and unity’ triggered intense discussions, ending with four notes of dissent from three different members of the Committee. (p.107) The disagreements basically related to an analysis of national culture—the degree to which it is (and should be) changing as a result of immigration—and to the question of the conduciveness of governance in relation to newcomers’ cultural affiliation and practices. What could be done to facilitate a greater overlap in and shared experiences in everyday life? What kind of roles would be feasible for public bodies in facilitating interaction in order to promote social cohesion? What responsibilities should be placed on individuals versus institutions?

The essence of the overall NOU 2017:2 analysis was that the Norwegian welfare society is facing a period of structural upheaval. An increased burden of dependency and increased uncertainty surrounding the returns from the Government Pension Fund of Norway (formerly known as the Government Petroleum Fund) will require the reprioritization of economic and welfare policies. High levels of immigration, including people with little ability to provide for themselves, will represent an additional challenge and increase the pressure on public finances. The Norwegian welfare model is both a resource and a problem when considered in relation to the integration of immigrants and their descendants. The model is vulnerable to the immigration of a high number of adults with low qualifications. At the same time, low economic inequality and solid educational institutions contribute to a high level of mobility among descendants of immigrants. Thus far, Norway has not been sufficiently successful in integrating refugees into the labour market. The Committee’s analyses showed that there is potential for improvement in Norway’s existing integration policies, and also outlined alternative strategies for application in the event that the results continue to be inadequate, or if there is a significant decline in the economic framework conditions. If Norwegian society does not improve its ability to integrate immigrants and refugees from countries outside Europe, there is a risk that increasing economic inequality in conjunction with cultural differences could weaken the foundation of unity and trust and the legitimacy of the social model.

The Commission report was handed over to the government on 1 February 2017. It is consequently too early to evaluate the political impact of the investigations and recommendations. I will nevertheless conclude with some comparative reflections on the two varying receptions of the first and second Commissions.


Since the turn of the millennium, public discourse in Norway has been quite polarized, not least in relation to refugee issues—one of the most emotionally charged immigration issues debated in the public sphere. Yet, the public tenor (p.108) has changed during this period, becoming more critical of immigration: spelling out frustrations over immigration and inadequate integration has gained more legitimacy. At the same time, immigrant voices have become much more prevalent, revealing a variety of positions among the ‘immigrant population’, thus contributing to the playing down of stereotypes and prejudices in the majority population. The first Commission contributed to this ongoing process by emphasizing strongly the diversity among immigrants. The fact that labour migration became the major concern may have paved the way for a more open and direct tone in the debate.

The summer and autumn of the refugee crisis in 2015 stirred up the old schism again in the Norwegian public; the divide between the people for whom refugee protection was the overriding concern and those who emphasized the limited capacity of the Norwegian reception system, as well as the sustainability of the welfare state. The climate of the discussion was quite harsh, and it was not until the inflow was seen as out of control by the larger public that a broad political coalition emerged to curtail the inflow.

The second Commission that sprang out of this crisis situation could have been expected to induce more commotion than was the case with the first Commission, not least since refugee issues were now at the centre of the debate. Now, as time has passed since its dissemination, it seems safe to conclude that this has not been the case. An important reason for this is most likely the extraordinary low influx of refugees after 2015, which has strongly reduced the heat in the public debate. Besides, the NOU’s terms of reference did not include the most contentious immigration issue—the immigration policy proper; that is, how to control or possibly reduce the inflow. Thus, the report basically dealt with the ‘soft side’ of the issue—how to include people more constructively and productively in the Norwegian welfare society.

The reception of the second Commission has been largely positive. All the major newspapers (liberal, conservative, and Left) welcomed the report and praised it for being nuanced, analytical, and trustworthy. The critical voices from the first round—those that emphasized the illegitimacy of the operation, as such—were close to non-existent.

The relatively limited criticism that appeared argued either that there was ‘nothing new’ in the Commission’s analysis, or that it was too weak with regard to future prospects. The latter criticism came from sources on the political Right that were critical regarding immigration. This was in contrast to the major line of criticism in 2011, which came from the political Left.

Two issues, nevertheless, caused quite intense discussions in the press: certain technicalities concerning the calculations of future costs for the welfare state but, first and foremost, questions related to trust and social cohesion. (p.109) The trigger of the debate was a couple of dissenting notes from one of the Commission members,6 rather than the analysis of the Commission, as such. By and large, the Commission had recommended an institutional approach to integration and cultural adaptation, emphasizing the importance of the long-term processes of inclusion and socialization through the educational system and the labour market. The dissenting notes underlined the need for an active assimilation policy. One of the notes also underscored that ‘ethnic Norwegians’ would become a minority in a few decades—a fact that this member felt had been omitted from the Commission’s analysis.

It remains to be seen what direct policy impacts will come out of the report of the second Commission but the public reception so far reflects a zeitgeist in which policy-making based on research and facts has become almost common sense in Norway in the field of immigrant integration. This zeitgeist has come about over a number of years. The contentious interrelationship between immigration and the sustainability of the Norwegian welfare model gradually gained attention and credibility as a public issue. In the late 2000s, sufficient apprehension had accumulated both in the public debate and in policy-making circles to warrant the appointment of a research-based operation in the form of an Official Commission. Timing is of central importance in this regard. ‘Legitimacy’ is clearly an essential matter when judging the impact of endeavours such as these. Inappropriate timing could have adversely affected the Commission’s efforts, regardless of the solidity of the investigation. The systemic worries and the public attention—the tenor of the debate—had gradually surfaced during the 1990s and the 2000s to the extent that immigration and welfare state issues had been (partly) decoupled from the ownership of the populist right-wing Progress Party. On the one hand, the Progress Party had succeeded in pushing concerns about immigration into mainstream politics. On the other hand, the Party—through its ambitions to enter government—had had to tone down their rhetoric in relation to immigration issues. These parallel processes may have made Norway a special case when it comes to a more pragmatic, matter-of-fact-approach to the contentious issues of immigration and the sustainability of the welfare state than may be the case in some other European contexts. This is, however, not to argue that Norway’s immigration debates are generally more evidence-based and considered than in other countries.

In the aftermath of the two Commissions, it is also possible to trace causalities from both sides. The first Commission definitely moved public discourse in the direction of accepting more open discussion on the impact of immigration on the essential labour–welfare nexus of the welfare model, thus also preparing the ground for more conscious policy-making in the institutional field of immigrant integration. The high standing of the research-based NOU (p.110) institution—with its facts, figures, and clear-cut analyses—has most likely contributed to a reduction in the emotional charge of the Norwegian public on issues related to immigration and the welfare state.


Bibliography references:

Brochmann, G. and Kjeldstadli, K. 2008. A History of Immigration. The Case of Norway 900–2000. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Christensen, J. and Holst, C. 2017. Advisory commissions, academic expertise and democratic legitimacy: The case of Norway. Science and Public Policy 44(6): 821–33.

Lien, M., and Gunderson, H. 2014. Heia NORGE! Morgenbladet, 16 May.

NOU 2011:7. Velferd og migrasjon: Den norske modellens framtid. Oslo.

NOU 2012:2. Utenfor og innenfor—Norges avtaler med EU. Oslo.

NOU 2017:2. Integrasjon og tillit: Langsiktige konsekvenser av høy innvandring. Oslo.

NOU 2017:6. Offentlig støtte til barnefamiliene. Oslo.

Sejersted, F. 2011. The Age of Social Democracy. Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Slagstad, R. 1998. De nasjonale strateger. Oslo: Pax.


(1.) Sweden and Denmark have, by and large, the same polity-tradition (Christensen and Holst 2017).

(2.) EU migrants need to have been employed (sometimes only for one day) to obtain access to welfare benefits.

(3.) Consisting of the Labour Party (by far the largest), the Center Party (rural; rather conservative as to values) and the Socialist Left Party (to the left of the Labour Party; very immigration friendly).

(4.) For example, several NOUs after 2011 have built on or referred to the Commission report (e.g. NOU 2012:2 Europautredningen; NOU 2017:6 Barnefamilieutvalget). A White Paper to parliament came as a direct result of the Commission (Meld. St. 6 (2012–2013) En helhetlig integreringspolitikk). Currently, a new NOU committee on employment policies uses the Commission report as a central premise (Sysselsettingsutvalget).

(5.) For figures, see NOU 2017:2.

(6.) One of the remarks was signed by two commission members, yet only one of them was targeted in the subsequent debates. Dissenting notes are published as addendums to the NOU.