Crown Prince Haakon got a rude reminder this week of how difficult it is to balance his desire for meaningful work with his role as a leading member of Norway’s royal family. On Tuesday, the heir to the throne acknowledged massive criticism of a government advisory post he’d only recently accepted, by resigning from it.
The crown prince clearly felt compelled to give up his spot on an advisory panel formed by the Labour Party’s government minister in charge of business and trade, Trond Giske. Both Haakon’s acceptance of Giske’s request to join the panel, and Giske’s request itself, were controversial, because the royals in Norway aren’t supposed to involve themselves in politics or advise the government.
Newspaper VG had reported Haakon’s role on the panel over the weekend, and the criticism was quick and surprisingly forceful in a country that refrains from openly criticizing members of the royal family. Opposition politicians, some of Giske’s own party fellows and a university professor were upset because they claimed Giske’s advisory panel gave the crown prince a political role that the constitution forbids.
Giske himself had said he was forming the panel to brainstorm about what kinds of business and economic activity will sustain Norway in the future. In addition to Crown Prince Haakon, panel members include the heirs to some of Norway’s biggest fortunes and businesses along with high-profile business leaders.
Some felt the panel’s make-up had an elite air about it. For the first time, the daughter of shipowner John Fredriksen, long one of Norway’s wealthiest men, would take part in a public forum. Cecilie Fredriksen and her twin sister stand to inherit the huge family conglomerate that includes one of the world’s largest shipping fleets and fish farming operations.
Also on the panel are Ole Robert Reitan, one of the heirs to the REMA 1000 grocery store empire, Stein Marius Varner, heir to another large retailing business, and Jon S von Tetzchner, who founded Opera Software. Kristin Skogen Lund, former managing director of Aftenposten and now a top executive at Telenor, is also on the panel.
Giske said he wanted their advice on what kind of business investment and job creation should be made during the next 10 to 15 years. Giske insisted it was not a “political commission” that would produce a political document or recommendations, but merely a forum for sharing knowledge and ideas.
Both Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and VG reported on Tuesday, however, that Giske had failed to seek approval from Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg before inviting Crown Prince Haakon to join. “Typical Giske,” sniffed some fellow Labour Party members, according to NRK, “that he would go his own way without clearing it first.”
It all backfired badly. After three days of public debate and criticism, Giske claims he advised the crown prince to withdraw from the panel and he did so. Haakon said his resignation was a joint decision.
Haakon said on national TV that he had considered the constitutional ramifications of his post “and we had a round here at the house,” noting that he had talked to his father, King Harald, about it at the Royal Palace. He had accepted Giske’s invitation to join the panel because “I want to do a good job for Norway and for Norwegian business. This was supposed to be a positive thing.”
Instead he landed in trouble, although politicians interviewed on Tuesday were careful not to directly criticize the crown prince. They directed their criticism at Giske instead, for getting Haakon involved, rather than at the crown prince for accepting.
For Haakon the entire affair has likely been frustrating. The Norwegian crown prince has become a global activist of sorts on a variety of issues, from anti-poverty issues to the environment and HIV/AIDS. He recently took an active part once again at the World Economic Forum in Davos and regularly speaks to youth groups about the need for dignity, self-respect and involvement. He was recently dubbed “the coolest prince on the planet” by an American anti-poverty activist.
The crown prince probably has more freedom to engage himself in social issues outside of Norway than he has at home, where it’s a delicate balance. “I am very conscious of my own role,” he said Tuesday. “I want to contribute.”
In the end, he conceded that his involvement on Giske’s panel threatened to overshadow the work of the panel itself. Giske told NRK he, too, had to accept that having the crown prince on the panel could hurt the panel because of the “noise” from critics.
Haakon’s wife, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, also recently resigned from a top post at a social welfare group in Oslo, because the stands it took on various issues could indicate she also supported such stands, and thus took on a political role as well.