Powerful friendship spurs debate
August 30, 2010
As Crown Prince Haakon and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre kept up their busy schedules in recent days, debate continued over the public emergence of their allegedly private friendship. Some feel it raises constitutional concerns.
The crown prince and his wife, Crown Prince Mette-Marit, were among the guests at Støre’s “private” 50th birthday party on Saturday evening, attended by around 100 of Støre’s closest friends. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was there, too, along with a few other fellow Labour Party politicians like State Secretary Gry Larsen, Cabinet Minister Karl Eirik Schøtt Pedersen and Party Secretary Raymond Johansen.
Støre and his wife Marit Slagsvold claim they’ve known the crown couple for 10 years and despite the 13-year age difference between them, they’ve become good friends outside their public duties. It was only natural that the crown couple be invited to Støre’s big party at Arkitektenes Hus in Oslo, where Haakon and Mette-Marit, according to newspaper Aftenposten, lined up along with everyone else and received no royal privilege.
But some question the friendship. The crown prince, like the king, is supposed to be above politics and have no political opinions. While his brother-in-law Ari Behn can claim himself a social democrat, as he has, Crown Prince Haakon isn’t allowed to do the same.
“But when the crown prince is friends with one of the Labour Party’s crown princes (Støre), it’s natural to think he agrees with the Støre,” wrote newspaper Dagsavisen on Monday. “We would expect that the two talk politics when they meet.”
The relationship could also open for conflicts of interest, worried Dagsavisen in its editorial: “The crown prince leads the Council of State in the king’s absence. With his friendship ties to Støre, he should declare himself disqualified when the foreign minister puts forth issues in the council.”
The king also is charged with formally naming the prime minister. It wouldn’t be right, wrote Dagsavisen, if Haakon as king in the future were to name Støre prime minister one day in the future.
Støre, meanwhile, was the subject of a remarkably flattering article in Dagsavisen just two days earlier, on the day of his birthday party. The paper called Støre “a mother-in-law’s dream, students’ mentor, immigrants’ hero, Norway’s Obama,” citing the observations of a string of prominent Norwegians. After five years as foreign minister, Støre consistently enjoys the highest marks from voters and international respect.
Asked why Støre is so popular, one of his old high school teachers said that “Jonas is very knowledgeable and gives direct answers to all questions. People get the impression he takes them seriously. And he’s good at presenting Norway’s views on foreign policy issues.”
The day after his party, Støre flew off to Beijing for a series of meetings with top Chinese government officials. The crown prince headed for southern Norway, for an official tour of Aust-Agder County along with Crown Princess Mette-Marit. They’ll be staying on board the royal yacht and visiting eight townships during their visit.
Neither wanted to comment further on their friendship, beyond Støre’s comments last week.
PHOTOS: In the last week, Crown Prince Haakon has been in southern Sweden, where he and Swedish Crown Princess Victoria unveiled a monument to local efforts to transport World War II refugees to Norway and Sweden (top); on the Greek island of Spetses (middle, at far right) to attend the wedding of the son of deposed King Constantine; and at a special movie screening with his children in Oslo (below, from left, Marius Borg Høiby, Princess Ingrid Alexandra and the crown prince, holding his youngest son Prince Sverre Magnus). The Foreign Minister keeps a brisk pace as well, flying off to China on the day after his 50th birthday party.