It was a day of pomp and circumstance in Oslo on Tuesday, as the 157th session of Norway’s Parliament (Stortinget) opened amidst tradition and royal regalia. Politicians face a quarrelsome year ahead of next autumn’s national elections, but the official opening was a time for ceremony and Nowegian solidarity.
It was hard to believe, as Members of Parliament and government officials stood and sang an a capella version of “God save the king,” that just hours earlier, four MPs from the Labour Party had said they’d propose replacing Norway’s constitutional monarchy with a republic. Even Kristin Halvorsen, former veteran leader of the Socialist Left (SV) that long has advocated a republic, was singing along.
The highly formal proceedings, with all top state and military officials present along with members of the local diplomatic corps, arguably involve the biggest royal ceremony of the year. The streets are lined with flags, King Harald, Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon are driven in royal limos from the palace just up the street to the parliament, they’re greeted and escorted in a solemn procedure through the halls of the ornate building before the formalities begin.
With everyone standing, the Norwegians sing their royal hymn before the king reads the government’s declaration of their agenda (called the trontale, literally “speech from the throne”) for the year ahead. Then the youngest member of the government, now the new 29-year-old Minister of Culture Hadia Tajik reads the government’s equivalent of a “state of the nation” speech (rikets tilstand). And then the president of the parliament, now Dag Terje Andersen, reads his own statement about the “many and important duties” lying ahead of the parliament, before they all ask “God” to “preserve the king and the fatherland.” Then they all sing the national anthem a cappella as well.
Top bureaucrats exit first, followed by the royals and then the government, with each member bowing or curtsying to the president of the parliament on their way out. It all took just under 45 minutes and then the MPs remain in place until the king has left the building.
The real work will get underway on Monday, when Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen will present the government’s state budget proposal. It’s the last chance for the current left-center government, which was re-elected in 2009 but faces strong opposition from non-socialist parties heading into next year’s national election, to fulfill election promises. That might suggest they’ll be willing to spend more to win voters’ favour, but Johnsen and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg have warned they want to use less oil revenue.
Other major issues sure to spark debate are security and preparedness following harsh criticism from the July 22 Commission, health care reform and major problems at Norwegian hospitals, and proposals for new laws involving biotechnology, including the donation of fertilized eggs and whether pregnant women should be offered early ultrasound to check for any problems. The government also promised new initiatives for such things as schools, day care centers, the seafood industry, research, transportation projects and how the state’s huge Oil Fund should best be managed.
Debate is already flying over the government’s plans to further boost import tariffs to protect Norwegian agriculture and whether Norway should go along with various EU directives. Opposition parties are expected to be particularly critical of government operations and initiatives, since next year’s election campaign seems effectively underway already.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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