Monarchy survives vote in Stortinget

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s Parliament (Stortinget) has predictably cast aside the latest effort to convert the country from a constitutional monarchy to a republic. The proposal voted on earlier this week, however, raised some new questions about Norwegian democracy, and signaled some new support for the republican movement.

Crown Prince Haakon (right) is due to succeed his father, King Harald V, as monarch, but some think he should ask for a referendum and become an elected king. PHOTO: Det Kongelige Hoff/Sølve Sundsbø

Crown Prince Haakon (right) seems assured of succeeding his father King Harald V as Norway’s next monarch. PHOTO: Det Kongelige Hoff/Sølve Sundsbø

Until now, it’s mostly just been the now-small Socialist Left party (SV) that routinely fronts proposals to turn Norway into a republic and replace the monarch, currently King Harald V, with a president. This week SV was joined by four members of the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap), who didn’t outright propose toppling the king but rather preparing a report (called an utredning in Norwegian) on how a republic with a president would function.

The parliament, as political commentator Hege Ulstein noted in newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday, is normally keen to prepare such reports (often moreso than to actually take any firm action on any given issue). But in this case a majority characterized as “overwhelming” by news bureau NTB voted to crush the Labour MPs’ proposal. Only 11 MPs voted in favour of studying a conversion to a republic, while 83 voted against. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said one MP from the conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), in English.

Ulstein wrote that as many as 40 percent of the MPs in parliament are republican sympathizers but their party platforms all support the monarchy (except SV’s). They remain loyal, and the monarchy consistently survives attempts to phase it out despite the inherent paradox of its existence in a social welfare state like Norway. Norwegian politics promote egalitarianism and otherwise generally condemn what some call the “anachronistic” aspects of royalty, like wealth, privilege of birth and inheritance of power. The royals can also effectively be above the law, as seen in recent years when royal family members are exempted from zoning laws or even speed limits, such as the time the late King Olav pardoned his son, then-Crown Prince Harald, after he’d been caught driving too fast.

Even ardent Labour Party members like Martin Kolberg, though, were actively campaigning against the proposal of his own party colleagues on Monday, and that’s where commentators like Ulstein saw another paradox. Kolberg claimed that preparing a report on a republic would “destabilize our democratic understanding.” He refused to elaborate, even when asked what he meant by that. Ulstein noted in her column in Dagsavisen that all earlier proposals on replacing the monarchy with a republic have been rejected on the grounds because no utredning (report) has been prepared. “That the same MPs who have believed that now vote against an utredning is quite fantastic,” Ulstein wrote. The bottom line as she sees it: “We can’t change to a republic because it hasn’t been studied. And we can’t study it because that would destabilize our democratic understanding.”

King Harald and Queen Sonja don't face losing their jobs any time soon, either. PHOTO: Det Kongelige Slott

King Harald and Queen Sonja don’t face losing their jobs any time soon, either. PHOTO: Det Kongelige Slott

Another democratic problem with the monarchy also emerged during this week’s short debate in Parliament. MPs generally stress that Norway’s constitutional monarchy was approved by a referendum in 1905, in which it’s widely said to have won “massive” support among Norwegians. At that time, though, only half the population was eligible to vote (women, for example, were still banned at the ballot box). Not all of the eligible voters actually voted, and 79 percent of those who did approved only the actual wording on the referendum, that Norway’s government be allowed to “encourage” then-Prince Carl of Denmark to become Norway’s own king (he did, becoming King Haakon VII, grandfather of the current King Harald V).

That means, according to Ulstein, that only 29.6 percent of Norway’s adult population actively supported a monarchy for Norway more than 100 years ago. “Not bad, but not exactly a resounding, enthusiastic mandate of the people,” Ulstein wrote.

Norway’s modern-day politicians are also often quick to point out that the country’s monarchy is mostly ceremonial, and that the monarch has no formal political power. Norway’s kings (and queens) have shown that they do have power, though, because they can highlight issues and set an agenda, they’re listened to and the monarch meets with the government every week in the Council of State. The royals’ personal friendships with some top politicians have also set off some concerns, like when the friendship among Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit and  former Labour Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (now Norway’s health minister) became known and the crown couple attended Støre’s private 50th birthday party, or when Haakon’s sister and her husband were seen in the same circles as Labour minister Trond Giske.

Both proponents and critics of the monarchy note how it can unite Norwegians across party lines, and is especially good in time of crisis. Both during World War II, when serious accidents have occurred or, most recently, during the terrorist attacks in 2011, royal family members have provided a strong source of sympathy and support.

All indications are that the monarchy is here to stay in Norway, despite the occasional bursts of criticism and calls from republicans. It remains ironic, according to Ulstein, that “a ‘democratic understanding’ has gotten us to believe that we are bound by the votes of less than 30 percent of the adult population cast more than 100 years ago,” and that even mounting a report on an alternative has been rejected once again.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • ForABetterFuture2

    Even though this would not change anything today, I still want my voice to be heard. The current monarchy has little influence in today’s world or domestic politics. Yet they do enjoy privileges, income from tax payers, and economic advantages and publicity. The support they offer in times of crisis, can be done (or perhaps even better) by a president (like Obama has done during/after Sandy).

    • Don

      I’d trade Obama for King Harald any day of the week.

      • T
        hen why dont you move to the U.S.?

        • Don

          I do live in the U.S. Connie.

      • You want BO any day of the week, then you can have him and our congress NOW, asap. The laziest bunch of idiots that there ever where and I live with not one king but with over 300 of them. Every member of our congress gets more perks then your one king does and they sure make a hell of a lot more money then your one king does. I’ll take one king over all the crap that we have here in the USA. I live here and believe me I would take your king any day…………..the stuff that comes out of our government is pitiful and filled with disgrace and greed.

        • Kitty you do realise that Norway also has an elected parliament, so if you ditched the President you’d still need a parliament or some sort who would be just as happy to take advantage of their situation as your current congress.

        • Don

          Nicely said Kitten. Take heed Norway.

      • Funny how folks in the US like to blame Obama when it wasn’t him that got you into all this mess, it was the idiot before him who took his eyes of the ecomony to play kill the bad guy in Iraq, and screwed the country well and propper, well him and the banks of course, the CEO’s of which are all of course GOP members. I doubt if McCain had won the US would be in any better shape today either

        • Don

          Your right Robert. The U.S. government has become corrupt through and through. Unfortunately the Liberals have always managed to take a bad situation and make it worse. They only have been able to govern when times were good.

    • People prefer to have a leading figure who is NOT political, who has NO political agenda, the only agenda for a modern constitutional monarch being to serve the people and the country. Totally the opposite of a president who is also forced to save the PARTY, big money etc etc!

  • Tramrat

    Despite their seeming incongruity with democracy, those countries that embrace monarchy remain the most free. Most republics in the world would have secret files written up on anyone who wanted to voice a radical change in the form of government. You have a great system, not corrupted by lust for money at the top or the maintenance of power.

    • Delno_Rutherford

      The monarchy is essentially ceremonial. They have no power or significant influence whatsoever, at least not comparable to Queen Elizabeth.

      The relative lack of corruption is due to income equality, highly educated population, balanced welfare state backed by high taxes and well managed Oil revenues, mostly homogeneous population (meaning fewer differences between people), as well as the culture.

      • Continued immigration is going to change all that over the next decade or so.

        • Delno_Rutherford

          This is highly unlikely. Given that the laws on immigration (legal and illegal) are very stringent, and get more draconian with each political cycle i.e kids being deported when they are 10 etc. Norway is also not part of the EU and doesn’t have to implement its (EU) initiatives on immigration.

          Also most Immigrants who get into Scandinavian countries are actually from other European countries including other nordic states .i.e in Denmark, immigrants make only 9.8% of the entire population, of this percentage

          -6.6% Europe (East,west etc)

          – 2.1% Middle East and Asia (China,India etc)

          – 1% (US, S.America, Australia etc)

          – 0.2% come from Africa,

          These statistics also include 2nd generation children with danish citizenship born in the country, as immigrants.

          Look at tit this way. Assuming you are American, this would make Obama and General Collin Powell filthy “immigrants” not quite seen as ‘Pure American’, as well as a host of many others. Since either of or both their parents were first generation immigrants.

          Most of the issues actually stem from economic problems .i.e increased national debt, reduced wealth fare due to over spending, less productive older workforce etc, meaning that despite the high taxes, the money drawn in by the state isn’t enough for all its huge programs. The population get frustrated and politicians adequately push upfront a convenient scape goat.

          Look at Denmark for instance, despite having the harshest immigration laws in Europe, and far less immigration than Norway and sweden. It still faces worse economic problems, including unemployment ad increasing crime.

          Also you should know that immigration does not mean everyone who is an immigrant sneaks over the border or jumps over a fence, most are tax paying, highly qualified expatriates, this is globalisation, markets and capitalism at work.

          Look at the Petro-Geologist behind Norway’s Oil discovery and successful Oil management policy for instance.

          I will assume by immigration you were alluding to immigration from “less developed countries” with “less developed people”

          If not, my bad.

          • GBCD

            Your Denmark example is irrelevant since they have a euro pegged currency and no oil.

            • Delno_Rutherford

              How is it Irrelevant? Do explain.

              If you read the original comment. We were talking about “continued immigration” in Norway and other scandinavian countries..not Europe as a whole.

              Denmark produces Oil and is a net Oil and Gas exporter, just not as much as Norway. Also oil revenues are handled differently.

              This is mostly a cultural, political and legal thing in these countries.

              Denmark has the most stringent immigration policies after more than a decade with extreme right wing politicians as part of the former government, Norwegian policies while not quite as draconian also set a very high bar of entry, for immigrants from countries out of the EEA or EU.

              So technically those who get through should be “high quality”- high income (further revenue source for government), high education/highly skilled, the only loop hole being refugee intake (which is really up to Norway and the principals it claims to adhere to, general public opinion..politician’s, if this next election is any indication, Norway is swinging more to the right, which will further restrict immigration from inferior countries )

              But the bar is very lax for member’s of the EU and EEA. So you also have roving gangs of criminals and vagrants for different parts of less privileged Europe taking advantage of this. Since some laws enable them to take full advantage of benefits allotted to the locals/natives, like welfare, unemployment benefits etc without paying into the system.

              While Denmark despite being an oil producer (much like the US), doesn’t have an overwhelming Oil income coming in like Norway (though further drilling is currently going on in Greenland (which is part of Denmark) and North-sea, both with confirmed Oil deposits). The population, culture aspects and socialist welfare system are essentially largely the same, as opposed to the rest of Europe.
              Both have well developed economies, with very close similaities

              The bulk of Norwegians welfare system is supported by high taxation, NOT Oil revenues. The profits from Oil are invested in the Norwegian Sovereign Oil wealth fund this public knowledge.

              Also the Oil boom is a relatively recent development for Norway, with drilling in the 70’s and , no net income was realised until the late 1980’s due to the huge initial investments required (the wasted loads of money drilling in ares that had no oil all over rocky Norway, until that Iraqi geologist came along).

          • You stats are incorrect, there are 660,000 immigrants living in Norway, approx 13% of the population. 325,000 of those immigrants come from a non western background, mostly Pakistani, Iraqi, Somali, Turkish and Iranian. Approx 90% of Norway’s population growth is currently via immigration or the children of immigrants. 27% of newborn children are from an immigrant background. 26% of Oslo’s population are immigrants. I guess you don’t live in Norway (I do, along with 473 other kiwis.) or have ever been here, if you had you’d notice that Norway isn’t as Norwegian as you appear to think it is. Immigration is changing Norway, it’s a fact.


            FYI Norway follows the EU rules more closely than most EU countries, partly due to their membership if the EEA, this includes the freedom of movement of people within the EU and EEA.

            • Delno_Rutherford

              My numbers referenced Denmark, not Norway. I clearly stated this.

              You also seem to be quoting statistics selectively and twisted the rest to support your argument. Non of what you stated is in the provided statistics. Having read the numbers, they confirm my earlier premise.

              The trend is the same, with immigration from Europe being the highest, followed by Asia (including Middle east and turkey) ..etc

              (Immigration due to reason up to 2012)



              In 2012, of the total 655,170 with immigrant background, 407,262 had Norwegian citizenship (62.2 percent).[9]

              Of these 13,2%, 335 000 (51%) had a Western background mostly from Poland, Germany, and Sweden.

              325 000 (49%) had a non-Western background mostly from Turkey, Morocco, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan and Iran.

              Immigrants were represented in all Norwegian municipalities. The cities or municipalities with the highest share of immigrants in 2012 were Oslo (26 percent) and Drammen (18 percent).[1]

              As of 2012, an official study showed that 86.2%[8] of the total population were Norwegians having no migrant background and more than 660 000 individuals (13,2%)[8] were immigrants—or descendants of recent immigrants—from neighbour countries and the rest of the world.

              Do you consider yourself an immigrant? Or does this only apply to people who don’t look like you.

              I have Danish citizenship, after having lived and worked here 15 years. My ex-wife was native danish.

              I have a mixed heritage (German and Peruvian). My lovely wife is Norwegian with mixed heritage, we have a lovely family of two boys (one from my previous marriage), i am raising them as proud Norwegians . People like you will claim to be more ‘Norwegian” than they are despite you being an immigrant.

              For the past 4 years i’ve lived in trondheim, though most of this and last year was spent here at my employers HQ in Copenhagen.

              Danish stats:

              • Just wondering why you’re quoting back the same stats as I quoted, what’s the point in that, or do you only accept stats if you quote them yourself. Why reference Denmark we’re not discussing Denmark.

                Off course I’m an immigrant, I wouldn’t describe myself as anything but, in fact I only consider myself a temporary resident. I’ve been here long enough to know that Norway is changing due to immigration, I’ve noticed it myself, those who have lived their entire lives here know this better than me, it’s a fairly constant topic at work.

                I don’t claim to be Norwegian at all, I will never become a citizen of Norway, I’m far to proud of where I come from and my heritage to ever want to be considered Norwegian. You can raise you kids as proud Norwegians, although will the ethnic Norwegians ever think of them as anything other than an immigrant?