Royals catch flak over fighter jets

Norway’s crown couple was rubbing elbows with fellow royals in Amsterdam this week, at the investiture of the new Dutch king, but next week’s travel plans to the US are sparking some controversy at home. Their scheduled visit to US defense contractor Lockheed-Martin, which is selling new fighter jets to Norway, was under fire because the company manufactures the cluster bombs that Crown Prince Haakon has publicly opposed and which mean that even Norway’s own sovereign wealth fund won’t invest in the company.

Norway's crown couple is under more criticism, this time for agreeing to visit a US defense contractor that makes cluster bombs, which the crown prince earlier has helped campaign against. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no

Norway’s crown couple is under more criticism, this time for agreeing to visit a US defense contractor next week that makes cluster bombs, which the crown prince earlier has helped campaign against. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit were first enjoying an historic occasion in the Netherlands on Tuesday, representing Norway as they oversaw their colleague Crown Prince Willem-Alexander succeed his abdicating mother Queen Beatrix and become the first Dutch king for 123 years. King Willem-Alexander will become the youngest monarch in Europe at age 46.

He’s also the first of his generation of European royals to ascend the throne, paving the way for the likes of Haakon of Norway, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Crown Prince Fredrik of Denmark, Prince Charles of Great Britain and Crown Prince Felipe of Spain who will some day do the same. All were due to attend the festive event in Amsterdam.

A few days after the Dutch celebrations end, though, Haakon and Mette-Marit will fly to Texas to start a four-day official visit to the US. They’ll begin their program at a large oil industry conference in Houston, then travel to Fort Worth to visit Lockheed Martin and then fly on to San Francisco to attend a technology seminar at Stanford University, a travel seminar and meet entrepreneurs running new Norwegian companies in the Bay Area.

It’s mostly the Lockheed Martin visit that’s raised complaints in Norway. It was just a few years ago that Crown Prince Haakon was the royal patron for an annual national fundraiser for the charitable organization Norsk Folkehjelp (Norwegian People’s Aid) when it raised money to fund a campaign against cluster bombs. The bombs “kill and maim innocent victims every single day,” the organization claimed, and pose “a terrible threat” in areas where remains of the controversial weapons lie. Lockheed Martin produces cluster bombs, noted author, filmmaker and former NRK journalist Erling Borgen in a commentary in newspaper Dagsavisen on Monday, “and that’s in fact why Norway’s oil fund can’t invest in Lockheed Martin, because of ethical concerns.”

Borgen said he found it incomprehensible that Crown Prince Haakon would now pay a courtesy call on Lockheed Martin, which he noted also produces various other instruments of destruction. Borgen found it a “paradox” that Norway’s next monarch would “lend legitimacy” to a defense contractor that he claimed markets “instruments of death,” claiming that the royal visit also undermines the political neutrality the royal family is supposed to have. “They shouldn’t make this visit,” Borgen told Dagsavisen.

Trond Nordby, a professor of political scientist at the University of Oslo known for favouring a republic over a monarchy, agreed, arguing that Haakon and Mette-Marit “should have stayed home” but are “trapped” by government ministers who see the benefits of fronting Norway’s royals, especially towards a powerful US defense contractor that’s doing tens of billions of kroner in business with the Norwegian government on the fighter jet order.

Trond Blindheim, dean of Oslo’s marketing college, didn’t have such objections since the parliament has approved the purchase of the jet fighters from Lockheed Martin. “They’re not visiting on their own initiative,” Blindheim said. “It’s natural the government will use them for all it’s worth.”

Press inquiries to the Royal Palace were once again met with a wall of silence, with communications chief Svein Gjeruldsen declining to comment on the criticism against Crown Prince Haakon. The F35 fighter jet project itself now is reportedly on schedule after years of political debate and budget concerns. Norway intends to buy 52 of the new jets to replace its ageing fleet of F16s, with the first four due for delivery to the Ørland air base in 2017.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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