As Norway’s royal family posed for annual, traditional Christmas photos this week, another tradition of shielding the royals from financial scrutiny was falling by the wayside. A majority in Parliament is now demanding more accountability and openness.
The royal finances have been under pressure for the past year, since newspaper Dagbladet launched a series of articles showing how the royals cost Norwegian taxpayers far more than state budget accounts might suggest. In addition to the direct costs of their individual allotments (called apanasje), many royal expenses were listed under other parts of the budget, while the costs of operating and maintaining private real estate, for example, were often covered under the budget for the palace.
Norway’s conservative minority government coalition appeared willing to continue to allow the royal costs to be widely dispersed, and that state funding allocations to the hoff (royal household) could also be used to cover the costs of royal family members’ private homes and holiday properties.
That didn’t win approval from the Parliament. When the past autumn’s difficult negotiations over the state budget finally were concluded, the government found itself overruled on the royal financing issue by the parliament’s committee on consitutional, control and disciplinary issues.
Dagbladet had, for example, written about how Crown Prince Haakon has let the royal household’s budget pay millions of kroner in costs for operating, maintaining and safeguarding his seven private properties. Staff at the royal palace had also been assigned, according to Dagbladet, to help maintain the crown prince’s home at Skaugum, help his sister Princess Marth Louise with a swimming pool and pick pine cones off the grass at King Harald’s and Queen Sonja’s summer home at Magerø, among other chores. That unleashed strong criticism from economists, accountants, political scientists and state politicians. Dagbladet also reported how Crown Prince Haakon privately rented out some of his homes and a holiday property for more than NOK 1.4 million last year, while the royal household continued to cover some costs of the properties.
Officials at the Royal Palace dismissed criticism of such practices and the government minister in charge of state administration, Jan Tore Sanner, supported the royals. He proposed that the controversial practices be approved but failed to win support himself.
“In summary,” concluded the parliamentary committee, ” the royal family members’ apanasje shall cover the costs of private real estate, and the state’s funding allocation for the royal household shall cover the costs of state-owned (royal) property (like the Royal Palace itself).” The committee also stressed that royal family members’ apanasje must cover the costs of the operation and maintenance of their non-state-owned property (like the crown couple’s holiday homes on the coast and in the mountains).
“Our measure to keep the streams of funding separate isn’t meant to plague the royal family but to ensure more tidy accounts,” committee leader Martin Kolberg told Dagbladet.
“The royals have now received a clear message from the committee to be more open than they have been earlier,” committe member Per Olaf Lundteigen, an MP for the Center Party, told Dagbladet. “It’s in the interests of both the royals and palace officials to change their ways to show that they take the Parliament seriously. The palace and its staff must accept that they face a new situation.”
Gry Mølleskog, head of the royal staff, published a response on the palace’s website, claiming that “we want to have a good understanding with the authorities on the use of our funding.” She indicated that her staff would now “got into further dialogue” with Sanner’s ministry to follow up the committee’s request.