NRK stirs debate on monarchy

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Fully 40 percent of the members of Norway’s new Parliament would rather see Norway as a republic instead of a monarchy, according to a survey conducted by a public affairs program on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

It’s unlikely, though, that any proposal to abolish the monarchy would be successful.The survey was conducted by and for the NRK program Spekter , which aired an episode on national TV Wednesday night that dealt entirely with the issue of the monarchy in Norway.

The program sought to explain why a modern and egalitarian-minded country like Norway hangs on to a monarchy as its form of government, even though royalty is often viewed as old-fashioned and anachronistic.

The survey results, with as many as 40 percent of all Members of Parliament favouring a republic, came as a surprise. It seemed to encourage members of the Socialist Left Party (SV), which long has wanted to abolish the monarchy. Inherited titles, royal pomp and privilege that comes with birth defy most principles of Norway’s otherwise democratic society.The survey fired up defenders of the monarchy, however, mostly from MPs on the more conservative side of the political spectrum.

“The monarchy is a traditional way of organizing our society, and the king unites the people,” said MP Inger Lise Hansen of the Christian Democrats. “The king is a popular person.”

Even some anti-monarchy members of the Labour Party, which currently leads Norway’s government, admitted they had no plans to introduce any measures calling for the monarchy’s abolition. “No one is starting up a campaign about this,” said Labour MP Eva Kristin Hansen.

Politically wise in 1905

Norway’s current monarchy was established in 1905, after the country broke out of a union with Sweden. It was believed at the time, according to historians, that a monarchy was necessary to gain respect as a sovereign nation and acceptance from other European nations, most of which still had monarchies themselves. The choice of a Danish prince, who took the name King Haakon VII, also gave an independent Norway strong links to the British monarchy, since Danish Prince Carl’s wife was a British princess, Maud.

Historian Jon Gunnar Arntzen told NRK that not having a monarchy could have weakened Norway’s credibility and stability as a new nation.

It’s widely claimed that Prince Carl demanded a public referendum in favour of a monarchy before he would accept the throne, but some historians now believe he would have accepted the Norwegian crown anyway.

Costs going up

The Norwegian monarchy was strengthened by King Haakon’s resistance to the German invasion and occupation during World War II. It was challenged when the current king, Harald, married a commoner in 1968 and again when Harald’s children (Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Martha Louise) chose spouses that many considered inappropriate. That’s led “to a lot of image-building,” claimed marketing and PR consultant Kjell Terje Ringdal, who claims the royal family has had “a very smart and well-thought-out marketing strategy” to present itself as both royal and down-to-earth, to maintain support.

One thing is clear: Norwegian taxpayers will be paying more for that support. The new state budget proposal for 2010 calls for a roughly 10 percent increase in the allocation for the royals, to NOK 142 million (about USD 26 million). The increase is tied to higher operating costs at the Royal Palace and other newly renovated properties, plus a need for more staff at Skaugum, the residence of Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette Marit.