Norway’s monarch and prime minister delivered their annual speeches over the New Year holiday, and both acknowledged that most Norwegians are quite fortunate. King Harald, however, worries that maybe some are too fortunate, while Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg intends to seek advice from ordinary citizens around the country on how to tackle remaining challenges.
Stoltenberg (photo, right)wants public input on how Norway can better develop new businesses, develop the new knowledge and technology it needs, reduce its high school dropout rate and cut sick leave.
Stoltenberg, who heads Norway’s Labour Party, tried to stress that it’s not Norway’s oil resources but rather good old-fashioned hard work that’s built up the country’s wealth.
He also stressed a need for a broad public debate on the fundamentals of the country’s welfare state.He made it clear that he believes Norwegians will live off each other’s work when oil resources run dry some day. “It’s our work that’s our greatest wealth,” he said, adding that if everyone stopped working and simply lived off Norway’s oil fund, it would be depleted in just over a year.
He vowed that workers will still receive full sick pay benefits during his administration, but that sick leave itself must be reduced. “Only the fewest possible should have to use the benefits,” he said.
In Norway, the prime minister traditionally holds a national televised address at 7:30pm on January 1st, while the monarch holds the only national royal speech of the year at 7:30pm on New Year’s Eve. Many Norwegians listen to the royal address with champagne in hand, starting their festmiddag (dinner party) only after the king has concluded his remarks with the traditional “godt nyttår” (Happy New Year) greeting and the playing of the Norwegian national anthem.
This year King Harald was reflective as usual, reminding Norwegians of the less fortunate amongst them while noting that “Norway is a good country in which to live.”
He said he worried, however, that overconsumption threatens the planet’s climate. “Maybe we have been better at counting our money than we have been to count our days,” King Harald said.
He noted that “people often evaluate others based on their success, visibility and material goods,” and that the finance crisis “had something to do with a short-term gallop after profit.” He urged Norwegians, however, to continue building up their country and preserving its wealth.
His remarks came after new figures from the state statistics bureau SSB showed that household income and consumption rose dramatically during the past decade, and that 300,000 new jobs were created in Norway between 1999 and 2009.