Two high-profile politicians representing the most staunchly monarchist parties in Norway have spoken out against the institution of royalty in a new book to be released on Tuesday. The outspoken deputy leader of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP), Per Sandberg, said anyone concerned with democracy should be against the monarchy, while for the first time ever a Conservative (Høyre) politician, Trade Minister Monica Mæland, voiced support for a republic.
The revelations came during interviews for the book, The Republic of Norway (Republikken Norge) by respected political commentator Kjetil Bragli Alstadheim, who works for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Both Sandberg and Mæland would rather have a democratically elected head of state, despite broad public support for the royals.
Mæland participates in the weekly Council of State at the royal palace nearly every Friday and often travels with members of the royal family on diplomatic missions, most recently to Vietnam and Turkey. Nevertheless, she holds a different view about the relevance of the monarchy than her Conservative colleagues.
In 2001 at a young Conservatives meeting, Mæland called the monarchy undemocratic and antiquated. In Alstadheim’s book she stepped back somewhat from the strength of those statements, but said she still believed Norway should be a republic.
“The problem with the debate about the form of government in Norway is that it gets too personal, concentrating on the royals themselves rather than the system,” she said. “It’s challenging. I myself feel uncomfortable discussing it because it can be perceived as speaking against the royal family, and I’m really not doing that. I have such enormous respect for the efforts they make. And I know how important that job is.”
“It is not something I dwell on, because I’m not actively promoting another form of government,” she said. “A republic is not relevant now, and we’re going to have this form of government into the foreseeable future. It is solemn and great to participate in the Council of State at the palace. I have great respect for the royal family and the wonderful professional job they do which is important for Norway.”
Per Sandberg, meanwhile, was much more forceful and told Alstadheim that anyone concerned with democracy should oppose the monarchy. “I was raised to think that you should choose your leaders,” he said. “If you dig into people’s consciousness, they will agree with me on that.” Sandberg said the popularity of the royal family, particularly the late king Olav, meant the republican movement hadn’t gained traction.
Sandberg added there was no question that he was very fond of the reigning monarch, King Harald. “For me it’s about principles,” he said. “The majority of voters would agree that people should choose their leaders.”
Sandberg also argued that what he sees as the increasing political involvement of Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit was cause for concern, especially because he claimed the royal couple was too left-leaning. “That just strengthens my position that we should not have a monarchy,” he said. “It will lead to more and more people becoming republicans. In that sense it is okay for me that the crown prince and princess become stronger, more visible and clearer on their political standpoint, because that will strengthen the argument we do not need a royal house.”
“The royal couple is on the left of Norwegian politics, especially on environmental, climate, immigration and some questions of values,” Sandberg continued. “I note that Haakon and Mette-Marit act aggressively in public in these relationships.” He referred to a trip the crown princess took to India in 2012, after a gay couple who were friends of Mette-Marit could not get visas in time to collect their twin children born by surrogacy, which is illegal in Norway. Mette-Marit used her diplomatic passport to enter India and take care of the twins.
“They are not elected, so they should be neutral,” said Sandberg. “When the monarchy begins to get a certain bias, that becomes problematic, because they have influence.”
Mæland did not back Sandberg’s statements about political activity and potential bias by the crown couple, who she said should be allowed to live their lives according to their own personal principles.
The Progress Party’s leader, Siv Jensen, told DN that Sandberg’s position was news to her, and she personally supports the monarchy. The Conservatives’ leader, Prime Minister Erna Solberg. would not comment on whether Mæland’s republican leanings were discussed before she was chosen to sit at the King’s council, but said through state secretary Sigbjørn Aanes that the government supports the monarchy. The royal palace itself declined to comment.