Norway’s royal family willingly posed for photos when King Harald and Queen Sonja invited their two children and all their grandchildren on a private tour of Finnmark in Northern Norway this summer, and they’re even posted on the royal family’s own web site. Neither Crown Prince Haakon nor Crown Princess Mette-Marit would answer any questions, however, about another, far more luxurious holiday they took with their children on board a yacht that costs four times as much to charter per week than most Norwegians earn in a year.
Norway’s so-called “crown couple” and officials at the Royal Palace were thus hit with mounting criticism during the weekend when they refused to reveal who paid for the pricey holiday on board the yacht Mia Elise. The yacht is described in online promotion (external link) as a 164-foot “luxury vessel” with six staterooms, “timeless styling, beautiful furnishing and sumptuous seating,” with summer charter rates of EUR 250,000 a week plus expenses (the equivalent of at least NOK 2.35 million). The yacht, which is also equipped with a Jacuzzi on deck, was listed as being available for charter this summer in the western Mediterranean.
Magazine Se og Hør (See and Hear) broke the story late last week about the extravagant holiday and newspaper Dagbladet followed up with a story reporting that the royals didn’t pay for it themselves.
Marianne Hagen, one of the royals’ spokespersons at the palace, told Dagbladet that the crown couple had not chartered a boat during the summer holidays. That suggests someone else picked up the bill, but Hagen wouldn’t say who. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Monday that when Crown Princess Mette-Marit showed up to open a conference on day care centers, she also refused to answer questions about who had paid for her family’s expensive yachting adventure.
‘Hiding an uncomfortable truth’
While a holiday in Norway’s northernmost region is viewed as politically correct and even publicized by the royals themselves, the crown prince and princess have been chided before over their expensive family holidays and their complaints over any resulting media coverage. They have a long record of trying to control media coverage to suit their own interests and image. They argue that they have a right to a private life, and don’t see any need to account for their extravagances.
“When they answer ‘no comment’ to a question, it’s in reality an expression of trying to hide an uncomfortable truth,” Jens Høvsgaard, a Danish journalist and royal watcher, told Dagbladet. He added that their refusal to answer is “because the answer will create problems for the Norwegian monarchy and the crown couple.” A luxury yacht that costs more than NOK 2 million a week runs counter to the sensible image the Norwegian royals try to portray.
Above all others
In this case, they are also catching harsh criticism on the editorial pages of newspapers including business daily Dagens Næringsliv (DN), for another reason. Both DN and newspaper Dagsavisen drew attention to the sharp contrast between the young royals’ opinion that they can “sail their own sea” without anyone being able to demand to know who their sponsors are, and what recently happened to Bergen Mayor Trude Drevland. She had to endure scathing criticism and apologize profusely for accepting a trip to Venice from the owner of a new cruiseship to be based in Bergen, so she could christen it.
That’s because Norwegian politicians and public officials are subject to rules about full disclosure over their personal finances as well as the public expense for which they’re responsible. They’re required to be open about any ties they may have to other people in power or financial interests.
The royals, however, “neither want to or are required to abide by the same rules that apply to other public officials,” editorialized Dagsavisen, which readily acknowledged that it opposes the monarchy as an “undemocratic and old-fashioned” institution. Both Dagsavisen and DN, which also has questioned the modern-day relevance of a monarchy, believe, however, that Norwegians have a right to know how the royals are financed and who sponsors them over and above the tens of millions of kroner they’re granted every year in taxpayer funding.
Unheeded call for transparency
The financial accounts that the palace does publish don’t offer nearly the amount of detail or information that the taxpayers deserve, argued Dagsavisen. “Public law calls for transparency,” it added. “That should also fully apply to the royal family.”
It’s arguable that in this case, the royals couldn’t win. If they had paid for the yacht holiday themselves, Høvsgaard mused, Norwegians could have wondered whether they want a crown couple who lives a jetset life at taxpayer expense. If they were sponsored, the public could also wonder what the royals were giving in return. As it is, they’re already in trouble for trying to keep it all a secret and leaving the public to wonder who is willing to pay more than NOK 2 million for the royals’ holiday, and why.
“It’s probably not surprising that the royals feel they are above the demands for openness that face the rest of society,” wrote DN. “That shows one of the problems the monarchy has in a modern democracy.”