King Harald has decided that members of Norway’s royal family will no longer be able to accept gifts from commercial players, in an effort to avoid questions of influence peddling or conflicts of interest. Royal watchers think the move will also send a signal to private players and personal friends of the royals, that they should refrain from giving them expensive gifts as well.
It’s been customary for the royals to receive cars, designer clothing and other high-end merchandise over the years, even though the Norwegian royals grant no purveyor status like the British monarch does. The Norwegian royal family has caught criticism over some gifts in the past.
In 1998, for example, controversy swirled after Princess Martha Louise was allowed to use horses during her equestrian phase that were provided by retailing tycoon Stein Erik Hagen. Not long after, her father King Harald was present at the opening of one of Hagen’s shopping centers in Latvia, and that raised questions over whether Hagen was enjoying royal attention in return for his horses.
“I don’t think there was any connection,” Carl-Eirk Grimstad, a former palace official and political scientist who often comments on the royals, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “But the fact that it raised questions was problematic. What was hidden became a problem. The line between expensive gifts and corruption is hair-thin.”
With corruption rearing its head more often within Norwegian business, the risk of it has become a concern for the royals as well. Questions have also swirled over who’s paying for Crown Princess Mette-Marit’s wardrobe, and whether she consciously or unconsciously promotes certain designers by wearing their clothes or carrying their handbags. And there was great controversy last summer when she and Crown Prince Haakon accepted a trip on board a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean, and refused to say who paid for it.
Wine from Portugal and France, dates from the Emirates
Now King Harald, celebrating 25 years as Norway’s monarch this year, wants to reduce if not eliminate questions around royal gifts. Not only will gifts from commercial interests be refused, the palace will publicize lists of gifts that have been accepted. They rolled out their first list last week, of gifts received between June and December last year.
It revealed relatively modest presents, like 12 bottles of wine from the Portuguese Embassy in connection with the visit of Portugal’s president, six bottles from the French Embassy, and dates from the United Arab Emirates’ Embassy. The king received two jackets and caps from American fishing boat captain Sig Hansen when he visited Canada and the queen received 150 stems of orchids from the Thai Embassy.
The royals still won’t reveal the nature of what are deemed “private” gifts from friends and family, and there’s still a “grey zone” when personal friends are also commercial players.
“I think the practice will send a signal that personal friends shouldn’t challenge the new rules,” Grimstad said. He claimed the new gift regime is one of the most important official reforms made by the royals in many years.
“It’s always been one of the strengths of the Norwegian royal family that they’re flexible and interpret signals from the people,” Grimstad told Dagsavisen. “Sometimes they’ve been too late and done too little, but generally they’ve been good (at royal reform).”
He supports calls, though, for even more openness, and thinks the royals should be subject to the same disclosure rules that apply to other public officials in Norway. “We must be able to see the letters that come to the Royal Palace, who asks for an audience and where the royals are invited,” Grimstad said. “We should have insight into all their official duties, budgets and the maintenance of their properties.”