Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

How to establish continuity between eras – 5

Monarchy in the 21st century: the example of the Kingdom of Norway
1 August, 2017 - 11:33

Den/The Day continues the discussion on the efficiency and democratic nature of the institution of monarchy in Europe. We first cited the UK as an example. In the article titled “Monarchistic Idea in the 21st Century,” we noted that “for a great part of Britons, the crown is not just a historical souvenir, but also an institution, quite efficient and necessary in the world of today.” On the other hand, Den’s contributor, philosopher Andrii Baumeister offered arguments about the modernity of monarchy (Den, No. 78-79). In the issues No. 32 (May 23), No. 36 (June 8), No. 38 (June 15), and No. 40 (June 22), we examined the role of monarchy in Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, respectively. Now we offer our readers a glimpse into the link between the past and the present in the Kingdom of Norway.


The Kingdom of Norway with a population of 5.23 million combines a market economy and the Scandinavian model that provides for mandatory medical insurance and a comprehensive system of social security. Norway has considerable deposits of oil, natural gas, minerals, timber, seafood, fresh-water fish, and hydro energy. Norway is the world’s second largest, after China, exporter of fish. Hydroelectric plants account for almost 98-99 percent – the highest share in the world – of the electric power produced in the country.

The oil industry accounts for about a fourth of the country’s gross domestic product. According to the IMF and the World Bank, Norway has the world’s fourth highest per capita income – 73,400 dollars. The country is the largest producer of oil and gas outside the Middle East. Norway ranked first in the Human Development Index in 2001-06 and in 2009-14. It has also ranked first in the Legatum Prosperity Index over the past five years.


Under the 1814 Constitution, political power in Norway is exercised by parliament, the king, and the Supreme Court. Norway was an absolute monarchy between 1661 and 1814, and before 1661 the king shared power with the Norwegian nobility. Founded in 872 after the merger of a few small principalities, Norway still remains one of the world’s oldest kingdoms. There are about 60 kings and counts on the list of Norwegian monarchs.

Constitutional monarchy was introduced in Norway after the country had seceded from Sweden in 1905. This occurred thanks to King Haakon VII of the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gluecksburg dynasty, whom the Norwegians asked to become the head of state. He was born as Carl, the second son of King Frederick VIII of Denmark and Queen Louise of Sweden. On arriving in Norway, he changed his first name for the ancient Norwegian Haakon, and his son Alexander became Olav.

Haakon VII was one of the few elected monarchs who quickly gained the respect and favor of his subjects and played a crucial role in rallying the Norwegian nation to fight for liberation from the five-year German occupation during World War Two. Haakon had reigned in Norway for 51 years when he died, aged 85, in 1957.

From June 22, 1958, until January 17, 1991, the throne was occupied by his son Olav V who chose the phrase “My All for Norway” as his motto. Olav was very popular among the Norwegians. He was even called “people’s king.” He would travel across the country without any guards or privileges. During the fuel crisis, when the government severely restricted the use of motor transport, King Olav would ride on a tram. Olav V favored constitutional monarchy and democratic liberties. He tried to shun political struggle and parties. Yet he quite often spoke on acute and most important matters. Besides, he paid attention to his country’s defense.

The present incumbent, Harald V, is a third-generation king after the restoration of the Kingdom of Norway in 1905. He ascended the throne on January 17, 1991. The king is an avid sailor and, like his father, repeatedly took part in world and European championships (he won the gold medal in the world yachting team event in 1987) and in the 1964, 1968, and 1972 Olympic Games. He carried the Norwegian flag at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964.

His son, Crown Price Haakon, will be the next-generation king. On mounting the throne, he will be referred to as King Haakon VIII. Prince Haakon is an excellent skier, yachtsman, and hang-glider pilot. An enthusiastic theatergoer, he prefers his compatriot Henrik Ibsen to all the other playwrights.


Today, the king mainly carries out representative and ceremonial duties. The Constitution says that “the executive power belongs to the king,” but in reality this means that it is exercised by the government. Every autumn the king officially opens the session of the Storting (Norwegian parliament). He plays an important role in government reshuffles and presides over the meetings of the State Council at the Royal Palace. The king and queen pay state visits to other countries and receive the heads of foreign states who are visiting Norway. The newly-appointed ambassadors to Norway are to hand in their letters of credence to the king during the official audience at the Royal Palace. The king is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, holding the ranks of full general and admiral. He was also the formal head of the Church of Norway under Article 4 of the Constitution until a constitutional amendment was passed in May 21, 2012.

Fredrik Arthur, Deputy Head of the Mission at the Embassy of Norway, has explained to The Day the difference in the Norwegian perception of the kings who reigned in the Middle Ages and during the union with Sweden and Denmark. “For us, he was not a Norwegian king but a monarch who ruled different countries, and Norway was, to put it mildly, a colony, while the other countries, Denmark and Sweden, had sort of supremacy over Norway in this union,” the diplomat said.

In his words, the role of the king and monarchy is similar to some extent in the three Scandinavian monarchies. “The king of Norway wields no major political powers. On the other hand, he is authorized to sit in a court, veto or repeal laws, and he also has an impact as a personality. But the king chiefly performs symbolic and protocol functions as head of state. He does not rule in a parliamentary democracy, where the government is based on a parliamentary majority or coalition. His role was diminished, but, at the same time, he has a strong impact as the head of state,” Mr. Arthur says.

“Indeed,” he continues, “the king meets the prime minister once a month or perhaps even more often and regularly receives the ministers of foreign affairs and defense.”

“The preamble to the Constitution says that the king has the right to discuss political matters with the government. But, in my view, he does not influence either the decision-making process or decisions themselves. As far as I know, the king has never expressed his attitudes or opinions in a way that could be interpreted as support for a political party or movement. He takes part in government or court sessions but never expresses his opinion. I have never heard the king say during a debate on a decision that he does not like it or that it should be altered or canceled altogether,” the diplomat pointed out.

“On the one hand,” he explains, “there is a tradition that ministers or their secretaries inform the king of the ongoing political debates in the government and, naturally, of the political situation in general. The reason is that the king really evinces interest in political life and deems it necessary to be in the picture of what is going on in the country and what is being discussed in the government and governmental circles.”


At the same time, Mr. Arthur continues, the king, like any other citizen of Norway, has the right to express his opinion. “But as monarchy has been evolving and the role of it as a political factor has been diminishing, he will not do so. If he begins political discussions, this will easily prompt those who oppose monarchy to say that the king must not play a political role. And if he still chooses to do so, this may trigger new debates on the future of monarchy,” the diplomat said.

As for the main role of a monarch in Norway, the king is a symbol of national unity, Mr. Arthur emphasizes. Past year, King Harald delivered strong speeches in support of the inclusion of new ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities into Norwegian society.

The king is also, to a large extent, the symbol that unites people, with special emphasis being put on the needs of the people who require support. It is one of the reasons why the king and the queen are very popular, the diplomat stresses. It is he who emerges as a powerful symbol of unity in the times of a national crisis or mourning. For example, when Anders Breivik committed a horrible act of terror, killing almost a hundred people, the king visited the victims’ families. This in fact made him, the crown prince, and the royal family as a whole the symbol of this support.


“There happen natural disasters in our country, such as very heavy rains and storms on the western coast and raging fires in some parts of Norway, and the king and queen often visit these places to express their sympathy with the people who appreciate this,” Mr. Arthur points out.

“When the 25th anniversary of the king’s accession to the throne was being marked,” he continues, “not only members of the royal family were invited to the celebration. Moreover, they would also come out to see the people and travel all over Norway – they visited every nook of the country. On the occasion of such anniversaries, they usually organize garden parties to which they also invite certain marginal groups, AIDS-affected people, and representatives of ethnic minorities. In other words, the royal family shows its inclusiveness. If you come across a hundred people on a street in Oslo or some other Norwegian city and ask them what they think about monarchy as a political system, some of these people will perhaps say: we in principle prefer a republic to a monarchy. But if you ask the same 100 people whether they like and support the king, 99 of them will say ‘yes.’”

So, one of the reasons why monarchy, king, and queen are popular in Norway is the way the king and the queen behave – they always emerge as a symbol of unity, integrity, and inclusiveness. If the king, the crown prince, the crown princess, or other members of the royal family did not behave in this manner or resorted to political extremism, this would undermine the popularity of monarchy. But, as there are no scandals affecting Norway’s king or queen and no things that could cause any, ‘the gutter press’ has nothing to write about,” the deputy ambassador said.

The point is that the king and the queen are performing their mission as a unifying symbol in Norwegian society, in a constitutional structure, and are just personalities of high morality.


Under the updated Constitution of Norway, women also have the right to inherit the crown now. Before this, there was an agnostic rule of succession to the throne from father to son and from son to son, but now a crown princess can also become the queen of Norway.

The king, the queen, and the royal family as a whole are funded by way of annual budgetary disbursements. So their salary (appanage) is paid from the state budget. The state furnishes the royal family with castles and old premises. Besides, the king and queen can have private property which they can sell or buy.


Asked about the influence of monarchy on the development of democracy, Mr. Arthur pointed out: “We usually think of democracy as something that goes from bottom to top, not the other way round. But I think one of the best and most important ways the king supported for the development of democracy was as follows. He stood clear of political processes. The kings were thoroughly convinced that the development of democracy, including parliamentary democracy, is something the people themselves are supposed to decide upon. And the king, on his part, must not take part in these discussions. Kings are above discussion, which confirms their legitimacy. For if they take part in the daily political debates, some people will say they support us, not you, and so on. I can recall that when there was a talk about communists during the war, King Haakon, the head of state, said that he was a king for all – for the rich and the poor, the Right and the Left.

“In my view, the king’s longtime role, which envisaged noninterference into political decisions, was very good for the development of consensus and democracy. No politician in Norway – on the local, regional, or national level – will ever say that the king supports him, not you. If you ask me which leader after 1905 was strong, I will say that what really matters to me is whether he is a good leader and a prominent politician rather than an iron fist or a strong man. For example, Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen of Norway, a social democrat, was a strong politician and one of the architects and initiators of the Norwegian welfare system. He may not have been a monarchist, but he understood that the role the king had played for years was of benefit to Norway.”

Mr. Arthur says there is a broad consensus on the foreign and domestic policy, infrastructural development, and road construction in his country. “Of course, there are political disputes about these matters, differences between parties, but, on the whole, the overall picture of Norway’s political direction, its political orientation between East and West, the EU, the US, and NATO is largely based on a consensus. “There are always people that oppose something, but Norway is a very egalitarian society, as far as political decisions, opinions, and attitudes are concerned,” he emphasized.


It is interesting to us, Ukrainians, whether Norwegian kings know about historical contacts between Ukraine and Norway, for example, about the marriage of Harald Hardrada with Yelyzaveta (Scandinavian name: Elisiv), the daughter of Yaroslav the Wise and Ingegerd, a milestone in the thousand-year-long history of relations between the two countries. Mr. Arthur says that, as far as he knows, all the kings from 1905 onwards have been keenly interested in history. He is sure that the present incumbent knows very well, as did his father and grandfather, about historical links with Ukraine, particularly about why the Vikings found themselves in Ancient Rus’ and about marriages with local princesses. “They are therefore very knowledgeable about Norway’s history and links with other counties, including Ukraine, in the ancient era,” the deputy ambassador pointed out.

Asked if it is worthwhile for countries to introduce a constitutional monarchy which polls say provides for the highest level of democracy, Mr. Arthur said as follows: “It is up to the people of these countries to decide. They should choose the form of political administration and the one they would like to see as their country’s topmost leader – the president, the prime minister, or the king.

“After the period of Franco’s rule, Spain chose to restore monarchy with King Juan Carlos at the head. Some other states also did the same, but it would be unwise to say that, for example, Ukraine should introduce monarchy,” Mr. Arthur pointed out.

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day