Monday, 31 October 2011

On this date: Carl Johan Bernadotte turns 95

The Bernadottes are famous for living to ripe old age and today yet another of them turns 95. Today’s birthday boy is Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg, by birth Prince of Sweden and uncle of the King of Sweden as well as of the Queen of Denmark.
Born on 31 October 1916 he is the youngest of the five children of King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden and his first wife, Crown Princess Margareta, née Princess of Britain. Sadly his mother died when Prince Carl Johan was only 3 ½ years old and he regrets that he has no memories of her.
Prince Carl Johan lost his succession rights and was stripped of his royal titles when he married a commoner, the divorced journalist Kerstin Wijkmark, in 1946. As plain Mr Carl Johan Bernadotte he made a career for himself as a businessman. In 1951 his distant cousin Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg created him, his brother Sigvard and their cousin Lennart counts of Wisborg.
Widowed in 1987, Carl Johan Bernadotte married an old friend, Gunnila Bussler, née Countess Gunnila Wachtmeister of Johannishus, the following year. The couple, who are thus approaching their silver wedding, live in a villa in the hills above the popular summer resort Båstad on the coast of Scania.
Except the oldest, Prince Gustaf Adolf, who was killed in a plane crash at the age of forty in 1947, all the children of Gustaf VI Adolf have, like him, reached a great age. The former Prince Sigvard died in 2002 at the age of 94, while Queen Ingrid of Denmark was ninety when she passed away in 2000 and Prince Bertil nearing his 85th birthday at the time of his death in 1997.
For those who like to keep track of such things it is also noteworthy that Carl Johan Bernadotte is the only surviving great-grandchild of Queen Victoria of Britain. Except for a critical attack of illness some years ago, which was dealt with successfully in hospital, he continues to enjoy rude health for his age.
With the passing of his siblings Carl Johan Bernadotte has come to fill the role as the grand old man of the family and was consequently given a prominent position at the wedding last year of his great-niece Crown Princess Victoria, with whom he shares a fond relationship. In his old age it has also become increasingly clear to many what an asset this warm, generous gentleman would have been to the Swedish monarchy if one had not kicked him out of the royal house 65 years ago.
His plans for the birthday are not known, but on 14 October King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia hosted a private dinner party for him at Drottningholm Palace outside Stockholm. Among the guests were two of the King’s sisters, Princess Christina and Princess Margaretha (the latter herself turns 77 today).

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Elizabeth II’s prime ministers agree to change succession laws

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the prime ministers of the sixteen nations of which Elizabeth II is queen have agreed to the changes to the succession to the throne which were recently proposed. These changes will mean that the succession to the throne will henceforward be gender-neutral and that people marrying Catholics will no longer be excluded from the line of succession.
The prime ministers of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis agreed about the reform at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which is currently taking place in Perth in Australia.
As Head of the Commonwealth Elizabeth II is present at the CHOGM, but did obviously not attend the deliberations about this issue. However, her Private Secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, is reported to have been present.
The changes, which it has earlier been reported will only apply to the descendants of Prince Charles, require changes to a wide range of laws in the realms of Elizabeth II and it has frequently been speculated that the complicated process would not be ignited because of the constitutional complications it would involve. However, it now seems that the sixteen countries which are in personal union under Elizabeth II have been able to reach an agreement fairly smoothly, although the parliamentary processes do of course remain to be carried through with.

Saudi king appoints new crown prince

Following the death last weekend of the 85-year-old Crown Prince Sultan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has appointed the 78-year-old Prince Nayef as the country’s new crown prince.
The ultraconservative Prince Nayef, who has been Interior Minister for decades, is thus set to succeed to the throne on the death of the 87-year-old King Abdullah, whose reign has been marked by some willingness to reforms.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

At the road’s end: Crown Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia (1926?-2011)

Crown Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia has died, the Saudi court has confirmed. The Crown Prince, who was probably 85 years old, is believed to have died from colon cancer in a hospital in New York. He was the half-brother and heir to King Abdullah, who is around 87 years old and currently in hospital in Riyadh following back surgery earlier this week. Crown Prince Sultan held a number of government posts throughout his life and was at the time of his death Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and Aviation.
Born sometime between 1925 and 1931, but most likely in 1926, Sultan was one of the many sons of the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul-Aziz (Ibn Saud). The succession has so far passed from one brother to another, meaning for instance that King Fahd on his death in 2005 was succeeded by his brother Abdullah, who appointed Sultan his heir. Following the death of Sultan the most likely candidate for crown prince is considered to be his 78-year-old brother, Prince Nayef, who is currently Interior Minister and Second Deputy Prime Minister, but it is also possible that the choice of heir will be left to the Allegiance Council, a body of princes which was set up a few years ago.
The funeral will be held in the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh on Tuesday. Crown Prince Sultan is survived by 32 children by eleven wives, including Prince Bandar, who is best known for having been the Saudi ambassador to the United States for several years.

Friday, 21 October 2011

New books: A princess of consequence

If Princess Sophia Albertina of Sweden and of Norway (1753-1829) is remembered today it is probably as little more than the lady who built the Hereditary Prince’s Mansion in Stockholm and whose name is inscribed on its façade. Unmarried, childless princesses tend to be considered as little more than that, but as the historian Carin Bergström, head of the Swedish Royal Collections, shows in her new book Självständig prinsessa – Sophia Albertina, 1753-1829, published by Atlantis this month, there was much of interest about the life story of the sister of Gustaf III and Carl XIII.
The book’s title translates as “Independent Princess” and Bergström takes the bold choice of starting not with the Princess’s birth, but with the death of her dominant mother, Queen Lovisa Ulrika, in 1782. The disadvantage of this approach is that we are left in the dark about the Princess’s formative years and perhaps in particular about the extent of her mother’s complex personality upon her.
The advantage is that it sharpens the book’s focus on how Sophia Albertina carved out a life of her own. Bergström briefly discusses the reasons why Sophia Albertina, who certainly had to be considered quite a match on the royal marriage market, never married. But the fact that a grand mansion was built for her, starting in 1783, must surely have meant that one had by then realised that she would not marry.
The mansion is in itself significant, the author argues. Gustaf III’s brother, Carl and Fredrik Adolf, were given apartments at the Royal Palace instead of mansions of their own. This underlines Sophia Albertina’s independence, but might also be a result of the fact that she as a woman could not challenge the monarch’s position in the way that the royal brothers might do.
Sophia Albertina was to live to be nearly 76, a great age in her days. She saw the coups carried out by Gustaf III in 1772 and 1789 respectively, the wars against Russia and the Napoleonic wars, the assassination of Gustaf III in 1792, the deposal of Gustaf IV Adolf and the elevation of her brother Carl XIII in 1809, the election of a new crown prince and his sudden death shortly thereafter, the election of a French marshal to crown prince in 1810, the formation of the union with Norway in 1814 and the accession of the Bernadotte dynasty in 1818. In 1826 it was she who brought Carl XIV Johan the news of the birth of his grandson (Carl XV), which secured the Bernadotte succession in the third generation. By the time of her death in 1829 she was the last surviving member of the House of Holstein-Gottorp in Sweden and in an age of growing nationalism she was, not entirely correctly, hailed as “the Vasa Princess”.
Sophia Albertina could be considered a survivor, but she was also an important link between past and future. Throughout the upheavals of the Gustavian and post-Gustavian era Sophia Albertina and her sister-in-law Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta were unchangingly dignified in carrying out the royal duties and upholding the presence and visibility which were often neglected by other members of the royal house. (Indeed, following Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta’s death in 1818, Sophia Albertina was the actual first lady until Queen Desideria could be bothered to move to Sweden five years later). For the upstarts Bernadottes she was obviously of great value in their legitimisation process.
Yet one of the great strengths of this biography is how it stresses that Sophia Albertina was more than simply a Swedish princess. In 1787 she became Abbess of the Protestant diocese Quedlinburg, a small city-state in what is now Saxe-Anhalt. This position has often been treated as little more than a piece of curiosa by Swedish writers, but Bergström stresses how it meant actual sovereignty over this small state and that this was something Sophia Albertina was serious about.
Unlike her predecessor as abbess Sophia Albertina came to spend considerable time in Quedlinburg (which also caused her to miss out on some important developments in Sweden, such as much of the Reuterholm regime). This meant that she had greater impact on her small realm than her predecessor, but also that she came in close proximity to her maternal relations in Germany, whose cultural interests may have had a certain influence on her.
By paying thorough attention to Sophia Albertina’s reign in Quedlinburg and her life in Germany (as well as her journey to Italy) Carin Bergström succeeds in putting her subject squarely into the international context in which she belongs and showing how her life was shaped by events outside Sweden.
In 1802 Quedlinburg was ceded by the Habsburg Emperor to the King of Prussia and subsequently secularised, but the latter allowed his first cousin Sophia Albertina to retain her residence and her income. However, five years later Quedlinburg was lost to France. Sophia Albertina daringly declared her intention to negotiate with Napoléon, but Quedlinburg was incorporated into his brother Jérôme’s Kingdom of Westphalia and the reign of Sophia Albertina came to an end.
One of the events of Sophia Albertina’s life which has caused most comment, both in her days and later, is her campaign to have her chambermaid Lolotte Forsberg recognised as the illegitimate daughter of King Adolf Fredrik, i.e. as her own half-sister. This severely strained her relationship with her brothers and was in the end unsuccessful, but Bergström launches the theory that the way the Princess allowed herself to be led to believe that Forsberg was indeed her sister might be seen as a result of Sophia Albertina’s longing for a family of her own.
Having married noble courtier, Countess Lolotte Stenbock (as she then became) was eventually appointed Sophia Albertina’s Mistress of the Robes and the Stenbock family came to fill the role as Sophia Albertina’s immediate family until her death, when most of her estate was left to them.
This was one of the books I had been looking most forward to this year and I was not disappointed in my expectations. Occasionally Bergström gets a year wrong, she misspells the name Désirée throughout and repeats the tenacious myth that Napoléon I proclaimed himself emperor, but she is mostly on safe ground and appears to have full command of her subject. The book is also well-written and insightful and adds greatly to our knowledge of its subject. Following the publication of this biography there can be no doubt that Sophia Albertina was much more than an insignificant appendage to the Gustavian court.

Monday, 17 October 2011

French Socialists elect François Hollande presidential candidate

In the second round of the first primary elections to be hold in France the Socialist Party yesterday chose its former leader François Hollande to be its candidate for president in 2012. Hollande defeated the current party leader, Martine Aubry, with some 56 % to 44 % of the estimated 2.7 millions votes cast.
The first round of the presidential election is to be held on 22 April, with a second round on 6 May unless one candidate wins more than 50 % of the votes in the first round. Opinion polls have indicated that whichever candidate the Socialists chose would defeat the deeply unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy and that Hollande might defeat him with 60 % to 40 % of the votes, but obviously it is in the nature of politics that much may change in six months (Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a living testimony to that).
However, it seems safe to say that Hollande currently stands the best chance of being President of France by next summer, which would make him the country’s first Socialist president since the presidency of François Mitterrand in 1981-1995.
There are no major political differences between Hollande and Aubry, but the latter is considered to be slightly more to the left of the party. Thus Hollande may perhaps stand a better chance than Aubry of attracting voters from and across the political centre, while voters further to the left may on the other hand rather vote for other parties in the first round.
Hollande is 57 years old and has been an MP from 1988 to 1993 and since 1997. However, he has never held a government post, which may turn out to be one of his weaker points in the election. Since 2008 he is President of the General Council of the region of Corrèze. He has four children with Segolène Royal, who was the Socialist Party’s candidate in the 2007 presidential election, but their relationship ended at about that time.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

At the road’s end: Count Conradin of Castell-Rüdenhausen (1933-2011), cousin of King Carl Gustaf

Yesterday the funeral of Count Conradin of Castell-Rüdenhausen, a first cousin of the King of Sweden, was held in Ingå Church in Finland. The Count died on 1 October, some days before his 78th birthday.
Born in Berlin on 10 October 1933, His Illustrious Highness Count Conradin Friedrich of Castell-Rüdenhausen was the second of three children born to Princess Caroline-Mathilde (Calma) of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in her first marriage to Count Friedrich-Wolfgang of Castell-Rüdenhausen. The parents divorced in 1938 and the father was killed when taking part in German air attacks on Britain in June 1940. Conradin was thus a nephew of Princess Sibylla of Sweden.
He moved to Finland to study horticulture and there he met Märta Lönegren, whom he married on 6 July 1961. The couple, who were thus able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary earlier this year, were the parents of a daughter, Anne-Charlotte, and a son, named Carl-Eduard for his paternal great-grandfather, who lives in Denmark.
The late Count stayed in touch with his cousin King Carl Gustaf, but lead a private life at Ingå, where the family ran a plant nursery.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

David Cameron takes initiative to change British succession

The Daily Telegraph reports today (external link) that British Prime Minister David Cameron has written a letter to the prime ministers of the fifteen (the article erroneously says sixteen) other countries of which Queen Elizabeth II is head of state proposing certain changes to the succession to the throne.
Cameron wants to introduce gender-neutral succession (like in all other European kingdoms except Spain), to end the ban on those who have married Catholics from succeeding to the throne and to limit the need to ask the monarch’s permission for marrying to the first six people in line to the throne. The issue will also be discussed at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in Australia later this month.
While there is widespread support for these changes the complicating fact is that all the countries of which Elizabeth II is queen must make the same changes to their acts of succession to avoid a scenario whereby the various thrones are inherited by different heirs based on different rules.
This is obviously not in danger of happening as these changes would not affect the positions of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge as first and second in line to the throne, but were Prince William to have a daughter as his first child, this might become an issue.
Thus this is probably the best time to make these changes, although some have feared that raising the issue of the succession to the throne in the overseas realms may be like opening a can of worm in relating to the various countries’ links to the British monarchy.
Were Prince William to have a firstborn daughter before the changes are made the changes will be retroactive, the BBC adds. It could also be added that the changes will only apply to the descendants of Prince Charles, meaning that his brothers and their descendants will still be ahead of Princess Anne in the order of succession.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

New Danish government wants to remove monarch from Constitution

Berlingske today reports that the new Danish government, made up of the Social Democrats, the Danish Social Liberal Party and the Socialist People’s Party, has decided to set up a commission to consider a revision of the Constitution, which will aim at removing the monarch from it and including the human rights.
The current Constitution, which received the royal assent on 5 June 1953 (pictured above), has not been altered since and to do so will require a referendum in which at least 40 % of the entire electorate (not only those actually voting) will have to vote in favour of the amendments.
I suppose “removing the monarch from the Constitution” means that one desires literally to change those articles which say “the King” where one actually means the government. However, as the referendum about changing the Act of Succession two years ago showed, this might easily be like opening a can of worms and lead to a more extensive debate on the monarchy.
As recently as last year an opinion poll showed a majority in favour of scrapping the monarch’s right to appoint the government and sign bills into law, thus reducing the Danish monarchy to a merely symbolic institution like its Swedish counterpart (an arrangement Queen Margrethe has earlier said she would find difficult).
The European Convention of Human Rights has the status of an ordinary law and it has long been the wish of several parties to include it in the Constitution itself, which would also mean that it could not simply be scrapped by a parliamentary vote.
It appears from Berlingske’s report that the Danish Social Liberal Party is the driving force behind these revisions, but that the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party are in full agreement with their coalition partner. However, the two parties which were just ejected from the government offices, the Liberal Party and the Conservatives, see no reason for amending the Constitution, while a spokesman for the right-wing extremist Danish People’s Party, which has earlier described human rights as left-wing values, says they will not “under no circumstances” contribute to such changes.

Monday, 10 October 2011

New books: A millennium of English royal weddings

Ahead of the wedding of Prince William of Britain and Catherine Middleton the historians Alison Weir, Kate Williams and Tracy Borman and the journalist Sarah Gristwood teamed up to write the book The Ring and the Crowns, which sets out to chart the history of British (i.e. English) royal weddings since 1066.
The book is divided into four parts, each written by one of the authors. Alison Weir is responsible for the first chapter, which takes the story from 1066 to 1714. Hers is by far the longest period of time, but this is a challenge she takes in her stride. Obviously she can impossibly recount every single English royal wedding over 650 years in forty pages, but her choices about what to include and what to exclude seem wise. Weir also manages to paint a wider picture and draw some longer lines, something which cannot be said about all the authors of this book.
The second part, covering the years 1714-1918, is written by Kate Williams and has been give the odd title “Pomp and Circumstance”. The choice of title is peculiar as this was the era in which royal weddings, as Williams acknowledges, generally took place rather privately and without the pomp and circumstance which only in the twentieth century came to be associated with them.
Williams’s contribution is the weakest part of this book. The chapter is well-written enough and she is on sure ground when writing about the marriages of Princess Charlotte of Wales and Queen Victoria, which is familiar ground for the author of the book Becoming Victoria (2008), but otherwise she makes a number of grave errors throughout.
The wife of Prince Frederick, Duke of York is said to be the “only daughter of King Frederick II of Prussia”, although it ought to be fairly well-known that “Frederick the Great” had no children. She forgets the future James II and Anne Hyde when she claims that no royal had married a subject between 1515 and 1871, she claims that the marriage of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia in St Petersburg in 1874 was conducted by the Duke of Westminster (!), she lets the future Edward VII be accompanied by three sons rather than two to the wedding of one of his sisters, the painter Laurits Tuxen becomes “Tucman” and the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz becomes the maternal grandmother of Queen Mary rather than her aunt.
When she reaches the royal wedding of 1896, she claims that Princess Maud married Prince Christian of Denmark, although she did in fact marry his brother Prince Carl. She goes on to relate how “Prince Christian” “in late 1906 [...] was chosen by a committee of the Norwegian government to become King Haakon VII of Norway”. This took place in 1905 and Prince Carl was in fact elected by Parliament unanimously after winning 79 % of the votes in a referendum. A plethora of such mistakes indicates either carelessness or lack of knowledge.
Sarah Gristwood picks up the story in 1919, when Princess Patricia’s wedding in Westminster Abbey was the first grand public affair of the sort we have become used to, and takes it through to the wedding of Princess Margaret in 1960. This was the age when the royal wedding became “the embodiment of the national fairy story”, Gristwood observes. What one might wish for in this chapter are some reflections on why this was the case, perhaps particularly which role the media played in it, and the crucial developments which meant that the nature of royal marriages changed fundamentally at this time (i.e. that World War I had made it clear that dynastic marriages was of little significance for international diplomacy and that marriages to non-royals consequently become more common). What Gristwood provides the reader instead is mostly a description of each individual wedding.
The final part, by Tracy Borman, covers the weddings from 1961 to 2005, with only that of the then Prince Richard of Gloucester passed over for some unexplained reason. I am somewhat puzzled by the authors’ (or editor’s?) choice to let Gristwood’s chapter end in 1960 and Borman’s begin in 1961, as it appears more natural to consider the wedding of Princess Margaret in 1960 together with the other royal weddings of the 1960s. The line dividing the two chapters would probably have been better drawn in 1947, after which there were no further royal weddings for thirteen years.
Borman reflects how the 1980s “had witnessed an apotheosis of royal weddings”, but centring around ill-fatted marriages. In reaction to these grand weddings ending in disaster, “[a] quieter, more understated tone was called for, and this was exactly what the following two occasions achieved”. However, these two occasions were the weddings of Princess Margaret’s children, whose low profiles are probably better explained by the simple fact that these were not royal weddings, but the weddings of private citizens whose mother happened to be a princess.
The book is richly illustrated throughout, but one might occasionally wish for more information about some of the illustrations. The artist’s name is not always given, nor is one always informed about whether the illustration is contemporary or not. The book offers its readers an accessible but not always entirely reliable survey of how English royal weddings have been conducted through the centuries, but regrettably little on the external circumstances which shaped them.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Nobel Prize in Literature for Tomas Tranströmer

The Swedish Academy today awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to the 80-year-old Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, with the citation that “through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.
Tranströmer is the seventh Swede to be awarded the Literature Prize, following Selma Lagerlöf in 1909, Verner von Heidenstam in 1916, Erik Axel Karlfeldt in 1931, Pär Lagerkvist in 1951, and Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson jointly in 1974 (eighth if Nelly Sachs (1966) is counted as Swedish).
Thus Sweden may be said to be well represented among the laureates, but it is noteworthy that it is now 37 years since the last time a Swede received the Prize. The award of the 1974 prize to Johnson and Martinson caused controversy as both of them were members of the Swedish Academy and truth to be said they are not really outstanding figures in the history of literature.
But of the Swedish laureates through history Tranströmer is in fact only the second not to be a member of the Swedish Academy at the time of receiving the Prize, the only previous laureate being Selma Lagerlöf, who later became the first female member of the Academy.
This year’s recipient of the most prestigious of all the Nobel Prizes, the Peace Prize, will be announced in Oslo at 1 p.m. tomorrow. A record number of candidates have been nominated and speculation has centred on the Arab spring, but from the various hints dropped by the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s leader, Thorbjørn Jagland, I will not be surprised if the Peace Prize is awarded to the EU.

Monday, 3 October 2011

King opens 156th Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament, which takes place on the second weekday of October (except in election years), is a certain sign of autumn and today the 156th Parliament was opened by the King, accompanied, as is usual, by the Queen and the Crown Prince.
Nowadays Norway is one of only three European monarchies, the other being Britain and the Netherlands, to let Parliament be opened with all the traditional pomp and circumstance. Except for minor changes, such as where the Queen sits, the ceremony in the Parliament Chamber has been the exact same since independence in 1814.
As usual the monarch, standing in front of the throne, read the King’s Speech, which is written by the government and sets out the policy of the government in the coming year. Thereafter the most junior minister reads a speech on the state of the nation, i.e. what has been done in the year that passed, and finally the Speaker of Parliament gives a short speech. The King’s Speech may be read in its entirety here (external link).
The State Opening of Parliament is the only time the King is allowed to be present in the Parliament Building, as the Constitution says that no parliamentary debates can take place in the presence of the monarch. This year has seen an unusual exception from this in that the King and the Crown Prince were present at the commemoration held in the Parliament Chamber following the terrorist attacks on 22 July.
(If someone wonders why this is only the 156th Parliament, considering that Norway has been independent for 197 years, the explanation is that until 1871 Parliament was only held every third year and that there were obviously no Parliament during the German occupation).

New Danish government takes office

Today Queen Margrethe II of Denmark appointed a new government following the centre-left victory in the general election on 16 September and the Social Democrats’, the Danish Social Liberal Party’s and the Socialist People’s Party reaching a government agreement yesterday.
After the new government had been appointed by the Queen at Amalienborg, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt drove to the Prime Minister’s Office at Christiansborg, where her predecessor Lars Løkke Rasmussen was in tears as he handed over the reins of government.
While the leader of the Social Democrats is obviously Prime Minister, the Danish Social Liberal Party’s Margrethe Vestager was appointed Home and Economics Minister and the Socialist People’s Party’s leader Villy Søvndal Foreign Minister. The Social Democrats keep the post of Finance Minister for themselves, a post which was given to Bjarne Corydon following the spectacular end a few days ago of the political career of the obvious candidate Henrik Sass Larsen.
The new cabinet consists of 23 ministers, of whom eleven are Social Democrats, six from the Danish Social Liberal Party and six from the Socialist People’s Party. It is the first time in Danish history that these three parties form a government together (indeed the Socialist People’s Party has never been part of a cabinet before).
Only 39 % of the ministers are women, but the new cabinet is noteworthy for including the youngest minister in Danish history, 26-year-old Thor Möger Pedersen of the Socialist People’s Party, who becomes Minister of Taxes. Indeed there are now two ministers in their twenties, as 29-year-old Astrid Krag from the same party becomes Minister of Health. For the first time there is also a minister of non-European origins, as Manu Sareen of the Danish Social Liberal Party (of Indian origins) becomes Minister of Gender Equality, Church and Nordic Cooperation.
The new government has difficult times ahead of it, not only because of the chaotic economy left behind by the outgoing government, but also because of its parliamentary basis, which means that it will be dependent on the Red-Green Alliance to achieve a parliamentary majority. This may prove a challenge given that there are some significant differences in opinion between the three parties of the government and between them and their support party.
But however this turns out, 3 October 2011 will for always mark a milestone in the history of Denmark not only because it ended ten years of the exceptional circumstances under which the country was governed by a rightwing coalition dependent on the extreme right wing, but also because it marks the day when Denmark got its first female Prime Minister.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Agreement about new Danish government - new cabinet expected tomorrow

It has now been confirmed that the Danish Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party and the Danish Social-Liberal Party have reached an agreement about forming a new government. The agreement will however only be published tomorrow, but we know already now that, as expected, all three parties will be formally part of the cabinet (while the Red-Green Alliance, upon whom the coalition is dependent for parliamentary support, will remain outside cabinet).
The leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was appointed Royal Investigator by Queen Margrethe following the election two weeks ago, will go to Amalienborg in one and a half hour to inform the Queen of the she is ready to form a government. The outgoing, acting Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen will then be summoned to the Queen to confirm that there is not a parliamentary majority against such a government.
Thereafter Helle Thorning-Schmidt will again be summoned by the Queen and appointed “designated Prime Minister”. Tomorrow she will again return to Amalienborg, accompanied by her chosen ministers, and the new cabinet will then be formally appointed. Thus 3 October 2011 is set to become an historical milestone for Denmark.

The “archbishopric” returns to Trondheim

This morning the King, the Speaker of Parliament and other notables were present at mass in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, where Helga Haugland Byfuglien was installed in the new position as Senior Bishop of the Church of Norway, making her in effect (although not in title) the first archbishop in centuries. Indeed this is a doubly historic day as the creation of this new position for the Primate of the Church again makes Trondheim the spiritual capital of Norway.
The last actual Archbishop of Norway was Olav Engelbrektsson, who fled the country at the time of the Reformation in 1536-1537, at which time Norway also lost its status as an independent realm. Subsequently there have been no archbishops, but after Norway regained its independence in 1814 a practice was established, through decisions of 1817 and 1820, whereby the Bishop of Oslo was “primus inter pares” among the bishops.
This arrangement lasted until 1998, since which date the bishops have elected one among their number to be Primate for four years at a time. Eventually it was felt that it was difficult to combine the role of Primate with a bishopric and it was therefore decided to create a twelfth bishop who would be Primate on a permanent basis and not hold any bishopric. On 25 March this year Helga Haugland Byfuglien, until then Bishop of Borg, was appointed to the position by the King in Council.
Parliament furthermore decided, after some political wrangling, that this Senior Bishop should be located in Trondheim. Thus Byfuglien caused quite an outcry when she recently stated her intention only to visit Trondheim when necessary and spend most of her time in Oslo. An apartment has now been arranged for her within walking distance of Nidaros Cathedral and the mediaeval Archbishop’s Palace, where her office will be.