Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Norway has a new government

In an extraordinary State Council at 10 a.m. today the King formally released Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his centre-left coalition government from their duties. In another extraordinary State Council at noon the King appointed Erna Solberg, the leader of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister. She will lead a minority coalition of her own party and the far right wing Progress Party, making her one of the first Conservative party leaders in Europe to welcome a right wing populist party into the government offices.
The new government has eighteen ministers, down from twenty at the end of the Stoltenberg era, which is explained by the merging of the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs with the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and there, significantly, no longer being a Minister of International Development. The Conservatives have eleven of the posts, leaving seven to the Progress Party.
While Erna Solberg is Prime Minister, the leader of the Progress Party, Siv Jensen, has been appointed Minister of Finance, which promises to be interesting. For the Conservative Party Børge Brende becomes Foreign Minister, Jan Tore Sanner Minister of Local Government and Reform, Vidar Helgesen Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for European affairs (also an interesting choice of priorities), Thorhild Widwey Minister of Culture and Church Affairs (the name Church is, interestingly, retained although the state church has now been abolished), Elisabeth Aspaker Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs (which will now longer be a ministry of its own, but will merge with the Ministry of Commerce), Kristine (Tine) Sundtoft Minister of Climate and Environment, Monica Mæland Minister of Commerce, Bent Høie Minister of Health and Care Services, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide Minister of Defence and Torbjørn Røe Isaksen Minister of Education and Research.
The loudest members of the Progress Party’s right wing have, interestingly, mostly been left out of the cabinet. Ketil Solvik-Olsen, the moderate deputy leader of the party, has been appointed Minister of Transport and Communications, while the other deputy leader, the far from moderate Per Sandberg, claims he has declined a cabinet post as he wants to spend more time with the family. Anders Anundsen becomes Minister of Justice and Public Security, Tord Lien Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Solveig Horne Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Robert Eriksson Minister of Labour and Social Services and Sylvi Listhaug Minister of Agriculture and Food.

Prince Carl Philip not behind “his” design work

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden has in recent years been branded as the new “design prince”, a title often accorded to his late great-uncle, Sigvard Bernadotte, who won international renown as an industrial designer, but it has now been revealed that his claim to be a designer is a dubious one.
In the new issue of the magazine Form (no 5 - 2013) Bo Madestrand claimed (external link) to have proof that the Prince had not actually designed any of the works he is credited with, mentioning in particular the firescreen “The Castle on Fire”, which shows the silhouette of the old royal castle in Stockholm, which burned down in 1697. This was, according to Form, designed by another, anonymous designer.
The topic was picked up by Svenska Dagbladet on Monday (external link), where the journalist Erica Treijs recalled how the Prince obviously struggled at a press conference dedicated to his alleged work.
On Tuesday, the renowned company Svenskt Tenn, which sells the firescreen, decided to delete the Prince’s name from the information about the screen, rather crediting it to the design company CPhB Design AB (CPhB = Carl Philip Bernadotte).
Last night the designer Eric Ericson stepped forward (external link) to admit that he is the actual designer of the firescreen. He was at first asked to supervise the Prince’s work, he says, but soon realised that he was supposed to do all the work. Ericson describes it as an “unserious cooperation” and agrees with the others who in recent days have voiced the opinion that the Prince lacks the drive necessary to do the job, but adds that the Prince may become a designer through hard work.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Prime Minister to tender resignation

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will submit his and thereby his centre-left coalition government’s resignation to the King today. At 10 a.m. the Minister of Finance, Sigbjørn Johnsen, will present the fiscal budget for 2014 to Parliament, after which the Prime Minister will inform Parliament of his intention to resign as a result of the election results.
His resignation will be tendered in an extraordinary State Council at the Royal Palace at 1 p.m. and the King will ask Stoltenberg to lead a caretaker government until the new government takes office. On the advice of the outgoing Prime Minister the King will then ask the leader of the Conservative Party, Erna Solberg, to form a new government. It is expected that the new cabinet, which will be a coalition of the Conservatives and the right wing populist Progress Party, will be appointed in an extraordinary State Council on Wednesday.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

My latest article: Norwegian secundogeniture

Today I have a two-page article in Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper, about the secundogeniture idea in the second Swedish-Norwegian union, i.e. the idea that the personal union could be dissolved by the Crown Prince inheriting the crown of Sweden while a younger prince became King of Norway.
There are plenty of examples of secundogeniture solutions being used to dissolve unions or keep countries apart (for instance Austria and Tuscany) and it was also through secundogeniture that the first Swedish-Norwegian union was dissolved in 1343.
The idea was mentioned in the 1880s, but gained momentum from 1897 and had supporters in high places, possibly including members of the royal family, but did not come to fruition before the Norwegian Parliament unilaterally declared the union dissolved on 7 June 1905. However, there are certain indications that the idea might have succeeded if the union had been dissolved through bilateral negotiations.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Conservative Speaker in defiance of parliamentary custom

Receiving the King and Queen of the Netherlands yesterday turned out to be one of the last things Dag Terje Andersen did in his role as Speaker of the Norwegian Parliament. It was announced yesterday that the Conservative MP Olaf Michael “Olemic” Thommessen will be elected Speaker when the new Parliament is constituted on 8 October. This is somewhat surprising as Thommessen was widely expected to become Minister of Culture in the new government and because it breaks with tradition whereby the Speaker is normally chosen among MPs from the largest party in Parliament, i.e. the Labour Party.
There are six seats in Parliament’s Presidium and while a parliamentary majority may in theory choose to use their strength to fill all seats with their own there is a “gentlemen’s agreement” that these ought to be distributed between the parties after size.
In the previous term this meant that Labour, which was significantly larger than any other party, had the posts of Speaker and Third Vice Speaker, the Progress Party the First Vice Speaker, the Conservatives the Second Vice Speaker, the Socialist Left Party the Fourth Vice Speaker and the Christian People’s Party the Fifth Vice Speaker. The last position should by right have been held by the Centre Party, but was given to the Christian People’s Party so that there were as many members of the presidium from the parties forming a majority government as from the opposition.
Having won a majority in this year’s general election the four parties to the right of the political centre have apparently decided to dispense with this parliamentary custom. It is, however, not the first time this happens; between 1985 and 1993 the centre-right majority ensured that the Speaker’s chair was filled by the Conservative MP Jo Benkow.
It remains to be decided who will be the other five members of the Presidium.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Prince Daniel and Prince Carl Philip awarded Order of the Polar Star

The President of Portugal, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, and his wife Maria yesterday began a state visit to Sweden and at the state banquet at the Royal Palace in Stockholm last night Prince Daniel and Prince Carl Philip wore what appears to be the neck-bagde of the Order of the Polar Star, which I am almost sure they have never worn before.
The royal website does not say anything about when they were awarded this second highest order, but what makes it all more peculiar is that the two princes wore it from the black riband that was exchanged for a blue one with yellow edges (like the Swedish flag) at the time of the order reform in 1975.
King Carl Gustaf habitually wears the Polar Star in its black riband when in civilian dress (and the now defunct Sword Order when in uniform), but this is because he was awarded the order before 1975. Christopher O’Neill, on the other hand, who was given the order on 6 June this year, two days before he married Princess Madeleine, wears it in the modern blue and yellow riband.
The only possible explanation I can think of for why the two princes have been given the old version must be that King Carl Gustaf has decided that members of the royal house (who are, since 1995, excluded from the rule which prohibits the award of Swedish orders to Swedish citizens) shall wear the old version. But if so, that is a new invention, given that the late Princess Lilian always wore the modern version of the grand cross from 1976 until she was given the higher Seraphim Order in 1995. (On the other hand, Princess Lilian received it just before the wedding when she was still a British subject).

Dutch King and Queen in Oslo

Today the new King and Queen of the Netherlands will pay a brief visit to Oslo. This is one of the one-day so-called introductory visits King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima are undertaking after their accession on 30 April. These visits are a new invention and are not state visits, but courtesy calls. Similar visits have already been made to other European heads of state, including the Queens of Denmark and Britain.
The King and Queen will hold a lunch at the Royal Palace in honour of the Dutch guests, which will also be attended by the Crown Prince and Crown Princess and by Princess Astrid. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima will also meet outgoing Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and go to the Parliament Building to call on the Speaker of Parliament, Dag Terje Andersen (as the new Parliament convened yesterday but has not yet been constituted or opened the Speaker of the previous Parliament is still carrying out the duties of his office).

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Queen Máxima designated Dutch regent

The Dutch Government Information Service yesterday announced that the government has made a proposition to Parliament designating Queen Máxima regent if the Princess of Orange, Princess Catharina-Amalia, should succeed to the throne before reaching her eighteenth birthday. If the Princess comes to the throne as a minor and Queen Máxima should herself be deceased the regency will devolve to Prince Constantijn, King Willem-Alexander’s only brother.
This is in line with Dutch and Orange traditions, whereby the surviving parent rather than the nearest adult in the line of succession has generally been designated regent. This was also the case in the reign of Queen Beatrix, when her consort, Prince Claus, was designated regent ahead of her sister, Princess Margriet.
The last time such a scenario became a reality was in 1890, when King Willem III upon his death was succeeded by his ten-year-old daughter Wilhelmina, whose mother, Queen Emma, served as regent for the next eight years. There are also several examples from before the House of Orange became the Dutch royal family of mothers deputising for their minor sons.

Right wing populists to enter Norwegian government

It was announced yesterday that the talks between the four parties right of the political centre which began after Norway’s general election on 9 September have concluded that the Conservative Party and the right wing populist Progress Party will begin negotiations to form a minority coalition government, while the two centre-right parties, the Liberal Party and the Christian People’s Party, will not enter the coalition. However, the four parties, who together hold a parliamentary majority, have signed an agreement whereby the Liberal Party and the Christian People’s Party have received certain concessions and the incoming government has agreed to seek parliamentary support from them.
If the negotiations succeed and lead to the formation of a government it will be the first time in Norwegian history that the Progress Party enters the government offices and indeed one of the few examples of a Conservative party forming a government with the right wing populists.
The King will open the new Parliament on 9 October. Five days later the outgoing Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, will present the fiscal budget for 2014 and thereafter tender his and his centre-left coalition government’s resignation to the King. The new government will thereafter take office within a few days.
The outcome announced yesterday marks the failure of the preferred strategy of incoming Prime Minister Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party, whose aim was a majority government which included all the four parties right of the political centre. As things stand she will now first have to make compromises to the right with the Progress Party, which on crucial issues have placed itself outside the general political consensus, and when this has been achieved the government will have to make another compromise to the left to find parliamentary support. The next four years will surely not be boring politically.