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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Norwegians start monarchy debate
Norway's Crown Prince Haakon
Crown Prince Haakon raised eyebrows by dating a commoner
By Andrew Glasse in Oslo

Norwegians are for the first time seriously debating the abolition of the monarchy in favour of a republic.

This has always been a subject left to the extreme left-wing and one or two intellectual thinkers.

The tabloids have had a field day. The question of poor judgement on the part of the young royals has turned into a debate on the future existence of the monarchy

Norwegians have traditionally held their royal family in high regard. After all, it was King Haakon, Norway's first king since independence in 1905, who said no to the German invaders in 1940.

Every Norwegian knows how his son King Olav was an active ski jumper, and how he took the tram up into the woods outside Oslo to go skiing.

The Norwegian royals have been close to their people, at the same time as representing Norway abroad in a way everybody could be proud of.

Change of opinion

But recent events have placed all these valuable eggs in a very risky basket.

Fuelling the debate
Crown Prince Haakon moves in with commoner with child from previous relationship

Haakon linked to pop festival and drug taking

Princess Martha Louise has relationship with jet set author

52% want referendum on monarchy
The present king, Harald, has accepted the engagement of his son, Crown Prince Haakon, to a commoner, Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby.

A tall graceful looking girl, she already has a four-year-old son from an earlier relationship.

Many Norwegians felt this was stretching the limits somewhat, others argued they were living in the third millennium and times had moved on.

Haakon was only doing what many other ordinary people do in this country.

However, his links to a pop festival where drug-taking is prevalent have pushed opinion closer to the edge.

No-one is saying Haakon is smoking pot, or popping pills but there are those who point out that a future king should draw a line at attending events where this sort of thing goes on.

Poor judgement

To add grist to the mill, Haakon's elder sister, Martha Louise, has also made the headlines with her new relationship with jet set author Ari Behn.

King Harald of Norway
King Harald presides over a family with a crumbling reputation
Debate has focused on Mr Behn's background after he appeared in a television programme appearing to boast about having smoked marijuana.

The tabloids have had a field day. The question of poor judgement on the part of the young royals has turned into a debate on the future existence of the monarchy.

An opinion poll last week showed that as many as 52% of respondents wanted a referendum on the issue.

The attack comes from two sides. The traditional republicans, who say the royal family is an expensive anachronism, and the traditional monarchists, who are appalled at what they see as disgraceful behaviour from two of Norway's foremost foreign representatives.

The monarchy costs Norway about $14.5m a year.

Presidential candidates?

Satirists are also exploiting the situation. They have been looking for potential presidential candidates, and these are thin on the ground.

Both former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and Crown Prince Haakon himself have been suggested, the crown prince being the favourite.

This poses the difficult question of whether the prince regards himself a monarchist or a republican.

But despite all the debate and scandal, the Norwegian people remain essentially in favour of the monarchy.

See also:

15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Norway
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