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Will the King of Norway be the next Nordic royal to abdicate?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Will the King of Norway be the next Nordic royal to abdicate?
Norway's King Harald V at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022. PHOTO: Gareth Fuller/AFP

Queen Margrethe II’s surprise abdication after 52 years on the throne of Denmark left Danes in shock, and some Norwegians wondering if their own king might ever hang up his crown.

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Queen Margrethe told the Danish nation in her New Year's speech that she was stepping down because of failing health. But Norway's King Harald, at 86 years old, is three years Margrethe's senior, and has suffered health problems every bit as severe as she has. 

Might he make the same decision? 

In her speech, Margrethe said that the back surgery she had received in 2023 had forced her to reconsider her earlier opposition to abdication.  

"The surgery naturally gave rise to thinking about the future - whether the time had come to leave the responsibility to the next generation," she said.

But Harald V has been absent on sick leave at least three times in the recent past: in December 2022, in May 2023, and in October 2023, the first two due to infections and the third to Covid.

He has received heart surgery twice, in 2005 and 2020, and underwent surgery for bladder cancer back in 2003. He has walked with the aid of crutches for several years, and on a visit to Denmark in June, he stumbled after leaving his royal yacht.

'Until the bitter end'

But royal commentators in Norway believe that despite his clear health problems, it is unlikely that King Harald will follow Queen Margrethe's example and leave the throne to his son, Crown Prince Haakon.    

"King Harald has said that he will sit until 'the bitter end', and there is no tradition of Norwegian monarchs abdicating," Caroline Vagle, royal expert with the celebrity magazine Se og Hør, told the Dagbladet newspaper.
 
"But I would have said the same about Queen Margrethe, so you should never say never. It could be that the Danish queen starts a new trend. But quite frankly, I don't think that will happen."
 
Ole-Jørgen Schulsrud-Hansen, royal commentator for TV 2, agreed that Harald was unlikely to abdicate.
 
"He has also said that if the children think he is going gaga, they must speak up, but based on the interviews this Christmas, it is quite clear that the king still has his marbles," he told the NTB newswire.

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A job for life
 
King Harald -- like Margrethe II admittedly -- has repeatedly insisted that he will never abdicate. 
 
"I have taken an oath to the Storting [Norway's parliament], which I believe will last for life. It's that simple," he told Dagens Næringsliv back in 2019.
 
In that interview, he noted that when is own father, King Olav, became seriously ill, he -- Harald -- had taken over the royal duties, just as Olav had done for his own father, Haakon VII. Olav nonetheless continued as king until his death in 1991.  
 
"In the two times I have experienced a change in who has been on the throne, the king has been on sick leave for the previous year and a half," the king told the newspaper. "Then the Crown Prince has become regent. It has become a tradition in this country for us to hold on until the bitter end."
 
In "The King tells", or Kongen forteller, a 2020 book of interviews with the king by the newspaper editor Harald Stranghelle, Harald again insisted that he would never abdicate. 
 
"Once you have taken an oath to the Storting, it lasts for life. It's that simple for me. We're at it until the bitter end. There is something about 'the King is dead, long live the King'."
 

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Popularity contest 
 
In Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf, has been similarly insistent that he will not abdicate, but in his case the situation is complicated by the fact that his daughter, Crown Princess Victoria, is much more popular than he is. 
 
Victoria had the highest popularity level ever measured in the popularity index put together earlier this year by Gothenburg University's SOM institute: +28 on a scale of -50 to +50. 
 
Her father had a much lower score of +15, even though this was better than the low of +11 he received in 2011, when he was suffering the impact of a muck-raking biography. 
 
In Norway, the situation is reversed. A poll by Yougov in 2021 found that Harald V was the man who was "most admired" by Norwegians -- ahead even of US President Barack Obama and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. 
 
Queen Sonja also did well. She was the second most admired woman, just behind Michelle Obama. Crown Prince Haakon, however, didn't make it to the list. 

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