The gossip debate may obscure the important issues

Chronicles/analysis | 2010-11-08 | 3 comments

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The King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf. Photo: Wikimedia

When the book "Carl XVI Gustaf – the reluctant monach" is now released, the monarch's private life is scrutinized. Speculation about who he was partying with, whom he flirts with and what he might do at his spare time will rise. Unfortunately, this will once again obscure the important issues, namely what role the monarch, Carl XVI Gustaf, has played as the Head of state in Sweden.

”The King shall rule the country alone” This phrase comes from the 1809 Swedish constitution and was in force until 1969 when the decision to let the principles of parliamentarism to rule Sweden was finally made. (Even though the real political power had already for a long time been in the hands of the democratically elected parliament and government).

As late as World War II, the King Gustaf V acted on his own, and in particular tried make peace between Britain and the then victorious Nazi Germany, and he also pressed for allowing the transit of German troops through Sweden.

So the royals have, even in modern times, influenced political events in Sweden. But with the Constitutional reform 1974, the monarch was left without formal power and authority as part of the so-called Torekov compromise between the social democrats and the non-socialist parties. Thus Sweden differs from other countries where the monarch had important tasks such as, for example, to propose head of government to Parliament or appoint provincial governors or other officeholders.

Not without influence

But few are aware of the importance of the Swedish monarch. He actually affects politics and economics in a fundamental way, through his actions – or non-action. His representative and ceremonial functions may seem innocent, but still has some significance. The state visits may have political impact, which was shown by the notorious statement about how democratic the Sultan of Brunei really was. The king can also to some extent select what countries and which heads of state to visit as well as the timing, which can be important.

Major policy issues are also presented for the king at the cabinet meetings, or privately with the Prime Minister and Chairman of the parliament. This gives the king, in full accordance with the Constitution, access to information that may be valuable and used in other contexts.

Add to that a couple of possibilities to influence politics in a more informal way. To understand the king's influence in Sweden, one must also know that the royal family has a strong grip on our minds. The reactions after the king's speech after the tsunami disaster is an example, but also his views on environmental issues at different times. So the king has a strong position as a kind of lobbyist for certain issues.

"The unknown power elite"

The Focus magazine review of King's networking (in Swedish) with others in the power elite in Sweden also showed extensive social interaction and contacts with other people in power with the aim of consolidating the royal family's position. Economically, the royal house have considerable value as a brand at the world market where such things as monarchy and a Royal Court is often seen as quaint and amusing. Therefore the state visits are accompanied by CEOs and directors and mostly from the largest companies. Two groups were identified by the Focus magazine as particularly well integrated in the King's network and favored with trips, medals and royal hunting trips: people in the forest industry and the Wallenberg sphere.

Incidentally about the same circles that seemed settled close to the royal family network as early as 40 years ago when the famous journalist Åke Ortmark made a serious study of this. His book on "The unknown power elite" put the finger on the status and power of the royals in the contemporary society. The parallels with our time are often striking.

Wrong focus in the media coverage

Now there is a critical book on the current king "Carl XVI Gustaf - the reluctant monarch." It seems from the headlines to be of the more sensational than serious nature, however. The authors seem to have done a real attempt to prove all the rumors circulating around the monarch's private parties and extramarital relations. The sources are however in many cases anonymous and impossible to control and in other cases as credible as criminal strip club- and blind pig-owners tend to be…

The critical examination of the king and royal family is therefore still lacking. The power and the influence that is connected to the monarchy is more important than his private sins and should rather be discussed. Will it happen during this debate?


Henrik Lindberg is researcher at the Ratio Insitute.

Readers' comments

2012-03-29 16:48 holmqvist33 wrote:
Our King Gustafs deserve more respect by us !!! ))
2010-11-16 15:45 robin tremmel wrote:
What a farce.Its about time we got rid of them...
2010-11-09 00:32 Moreda Diriba wrote:
I thought about this king when I read how he used his influence in Brazil to increase swedish export.He is helping the country, besides he is a well disiplend man that his private life shouldnt be exagerated

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