A Norwegian Sense Of Obligation

Norwegian King Harald V.  Photo: P. J. George

Norwegian King Harald V. Photo: P. J. George

From today’s Hindu, an interview with the King of Norway. It may be an example of noblesse oblige, but it is an interesting story at a time when some other developed economies have determinedly charged hard right, away from state-sponsored welfare:

‘We had a problem — too much money’

Interview with Norwegian King, Harald V, on the country’s successful welfare model, its oil and gas reserves and the threat of climate change

The Norwegian society is at present debating several issues, including its economy, climate change, immigration and the changing cultural milieu. In all these, the country often looks to its King, Harald V, for a decisive voice… A renowned sailor, he carries out royal duties with aplomb even at the age of 77. He spoke to The Hindu recently in Oslo on the triumphs and concerns of his country. Excerpts:

Norway has topped the United Nations Human Development Index 11 times as a welfare state. What is it with Norway that can explain this position?

We have been very lucky. We have had oil since the end of the 1960s. Even before that we were established as a well-organised nation — everything was in place. I think we were one of the first smaller industrialised nations that found oil. It created a problem that nobody had had before — that we had too much money. So we made this government pension fund that was supposed to take care of the future, and it does to a certain extent take care of us today as well. We have all these systems in Scandinavia to ensure that even if you are unemployed for a period, you still earn 80 per cent of what you used to. You are taken care of in a way. We can afford it because we have been lucky.

What challenges do you see to the welfare model in the coming years?

There are challenges because we are getting old. In the 1960s there were almost four people working for one pensioner. Now there are about 2.5, and in the future the number could be reduced further to less than two workers for every pensioner. It could become a problem but they are trying to solve it.

Depleting oil is a concern for Norway. Is the country readying for a post-oil economy?

You see it in the newspapers everyday: what do we do after the oil? The oil is going down, definitely; but the gas is longer term. I think we have gas for the next 70 to 80 years. We are still part of the oil age but we are trying to get more independent of the oil.

What role does Norway see for emerging nations and immigrants?

We have great use for a qualified labour force. Ours is a very small country — we are only five million people. Our problem is that we don’t have enough people…

Norway has put in a lot of effort on climate change, in negotiations and implementation. What is the next step?

I think we are now working hard towards that meeting in 2015 [the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris]. To try and get something down on paper that is solid, that we can use.

India has been given a permanent observer status in the Arctic among some other countries. How do you see Norway and India working together in the Arctic region?

India already has a station in Svalbard. It looks a bit strange that somebody in the warm climate is interested in the Antarctic and the Arctic! But that is where we see the changes most quickly as far as climate change is concerned. I was there only last year and it is very very obvious what is happening, much more obvious than we can see down here.

Norway has always had a strong role in international forums. Now, many talk about the 21st century being dubbed as the ‘Asian Century.’

That is my feeling too. That is what is happening and you see it in India definitely and in the rest of Asia too. Well, we have only started on the 21st century, so time will show.

Read the whole story here.

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