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Swedish royals

September 14, 2009

Sweden is pitching headlong into royal wedding fever with the upcoming nuptials between Crown Princess Victoria and her commoner sweetheart. But some practical Swedes say the monarchy is an outdated tradition.

Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling
Victoria's engagement was a long time comingImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

It's been more than 30 years since the last Swedish royal wedding, and for people like Jenny Alexandersson, a court reporter at the Swedish paper Aftonbladet, that's far too long.

"We have been waiting for seven years, and I know the crown princess has been waiting for seven years," she said, referring to the lengthy courtship between Crown Princess Victoria and her beau, Daniel Westling. "I'm just very happy for her!"

Alexandersson has been reporting on the Swedish royal family for six years, almost since the beginning of Victoria's relationship with fitness-trainer-turned-business-owner Daniel Westling. She says their wedding date has been carefully chosen to coincide with the royal family's 200th anniversary at Sweden's helm. The jubilee, with its many events, is the perfect time to show off the results of the many years that have been spent grooming the groom.

"That's the strategy - it's a way for Daniel to be transformed from an ordinary guy, because no one looks at him as a prince right now," said Alexandersson. "During this big event next year, he can step up and become a prince. After the wedding, everyone will have to call him prince, whereas right now it's just 'Yo Daniel, can you answer a question?'"

An imported monarchy

Sweden's royals at the ballet
The Swedish royal family are descendants of a French marshalImage: dpa

Sweden's royals know a thing or two about adapting to new situations. The family was actually imported - from France. In 1810, after the heir to the Swedish throne died, French Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected to the position and accepted by the royal family, largely as a gesture to Napoleon, who at that time held influence over much of continental Europe.

In 1974, Swedes voted to take political power away from the royal family, leaving them state-sponsored celebrities in a largely ceremonial role, much like the guards in front of the Royal Castle in Stockholm's Old Town. They've had to carve out a new function - one that finds them serving the Swedish people in a very different way.

"Their main task is to do PR for Sweden," said Alexandersson. "I often say that the Crown Princess is a door opener for Swedish companies to make great deals with foreign companies.”

Like anyone in the public eye, the members of the Swedish royal family are quickly scrutinized and criticized by the public for misspeaking, or for engaging the occasional bout of excessive partying. Some Swedes want to do away with the monarchy completely, replacing it with a president as a ceremonial supplement to the elected prime minister. But on the whole, the Bernadottes receive high marks on their performance review, according to Meta Troell, retail trends advisor for the Swedish Trade Federation.

Crown Princess Victoria at a summit in Brussels
The Swedish royals work hard to promote their country abroadImage: AP

"They behave well, they are good-looking, they do good things, and they've always had such a strong integrity," Troell said. "I have seen presidents from all over the world - I won't name any names - that haven't had this integrity. Next year it'll be 200 years since the royal family came to Sweden, and I think they will stay for at least another 200 years."

Troell says businesses are counting on reaping a princely sum from next summer's events.

"We expect that the retailers will earn a lot of money from next year's wedding," she said. "There will be revenues of about 2.5 billion crowns (250 million euros; $354 million) in souvenirs and also the fact that Sweden will be a more interesting place to be a tourist next year."

Doing business for Sweden

She estimates that in addition to the souvenir revenue, there'll be an estimated 200 million crowns in tourist revenue. Hotel rooms have already been booked by people from all over Sweden, Germany, and points beyond. And this cash injection is coming just in time.

The Swedish crown has been one of the stronger currencies in Europe, but the global recession has dethroned it, lowering exports, increasing unemployment, and flattening consumption. This year, the country will have its lowest GDP since World War II, according to Sweden's National Institute for Economic Research. A report by the International Monetary Fund says that recovery won't begin until the middle of 2010, about the same time as the hotly anticipated wedding.

"I think the wedding will give Swedes a lot of hope," said Troell. "It represents glamour, love, and a lot of positive things. And that will also make an impact on the economy."

Postcards showing Swedish royal family
The Royals generate tourism to SwedenImage: DW

An income of 2.5 billion crowns on an investment of 20 million for the cost of the wedding sounds pretty good, but it doesn't stop there. The royal family is essentially on the payroll of the people, with an allotment of 100 million crowns per year - a figure that doesn't include the costs of the royal residences, including the soon-to-be home of the newlyweds.

Haga Palace, built in 1802, has played host to royal guests including Nikita Khrushchev and Mahatma Gandhi. The current king, Carl Gustaf, and his sisters were born there. But ownership of the palace and its large landscaped park has been handed back and forth between the royal family and the citizens.

This summer, the leader of the Swedish Left Party, Lars Ohly, called it "a scandal" that Victoria and Daniel will be able to live in Haga Palace for free, restricting public access to the park with their security detail. That means ordinary Swedes like Mats Almaeus and his wife will no longer be able to stroll up to the royal doorstep, as they're doing today. Almaeus says he doesn't really mind, although he admits he's not a big fan of the royals.

"I think their role is quite out of date," he said. "They're representative for Sweden of course, but they don't do anything for me."

He says they're not worth the money spent on them, but he also doesn't think they'll disappear in his lifetime.

Victoria and Daniel's big day is scheduled for June 19, 2010, but royal wedding fever will probably remain a chronic condition in Sweden. Victoria's younger sister, 27-year-old Princess Madeleine, has just announced her engagement. She is expected to marry her long-time boyfriend Jonas Bergstroem, a lawyer, in late 2010 or early 2011.

Author: Susan Stone (dc)
Editor: Rob Turner

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