An interview with The King on 40 years as Sweden's Head of State

Motiv: The King in Queen Lovisa Ulrika's Dining Hall at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. Photo: Alexis Daflos/
On a late afternoon towards the end of January, The King sits in his office at the Royal Palace of Stockholm and reflects on his time on the throne. 2013 is the 40th year of The King's reign, and the preparations for the jubilee have been under way for several months.
King Gustaf VI Adolf, The King's grandfather, died on 15 September 1973. Four days later, King Carl XVI Gustaf gave his speech from the throne in the Hall of State at the Royal Palace of Stockholm, and became Sweden's new Head of State. Afterwards, the people paid homage to The King as he stood on the balcony on Lejonbacken.
Have Your Majesty's 40 years as Head of State gone quickly?
"They've gone incredibly quickly," says The King with great confidence as he contemplates his jubilee year.
What are Your Majesty's hopes for your jubilee year?
"One of the best things about significant years is that they provide the opportunity to look forwards as well as backwards. Forty years is a very long time, and so much has happened. I was a relatively young man of 27 when I ascended to the throne, and I saw the world through the eyes of a 27-year-old. Now, 40 years later, I have a certain amount of experience to draw on. And the world around us has changed on many levels and in many different ways; even in terms of the proximity of the immediate family circle, in Sweden and in the world. It is sometimes said in jest that everything was so much better before, but that simply isn't true. In many ways, the world has become a better place in which to live for most people, but there is still a great deal of poverty and need in the world."
What was the first thing Your Majesty did as king?
"I was 27 years old, and the organisation of the monarchy had been structured to suit my grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf, who was 92 years old. At that time, it was my grandfather and Marshal of the Realm Stig H:son Ericson who led the work here at the palace. In order to encourage more open discussion, I established a cooperation council consisting of a group of skilled and experienced people, women and men with backgrounds in industry, defence and culture. I believe that the Royal Court features greater transparency today. There has been an enormous amount of change, and the change process continues all the time. When it comes to the role of Head of State, that's set out in the constitution."
Did Your Majesty discuss this with King Gustaf VI Adolf?
"No, not at all. Once, when I was in my twenties, my grandfather told me to approach life with a certain sense of humour. Of course, I treat people and situations seriously. But you have to be able to bring out the positive and humorous sides of life sometimes. It was his way of saying that the role is not as onerous as he may have feared I would find it."
How has Your Majesty found it, spending 40 years always having to think about how people will take what Your Majesty says?
"Well, that's one area where I haven't always entirely succeeded. But joking aside, perhaps that's something we should all think about: What we say, in which situation, to whom, and so on."
On ascending to the throne, Your Majesty adopted the motto "For Sweden — With the Times". What have been the greatest challenges involved in following this motto?
"I have tried to live according to my motto by being sensitive to the currents in society, and to the demands, needs and expectations placed on a monarch with the times. For me, it's a matter of living in harmony with developments in Sweden and the whole of the ever-changing world that we are a part of."
How does Your Majesty look upon the role of acting as a unifying force within the country?
"In today's globalised world, I feel that my role is even more important. It means that I can show — within the EU and the world, and particularly in Sweden, which today is made up of citizens from many different backgrounds — what Sweden stands for, and act as a unifying force as a neutral and non-partisan Head of State."
In connection with Your Majesty's 40th jubilee, The King and Queen will be travelling around Sweden and visiting all 21 counties. What are Your Majesty's hopes for these county visits?
"These visits will be a fantastic opportunity to get an overall impression of developments and the future within each county, over the course of a year. We hope to be able to meet as many people as possible. Women and men, people of all ages, new and old Swedes, all of whom contribute towards shaping our country."
Which important, topical social issues will Your Majesty be addressing during these visits?
"In view of my interest in environmental issues, the environment will be a natural part of the programme. I also hope that we will get an insight into the counties' infrastructures, job markets, industries, culture, healthcare, schools and care services."
Your Majesty has travelled throughout Sweden during the past 40 years. How does Your Majesty keep abreast of significant events and changes within the counties?
"We carry out a number of municipal visits every year. Sometimes we come back to see how things have gone for a new industry, tourist centre or integration project. I like to be able to show my commitment to their ideas."
Throughout Your Majesty's 40-year reign, Your Majesty has carried out state visits all over the world on behalf of the Government. With a couple of state visits each year, this has resulted in an impressive list of countries visited, involving countless meetings with different people and experiences of different cultures. During these visits, what picture of Sweden does Your Majesty get?
"As a nation, Sweden enjoys an excellent reputation in the world. This is something that The Queen and I often find during our state visits. Both Sweden and her people are seen in a very positive light. Our services and products are something we should be proud of. Sweden is respected as a nation, and I am both delighted and proud to represent our country. For example, the Nobel Prize attracts a great deal of attention, and helps to portray Sweden as a country that promotes education and science. In recent years, there has been much talk about our former Prime Minister Olof Palme here at home, and the conversation often turns to him and his international actions when we visit other countries, such as those in Africa and Latin America."
Has the international image of Sweden changed over the years?
"Classic Swedish industry no longer exists in the way it once did. Today, companies are owned internationally, and it's harder to stage industrial exhibitions and say 'Look what we produce here'. But we still have our technical expertise, knowledge and craftsmanship. Swedish research and innovation are often spoken about abroad."
Has forging personal contacts become more important as a purpose of state visits?
"That is — and always has been — incredibly important. We are a small nation, and we need to cooperate across international borders. Sweden's longstanding excellent reputation makes it easy to forge good contacts."
What does Your Majesty find to be the most rewarding thing about these visits?
"When I succeed in opening doors for others, and when we are received in a new country on state visits, in a new culture, and represent Sweden, that's when I feel a sense of pride and great humility in view of the situation and the task at hand. Or when I hear the Swedish national anthem and see our flag at sporting events — that arouses a particularly strong emotion."
How does all the travelling and meeting people affect Your Majesty? Does every meeting lead to action and involvement?
"Yes. We prepare by hearing from diplomats from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who tell us about the country we will be visiting. They tell us about the culture, history and political situation of the country in question, giving us a deeper insight. Once we arrive, we take part in interesting meetings and see many different things. That gives us many impressions, even if the visit is only brief. As a result, we become very involved and get an understanding of the country or place we've visited."
With 40 years of experience as Head of State, what does Your Majesty see as the greatest challenges for the future?
"There are many challenges. I look forward with great optimism, but also with a certain degree of concern. Technological developments will provide immense opportunities for mankind in the future, which is incredibly exciting and gives me hope. My concerns revolve around environmental issues and the considerable challenge of leaving our vulnerable planet in a good condition for future generations. But if we take advantage of our opportunities, all the positive and hopeful things I see during my travels — both here in Sweden and abroad — then I am convinced that, together, we have a promising future ahead of us."