Your Royal Highness,
Fellow Members of the Storting,
Today, we open the 164th Storting. Once again, we as representatives of the people take our seats in this chamber to address the major responsibilities that have been entrusted to us.
We do it at a time when faith and confidence in our democratic institutions continues to creak at the joints in many places around the world. There is little to suggest that the trends that have troubled us over the past few years are soon about to change.
Of particular concern is the belief that democratic traditions, democratic rules, and the institutions that support them appear to be under attack from both above and below in some of our oldest and most prominent democracies.
Fortunately, September’s elections in this country indicate that our own democracy is still in good health. Election turnout in the local government elections was higher than in 2015.
Surely cause for optimism? Not least, since this year it is exactly a century ago that people who were on poor relief were finally given the right to vote.
Widows who needed help to feed their children were no longer considered as irresponsible citizens and kept away from the ballot boxes. Neither did the loss of your job because of an accident or illness mean that you were barred from taking part in democracy.
Food for thought that it is only three generations ago since our own path to democracy finally reached a point at which we could genuinely say that we had universal suffrage in Norway.
It is our responsibility as Members of Parliament to carry out our duties so that the voters continue to think that it is correct, natural and necessary to use the right to vote that their ancestors fought for.
One week ago, I visited a primary school in Vadsø in Northern Norway. The children asked me all sorts of interesting questions. One clever pupil asked if it was hard to respect each other in the Storting.
My honest answer was “No, it isn’t.”
Yet it is a timely and important question all the same. It strikes at the very heart of the challenges we may soon have to face; challenges that have risen to the surface in several other countries.
We ourselves are in danger of putting democracy at risk if we can´t show each other and the people we represent that our political work is marked by respect. Respect for the trust that our voters have invested in us. Respect for the views that our political opponents represent; views that their own electors have given a legitimate place to in this chamber.
We are acutely aware that our voters follow us closely. We also know that they will vote at the next election in the firm belief – not just the hope – that those who represent them in the future will also spend their time and their efforts on the important issues. On the solutions to the questions that consume people’s everyday lives. Such as good health services when they need them; climate and the environment; a safe society with hope for the future and opportunities for all.
I have no doubt that this is what we all hope to achieve in the parliamentary year ahead.
Children and young people, still too young to vote, also follow us keenly. They have harnessed the power that rests in the right to raise your voice – yes, roar out – for the things they are passionate about. We must take them and others like them seriously and treat them with respect, regardless of whether we share their views or not.
I have no doubt that we will also do this.
As we convene once again to carry out our weighty duties, it is in the knowledge of the important tasks ahead and the responsibilities we have assumed.
Let us join together in the traditional words:
God save the King and the Fatherland!