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Withdrawal from the union

The union between Norway and Sweden was a union between two independent states, each of which had its own national assembly and its own constitution. The union consisted in the states having a common king and a joint foreign policy; all foreign policy issues were dealt with in Stockholm.

However, the fact that Norway did not have its own consular service, with Norwegian consulates abroad, was considered by the Norwegians to be a clear indication of the country’s subordinate position in the union. This had become a significant issue in Norway, especially for the Liberal Party. The Storting (Norwegian national assembly) had repeatedly adopted the decision to establish a Norwegian consular service for over 10 years, but each time King Oscar II had refused to sanction the decision.

Controversial conditions

In 1902 the question of a Norwegian consular service was again raised, and in autumn 1903 negotiations with the Swedes on the relations between the two countries were resumed. The outlook appeared promising, but in 1904 the Norwegians experienced a setback. The Swedish Government proposed a number of conditions that Norway found unacceptable.

The conditions included a stipulation that Sweden would have the final word in the event of disagreement and that the Swedish foreign minister had the power to suspend a Norwegian diplomat. Norway considered it unacceptable that Sweden should be in a position to dismiss a Norwegian senior official.

The Norwegian Government demanded that the conditions be withdrawn, but the Swedes refused to agree.

King Oscar refuses his sanction

On 11 March 1905 the Norwegian prime minister Christian Michelsen formed a new government. In its inaugural address the new government stated that it would exercise “Norway’s constitutional right to its own consular service and assert Norway’s sovereignty as a free and independent state". These words did not necessarily imply a break with the union, but an increasing number of people became convinced that the only solution was dissolution.

At the end of May both chambers of the Storting, the Odelsting and the Lagting, adopted the Consular Act. When King Oscar responded by refusing to sanction it, the Government resigned. The King at first refused to accept the Government’s resignation, but was persuaded to do so by his son, Crown Prince Gustav. However, the King added a protocol stating that: “Since it is clear to me that no other government can now be formed, I do not accept the ministers’ resignations.”

Resolution of 7 June

In response to the King’s protocol the Storting passed a resolution on 7 June unilaterally dissolving the union. The reasons given by the Storting were that since all the members of the Council of State had resigned their offices, and since the King had declared that he was unable to give the country a new government, the King was no longer fulfilling his constitutional obligations. The Storting therefore authorised the members of the Council of State to continue to function as a government in accordance with the Norwegian Constitution and existing law, which would necessarily be amended to take account of the fact that the union with Sweden under a single king had been dissolved since the King was no longer functioning as king of Norway.

Referendum

Sweden refused to accept the Norwegian resolution and maintained that certain conditions had to be fulfilled before the union could be dissolved. These included the holding of a referendum to find out whether the Norwegian people agreed with the Storting’s decision.

On 13 August 1905 the country went to the polls. There were 368,208 votes in favour of dissolution and 184 against. Only men had the vote, but 244,765 women had signed lists supporting dissolution.

Negotiations in Karlstad

Negotiations on Norway’s formal withdrawal from the union began on 31 August. Relations were tense, and troops were mobilised on both sides of the border. There was a very real danger of war. On 23 September, however, the negotiations reached a peaceful conclusion. Oscar II formally recognised Norway as an independent state and on 26 October he abdicated from the Norwegian throne. He also declined the offer to constitute a Swedish prince as king of Norway. The union between Norway and Sweden had been dissolved without a shot being fired.

13.02.2011