Little political support for forced municipal mergers

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In the midst of all the publicity around the recent annual conference of employers’ organization NHO, the powerful business lobbying group’s main message almost got lost and then got politically squashed: Neither the government nor many opposition parties in Parliament support NHO’s call to force municipalities (kommuner) around Norway to merge.

Companies argue it will vastly reduce bureaucracy, cut costs and streamline public sector services. The state has handed over responsibility for everything from nursing homes to day care to centers to the local governments, yet some are so small that they have trouble carrying out the services. NHO claims mergers would bring about more efficiency at less taxpayer cost.

Mergers, however, would also reduce public employment levels because of less administration, and that clearly seems to be a threat to many areas that don’t want to lose the jobs. Top local officials likely don’t want to give up their jobs, or power, either, while some fear it would reduce local democracy.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg flatly refused to initiate any legislation that would force municipal mergers. He also noted that “a solid majority” in Parliament believes any mergers should be voluntary, and initiated by the municipalities themselves.

The issue, though, probably won’t be dropped by NHO, which attracted a wide range of Norway’s movers and shakers to its conference at Oslo’s Opera House. The conference got the most coverage, though, as the scene of Trade Minister Trond Giske’s vigorous lobbying efforts to block the sale of TV2 to a Danish company. Top NHO officials themselves wound up as targets of the lobbying, which resulted in Giske being called into Parliament to explain himself last week.

Views and News staff