Residents of several communities around Kristiansand in Southern Norway voted against teaming up in the latest round of referenda on various municipal merger proposals. A solid majority of those voting in Søgne, Birkenes, Songdalen and Lillesand weren’t interested in becoming part of a new and much bigger Kristiansand.
It was another defeat for state government officials trying to consolidate Norway’s 428 local governments. The voting around Kristiansand was especially important, after efforts to merge communities in and around Stavanger failed in other recent voting.
In some cases, the rejection of proposed municipal mergers was overwhelming. In the Agder community of Iveland, fully 77 percent voted “no” to a merger with neighbouring Vennesla. Residents of Flekkefjord also made it clear they want to maintain their current local government and not join forces with others.
Farther north, in Nord-Trøndelag, Levanger wanted to merge with Verdal, but Verdal didn’t want to merge with Levanger.
While many question the validity of the voting because of low voter turnout, Prime Minister Erna Solberg is beginning to recognize that her government’s muni-merger plan isn’t catching on. She told news bureau NTB that it appears the time isn’t right in some areas, while other proposed mergers were “too big” for small communities to digest. She had hoped that Sola and Sandnes would merge with Stavanger, for example, to form a new regional government entity called Nord-Jæren, but Sola and Sandnes residents rejected it.
“These big mergers that have been discussed many places have had a lot of ‘no’ votes,” Solberg conceded. “I think it just became too big for many.”