Three large counties located along Norway’s west coast have decided to merge to form one new “super county” called Vestlandsregionen from 2020. It will replace the venerable counties of Rogaland, Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane.
“We are part of something historic here, I really feel that,” Anne Gine Hestetun, who’s been county mayor of Hordaland, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday after the merger had been agreed and signed. “We have been working hard to unite Vestlandet (the name most often used for Norway’s western region), and we have really stretched ourselves to make this work.”
The deal was struck in Førde, where Sogn og Fjordane’s county administration is based, after marathon negotiations that lasted until 3am. “It was a long night, but the three participants came together on many issues,” Hestetun said.
More efficient distribution of services
State government officials have actively been promoting mergers among Norway’s hundreds of municipalities but now it’s three of the country’s major counties that are teaming up. The goal is to be able to more efficiently offer better social welfare services through more economies of scale and less administration.
Key services will be both consolidated and spread over the entire region. The new county’s headquarters will be in Bergen, where the political leaders will also be based. All business, training programs, public transportation and sports programs will be based in Stavanger, while Sogn og Fjordane will be the base for county roads administration and cultural affairs.
The three county mayors who struck the deal, including Hestetun of Hordaland, Jenny Følling of Sogn og Fjordane and Solveig Ege Tengesdal of Rogaland, nonetheless claimed that no county workers will be laid off. In cases where positions may be merged, new work will be offered to those affected for at least the next five years.
“It’s been an incredibly demanding process,” Hestetun said, adding that not everyone was satisfied with every point. Compromises were made, though, and Følling said she thinks they struck “a good balance.”
The new large county will have over a million inhabitants in areas that have their own distinct dialects and cultures. “We have learned a lot about each other, and about the differences amongst us,” Følling told NRK. “At the same time, I’d like to stress how much we have in common.”
One major difference is language. While Sogn og Fjordane residents often use the nynorsk form of Norwegian, Hordland and especially Rogaland use bokmål. It looks like the latter will emerge as the common language among the three counties.
“Nynorsk is important in Vestlandet, but for us in Rogaland it’s unnatural to have nynorsk as our main language,” Tengesdal told NRK. She appeared to have exerted her will, much to the disappointment of nynorsk fans who already were complaining Thursday afternoon.