Northern Norway has long been divided into three counties: Finnmark in the far northeast, Troms farther to the west, and Nordland between Troms and Trøndelag. Now Norway’s vast Arctic area will be divided into just two counties, after a majority in Parliament agreed on Wednesday to merge Finnmark and Troms.
Helge Njåstad, leader of the parliamentary committee responsible for municipal management, confirmed to state broadcaster NRK that Finnmark and Troms will become one region, while Nordland will remain as a separate region. “With this agreement, we’ll have two regions in Northern Norway of around 240,000 residents each,” Njåstad of the Progress Party told NRK. “We have liberated resources so that we won’t need to administer three counties, and can instead use more energy and resources on two.”
He said there hasn’t been any talk of adjusting the existing border between Troms and Nordland, which runs roughly from Vesterålen and Narvik to the Swedish border. Residents of Nordland were jubilant that their region will remain intact, while residents of Finnmark and Troms were getting used to the fact that their northernmost regions will soon unite.
“The counties Troms/Finnmark make up Norway’s most important area in terms of foreign policy (because of Finnmark’s border to Russia and the area’s strategic importance in the Arctic),” claimed Member of Parliament Geir Toskedal of the Christian Democrats. “Troms and Finnmark have common interests that should be reflected in one county that can best serve development for residents and businesses.”
There was no immediate word on what the newly merged county will be called, although Toskedal referred to it as “Troms/Finnmark.” The name “Finnmark” is deeply rooted in the area’s history, and it would be sensational if it were to disappear.
MP Andre N Skjelstad of the Liberal party said he now expects that the government “will contribute to a good regional balance in the distribution of public sector jobs in Northern Norway. The special challenges of places in Finnmark, like Vadsø, must prevail.”
Finnmark and Troms together form a landmass that’s bigger than Ireland. The area is rich in fishing stocks, minerals and, potentially, offshore oil and gas operations, but Finnmark especially is known for harsh weather and remoteness in addition to sheer scenic beauty.
A press release issued Wednesday afternoon stressed that Norway’s Finnmarksloven, a law passed to enforce local land use rights in Finnmark, would remain in force.