Norway’s conservative government coalition won official clearance Thursday evening to redraw the country’s map, reducing its number of municipalities from 428 to 354 and merging several counties as well by 2020. The major reform will be forced upon 10 of the new local government constellations involved, while the others have volunteered to join forces.
“This is an historic day,” claimed Jan Tore Sanner, the government minister from the Conservative Party who’s been pushing for the controversial consolidation of local governments and regions for the past several years. He claims it will ensure stronger and more sustainable social welfare services through greater economies of scale.
Sanner won majority support for the proposal last winter, but it was only formally decided upon Thursday night. “For me, this is the most important and most exciting round of voting I have ever experienced in Parliament,” Sanner told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday night, after the municipal reform proposal (called kommunesammenslåing) finally won by just one vote after a long day of debate. “I think it was a great debate, which lasted for nine hours with lots of tension and brisk opposition.”
The opposition parties in Parliament are still threatening to halt all forced municipal mergers if they win government power and a majority in Parliament after the September election. They have branded the reform as another form of “centralization” of services in Norway that defies traditions of spreading power and services around the country, even in its most remote areas.
There was stronger support for the regional reforms to come through county (fylke) mergers, which will, for example, leave Norway with half its current number of counties. Not all the mergers, for example the one that will combine Norway’s three northernmost counties into just one, have been popular. Some Finnmark residents complain about a looming loss of identity when their county merges with Troms and Nordland. In another case, though, leaders of the large West Coast counties of Rogaland, Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane decided to voluntarily merge by 2020 into one new “super county” to be called Vestlandsregionen.
There were far more protests against the local municipal government (kommune) mergers that will, for example, force the southern municipalities of Søgne and Songdalen to become part of Kristiansand, while Marnardal and Lindesnes will become part of Mandal. In the mountains of south-central Norway, Sogndal, Balestrand and Leikanger are being forced to merge, and all the forced mergers prompted sharp opposition from their Members of Parliament, including one from the Progress Party who voted against her own government on the issue.
The other forced mergers include:
*** Hobøl, Askim, Spydeberg, Eidsberg and Trøgstad southeast of Oslo
*** Bjugn og Ørland i Trøndelag
*** Tranøy, Lenvik, Torsken and Berg near Harstad
*** Skedsmo, Fet and Sørum just northeast of Oslo
*** Ålesund, Sandøy, Skodje, Ørskog and Haram on the northwest coast
*** Vikna, Nærøy, Leka and Bindal in what’s now Nordland Country
*** Tysfjord near Narvik, meanwhile, will be divided into two, with part of it merged into Narvik and Ballangen and the rest with Hamarøy