Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians woke up living in a new town or county after New Year, many with new addresses. New county- and municipal mergers started taking effect all over the country, after a long and sometimes bitter process.
News bureau NTB calculated that a total of 1.7 million Norwegians now officially live in a new kommune (town or municipality) or a new fylke (county), or even both. Mergers involving 109 municipalities resulted in 43 as of January 1, while 18 counties were pared down to just 11.
It’s all led to the biggest changes on the Norwegian map in 50 years, but the government minister in charge of it all thinks Norwegians living in areas affected won’t mark much real, immediate change. “My impression has been that the local officials were ready to usher this in,” Monica Mæland of the Conservative Party told NTB. “They’ve been well-prepared.”
The massive regional reform program, aimed at creating more economy of scale and streamlining local governments, has been in the works for six years. It was initially approved by Parliament in 2014 and most of the processes involved have been carried out locally.
While municipal mergers have mostly occurred voluntarily, with neighbouring townships teaming up, several county mergers have been forced on unhappy residents. Some are already threatening to divorce, including frustrated local politicians and their constituencies in Finnmark and Troms. That merger of the vast region now known as Troms og Finnmark stirred up the most opposition, with more than 80 percent of Finnmark residents voting against it in a referendum that embarrassed Mæland and the rest of the conservative national government charged with implementing it.
Unrest is also clear in the huge new county known as Viken, which resulted from the merger of Akershus, Buskerud and Østfold. It extends southeast from the mountains of southern Norway all the way around Oslo and south to the Swedish border. Issues can vary widely over such a vast and varied area, and local politicians elected during last September’s municipal elections (from parties opposing the national government) have already halted construction of a new “capital” of Viken in Sandvika, just west of Oslo. That’s because they’re talking about reversing the whole merger process if their opposition parties win a majority in Parliament in 2021.
Not all county mergers have been acrimonious, with the northern and southern portions of Trøndelag joining forces early in the process and even boasting in a humourous video about it. Overall, however, dissent has reflected centuries of regional pride and identity. It hasn’t been easy for longtime residents of the Hordaland area around Bergen, for example, to give up their name and become part of a larger Vestland.
‘Lots of emotion’
The municipal mergers, meanwhile, left between 600 and 700 streets and roads with duplicate names that needed to be changed. There are lots of streets named Storgata (Main Street) or Fjellvei (Mountain Way) in Norway, for example, and when municipalities merged and each had a Storgata or Fjellvei, one of them had to change its name.
“There’s been lots of emotion around street names,” Wenche Rognås, project leader at Norway’s mapping agency Kartverket, told newspaper Aftenposten last week, before the changes became official. Renaming had to move forward, however, and new addresses accepted.
It’s all added up to tens of millions of changes at Matrikkelen, Norway’s official register of real estate. It contains information on property lines, buildings, homes and addresses. Aftenposten reported how all municipalities located in counties that merged have also received new municipal numbers, which in turn affects lots of information technology systems that all must be updated.
Other changes will be phased in, new uses must be found for abandoned municipal offices, new maps will be published and GPS programs will need to be updated as well. “In the old days, you could just merge archives in filing cabinets,” Rognås said. “Now it’s a bit more complicated.” New city limits- and county border signs are also in the process of being erected, with far from all in place as yet.
The counties of Oslo, Rogaland, Møre og Romsdal and Nordland remain intact, but here’s a rundown of Norway’s new counties as of January 1, 2020:
*** Viken (formerly Akershus, Buskerud and Østfold)
*** Innlandet (formerly Hedmark and Oppland)
*** Vestfold og Telemark (formerly Vestfold and Telemark)
*** Agder (formerly Aust-Agder and Vest-Agder)
*** Vestland (formerly Hordaland and Sogn of Fjordane)
*** Trøndelag (formerly Nord-Trøndelag and Sør-Trøndelag)
*** Troms og Finnmark (formerly Troms and Finnmark)