Norway’s new Labour-Center government is already reversing lots of the centralization and consolidation that the former Conservative government championed to improve economies of scale. The unhappy forced marriage of Troms and Finnmark counties is the first to be dissolved, causing some to pop open bottles of bubbly over the weekend.
Among them was Wenche Pedersen, mayor of the northern city of Vadsø. It was always part of Finnmark, where a vast majority of residents objected mightily to their formed merger with Troms. Pedersen and many others in the sprawling Arctic region want to win their independence back, for reasons of identity and self-rule.
They were delighted when Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, now Norway’s finance minister, confirmed on Friday that the government had sent a letter to the recently merged county of Troms og Finnmark that the dissolution it had sought could begin. “The two counties of Troms and Finnmark can rise again,” Vedum said at a meeting of his party’s national board, to loud cheers of approval.
Some snags loom. In Alta, the largest city in Finnmark, residents are divided over whether to remain in Troms or return to Finnmark. It’s unclear whether they’ll have any choice. Vedum told state broadcaster NRK on Friday that the demerger would follow the original borders of the two counties, leaving Alta in Finnmark. He also noted that Alta is “very important” for growth in Northern Norway, promising that the government would “make new efforts to strengthen Alta” and its position in the north.
The huge, sprawling and equally unhappy merged county of Viken in Southern Norway will also be allowed to split up, leading to the ressurection of its original counties of Østfold in the southeast, Akershus around Oslo, and Buskerud that extends up into the mountains. Vedum said he hopes to split up Viken as soon as possible.
It’s all likely to add to the expenses of the forced mergers themselves, but Finance Minister Vedum thinks it’s worth it. “We need new sources of power in Northern Norway policy, that’s important for us as a country since they have lots of natural resources,” Vedum told newspaper Aftenposten. “Russia lies right next door, and lots of other powerful countries have interests in the area.” He’s also a champion of local rule and decentralization.
The forced mergers were never popular, they changed Norwegian maps and had lots to do with local residents’ sense of identity. Now all the disruption of the past few years may finally calm down, at considerable expense.