Monitoring report on regional democracy in Norway - CPR (10) 6 Part II

Rapporteur: Roberto RUOCCO (Italy)



1. On the basis of article 2.3 of the Committee of Ministers’ Resolution (2000) 1 which set forth that the Congress prepares country by country monitoring reports on the situation of local and/or regional democracy in member and applicant States, the Congress Bureau entrusted the Institutional Committee of the Chamber of Regions with the preparation of a report on the situation of regional democracy in Norway. This paper is the final monitoring report following a preliminary draft memorandum issued in May 2003.

2. For this purpose, the Institutional Committee appointed Mr. Roberto Ruocco (Italy) as Rapporteur. In order to fulfil his task, the Rapporteur is assisted by Mr. Fabrice Hugot (France), expert. Mr. Günter Mudrich and Mrs. Irina Blonina, representatives of the Council of Europe’s Secretariat (Congress Secretariat) also assisted the Rapporteur for the elaboration of the draft memorandum and the final report and for the organisation of the two official visits in Norway – the first visit took place on 30th and 31st January 2003 and the second visit took place between 16th and18th of June 2003.

3. During these two official visits, the delegation met high-ranking officials and experienced a very friendly and cooperative atmosphere for which the members of the delegation wish to thank the Norwegian authorities very warmly.

4. During the first visit, the delegation met Mrs. Erna Solberg, minister of local Government and regional development, Mr. Per Ditlev-Simonsen, mayor of Oslo, Mr. Oyvind Hartvedt, Advisor to the County Mayor of the Hedmark County and Professor Harald Baldersheim of the Institute of political science at the University of Oslo.

The delegation also spent two very interesting working sessions with the officials of the Ministry of local government and with the members of the Executive committee of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (see Appendix I).

5. During the second visit, the delegation visited Trondheim and Lillehammer, after a working session in Oslo with Mr Eivind Dale, Director General, and Mrs Greta Billing, deputy Director General, in the Ministry of local and regional government. The delegation also met the parliamentary committee for local and regional government in the Parliament (Storting) and was thus enabled to be briefed about each party’s position and views on the county reform. In Oslo the delegation met Mr. Halvdan Skard, President of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, and finally had a detailed discussion with Professor Eivind Smith of the University of Oslo.

In Trondheim and in Lillehammer, the delegation met the representatives of municipal and county authorities:

- Representatives from political and administrative leadership in the county of Sor-Trondelag and the county of Nord-Trondelag : among them, Mrs Merethe Storødegård, County Mayor of Nord-Trøndelag, Mr Yngve Brox, Member of the County Executive Board of Sør-Trøndelag, Mr Inge Fornes, Regional director;
- Political and administrative leadership in Oppland County: among them, Mr. Odd Foss, Deputy County Mayor, Mr. Audun Tron, Member of the County Council, Executive board, Mrs Synnove Brenden Klemtrud, Mayor of Lillehammer

These visits helped the delegation to fully understand local and regional practices and issues (see Appendices I and II).

6. The mission of the delegation was initiated by the Norwegian government’s plan to reform the territorial organisation of the county and to consider a redistribution of responsibilities between municipalities, counties and central government which might lead to the suppression of elected regional authorities.


7. Norway, except the island of Spitsbergen, covers an area of 323 758 km2. The distance from north to south is 1750 km, corresponding to the distance between Oslo and Rome and there are big differences in natural resources and conditions from north to south. The differences between regions as far as their cultural identity and way of life are concerned, are also considerable.

Norway is a small country from the point of view of the population, and with considerable regional differences in habitation patterns. The population of Norway is 4,5 millions. Almost half of the people live in the south-eastern part of the country, and half of them live in so-called larger Oslo region, and half of these again live within the city of Oslo. The average population density is 14 persons per km2. There are, however, enormous variations in terms of population density between different municipalities as well as different counties. The population density in the county of Finnmark is 1.5, while it is 97 in the county of Vestfold.

8. It must first be remembered that the Norwegian Constitution, which dates back to 1814, contains no provisions for local government. Local government was established with the adoption of the Aldermen Act in 1837. This Act implied that decision-making regarding important local issues was transferred from central government to locally elected bodies. The organisation of municipalities and county municipalities is set by the Local Government Act of 19921.

9. Norway has a two-tier system of local government: municipalities and counties. So it may be said that the local level consists of 434 local municipalities and the « regional » level of 19 entities called « counties ». However, the word « regional » is not used by the Norwegian officials and in the Local Government Act the translation of the Norwegian “fylkeskommuner” is “county authorities”. It must be added for the sake of clarity that the word “county” refers both to the county authority (local authority) and to the county governor (governmental official)2. The independent county councils came into existence in 1976. Prior to that, a county was a legal, economic and administrative union of the municipalities which composed the county.

Approx. 250 of the municipalities have less than 5000 inhabitants. The smallest, Utsira, an island on the south-west coast, has only 230 inhabitants. The largest cities are Oslo (510 000), Bergen (230 000), Trondheim (150 000) and Stavanger (110 000). The largest county when it comes to area is smallest in population (Finnmark county, 74.000 people), while the smallest county in area, Oslo, has the largest population.

10. A special mention must be made for the capital city of Oslo where the functions of local and « regional » municipality are joined in one single assembly and one single administrative body. It is also interesting to notice that the 19 counties cover the same geographical areas as those covered by the regional branches of the central Government administration. Each regional branch of central administration is headed by a county governor who represents the King and the Government and who is entrusted with a wide range of administrative duties among which the most important is the supervision of the legality of the decisions of the municipalities and counties.

11. The county governor is thus responsible for ensuring that the activities of the municipalities are carried out in accordance with the legislation, regulations and budgetary provisions of the central government. The governor also advises the municipalities and the county.

Local and regional authorities

12. The municipal council and the county council are elected directly by the citizens according to the principles of proportional representation. These deliberative bodies are the main authorities of the municipalities and counties, but decision-making power can be delegated to an executive board and to permanent committees unless otherwise provided by statute. Acts and decisions made by the council or its committees are usually handed directly to the head of the administration for execution. Yet all municipalities and counties have a board of aldermen (or executive body) and permanent committees. The board of aldermen consists of at least five members of the muncipal council (or members of the county council) usually chosen among the representatives of different political parties. The permanent committees have a minimum of three members and are elected among those who are eligible to the muncipal council.

13. The municipal council itself or the county council itself elects its chairman from among the members of the municipal board of aldermen or from the members of the county board of aldermen. The chairman of the municipal council as well as the chairman of the county council are elected for four years and they are the political heads of either the local or the regional authority. He is the chairman of the council and of the board of aldermen and he acts as the political and legal representative of the municipality or the county. He has the right to attend all meetings (board, council, committees) and can be given the floor in all meetings. The council can delegate to the chairman the power of making decisions in individual cases and minor matters.

14. Contrary to a tradition common to several European states, the chairman does not exercise functions on behalf of the central state.

15. Every municipality and every county must have a chief executive officer as head of the administration.The chief executive officer prepares and executes the decisions of the municipal or the county council. He has the right to attend all meetings and to take the floor. The chief executive officer is appointed by the council for a minimum term of six years.

Option for another type of system

16. Any municipality and any county can decide to have a parliamentary organisation instead of the system described above. In such a case, a political body called the “administrative board” is established instead of appointing a chief executive officer. The members of this board are elected and dismissed by the council. The council empowers the board to make all decisions unless otherwise provided by statute. The members of the board are expected to serve a four-year term unless they resign or are dismissed by the council.

Distribution of powers between local and regional authorities

a. Principles

17. The first and basic principle is that muncipalities and counties may undertake any local function not yet granted by law to other institutions.

18. The principle of subsidiarity is implicitly embodied in this second principle that when a task goes beyond the scope of one municipality and needs financing beyond the capacity of one municipality, the county should be given the responsability of this task.

b. Distribution of powers between state and local and regional authorities

19. An important number of tasks have been delegated to local or regional authorities acting as agents of the central state (namely housing and integration of immigrants, employment schemes, health care for prisoners).

20. Today’s distribution of competences is the result of several changes. It can be noted at this stage that the most important changes during the last fifteen years have been the shifting of tasks from counties to municipalities as well as to the central state.

21. The central Government is responsible for:

§ the National Health Insurance scheme,
§ specialized health services;
§ higher education/universities;
§ labour market;
§ refugees and immigrants;
§ national road network, railways;
§ agricultural issues, environmental issues;
§ police, courts, prisons;
§ armed forces, foreign policy.

22. The county authorities’ responsibilities are the following:

§ upper secondary schools;
§ specialized social services (institutions for child and family protection/welfare and for drug/alcohol treatment/rehabilitation);
§ dental care
§ regional development :
- county roads and public transport;
- regional/county planning;
- business development;
- culture (regional theatres, galleries, museums), cultural heritage and sport.

23. In January 2002, the responsibility for hospital services (which represented some 60 % of the financial resources and tasks of counties) was transferred to governmental health agencies. The transfer of this very important responsibility of the counties to the central Government is said to be based on the principle that the counties should be entitled to resources adequate to their obligations; if not, for reasons of higher quality and efficiency, the responsibility must return to the central state. As a matter of fact, the delegation has been told that far from saving money on hospital services, the Government is spending even more money on them through the newly created agencies that the counties used to. The delegation was told that the transfer of responsibility for child welfare and for drug/alcohol abuse form the counties to the central state is planned for 2004.

24. The municipalities have the following competencies:

§ primary and lower secondary schools;
§ nurseries and kindergartens;
§ care for the elderly and disabled, social services (social assistance, child welfare, drug/alcohol abuse);
§ Local planning (land use), agricultural issues, environmental issues, local roads, harbours.

25. Taking into account that today municipalities and counties in Norway carry out two-thirds of all services in the public sector, a very important issue for the Norwegian government is the modernisation of local government with a view of delivering high-standard local services. The principle of equality and equity between the counties and municipalities is very important in Norway and consists in maintaining the competencies, obligations, services and financial resources of all self-government authorities at the same level.

Financial resources of local authorities

26. Municipalities and counties have their own taxes which are collected by the local authorities, but muncipal tax revenues are drawn mainly from income tax and capital taxes levied upon individuals whereas county tax revenues come from income tax only.

27. In addition to income tax and capital tax, the muncipalities are entitled to levy a property tax on commercial properties and housing in urban areas.

28. An important figure is the percentage of the income of the local authorities represented by grants from the central government : it amounts to approximately 40 %.

29. Municipalities draw 44 % of their income from net tax revenues and 33,5 % from central government transfer whereas counties draw 26 % of their income from net tax revenues and 67 % from central government transfer. Given the fact that the central government uses general grants to equalize tax revenues and spending needs, it can not be infered that local and regional authorities are closely dependent upon the state because they cannot resort freely to taxes.

30. The central government transfer is divided between general grants and earmarked grants. The balance between the two types of grant is a debating matter between central state and local and regional authorities, for earmarked grants enable the government to compel the local and regional authorities to implement the policies which were given priority by the government and the Parliament. As to the general grants on the contrary, they are free revenues in that the local and regional authorities may spend them on their own priorities.

31. Despite the fact that both counties and municipalities revenues have increased through the last ten years, the surplus in the local government accounts has decreased in the late 90’s and finally changed to deficits in 1999, 2000 and 2001. The situation is of great concern and seems to be the result of the revision of the funding of hospital services prior to the hospital reform, which caused important damage to the budgets in most of the counties.

32. Total income of local government is estimated for 2002 of NOK 234 billion (17,4 percent of GNP 2002 petroleum sector not included). The main sources of revenue for municipalities and counties are taxes, general grants, earmarked grants and charges and fees. The taxes represent almost a half of local governments’ total revenues. Of total accrued local tax revenues, municipalities receive about 84 %, while 16 % are paid out to counties.

33. There are two different ways of equalising the revenues between Norwegian counties and municipalities: part compensation for low income (equalisation of income mechanism) and full compensation for involuntary production costs (equalisation of expenditure mechanism). The distribution of revenues is based on demographic criteria and aims at reducing the differences of tax revenues between local units.

supervision of local and regional administration

34. The main purpose of supervision is to ensure the lawfulness of local and regional authorities’ decisions. The county governor who is in charge of the supervision must limit his control to legality unless the law provides specifically for expediency. Legal control is initiated by the request of at least three members of the council concerned or at the county governor’s initiative.

35. The Norwegian system of legal control is that each ministry is responsible for rewieving the legality of the decisions of local authorities in their own field of competence. This authority has been delegated to the county governor for most decisions, but not all. The local elected authorities can request the responsible ministry to alter the county governors decision, but this right is not often used in practice. The ministry’s decision will be the final decision unless the matter is taken to court.

36. The act will be declared invalid by the governor if the local authority intervened outside the range of its competence or if the decision is against the law or if there are procedural mistakes that may bave affected the outcome of the decision, but it must be said that such occurrences are extremely rare.

37. When state competences have been devoted to the local or regional authorities, there may be a general administrative supervision of the expediency of local acts by the govenor himself or the relevant ministry. The county governor is even free to make his own judgment on the act and make the changes he deems necessary or simply expedient. However the county governor has to use his/her power within the limits of The Public Administration Act, article 34, second paragraph, which regulates the competence of the appelate instance:

“If a state body is the appellate instance for a decision made by a municipality or county municipality, the appellate instance shall attach due importance to the interests of local self-government when trying discretionary issues.”

38. The citizens have the right to appeal individual decisions as defined in the Public Administration Act (Act of 10th February 1967 article 2 b “individual decision, an administrative decision relating to the rights or duties of one or more specified persons”).

Article 28 second paragraph regulates the right to appeal: “In the case of an individual decision made by an administrative agency established pursuant to the Act relating to municipalities and county municipalities, the appellate instance is the municipal council or the county council, or if the latter so decide, the municipal executive board or county executive board or one or more special appeal boards appointed by the municipal council or county council. The Ministry is, however, the appellate instance when an administrative decision has been made by the municipal council or the county council. When an administrative decision has been made in accordance with authority delegated by a central government administrative agency, the said central government agency is the appellate instance.”

Due to specific regulation in each field of activity, the appellate instance is generally the ministry responsible for this certain activity (or a subordinated department), not the municipal council or the county council.

Norwegian Association of local and regional authorities

39. The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (in Norwegian Kommunenes Sentralforbund - KS) is a national member's association for municipalities, counties and public enterprises under municipal or county ownership. The Association was founded in 1972 after the amalgamation of the former Union of Norwegian Cities, founded in 1903, and the Norwegian Association of Rural Municipalities, founded in 1923. All of Norway’s 434 municipalities and 19 counties are members of the association.

Consultation between central government and local authorities

40. It is worth noticing that an agreement on regular consultative meetings between the central government and local authorities was reached in February 2000 and consists of four meetings per year.

International legal instruments in the field of local and regional self-government

41. Norway ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 26 May 1989 with no particular declarations and reservations. Nevertheless when ratifying the European Charter of Local Self-Government, Norway did not officially express vis-à-vis the Council of Europe its intention to be bound by the Charter in its relations with the county authorities.

42. As far as the Draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government is concerned, Norway is not in favour of such a Convention. The present Government considers that the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Article 13) applies to both municipalities and county authorities and does not see any need to have a new international Convention in the field of regional self-government because it could diminish the importance of the existing Charter which is well applied in Norway.


Debate on the “regional level”

43. The debate on the survival of a second level of sub-state territorial units has been going on for numerous years. The need for simplification and efficiency in the public administration and the idea that Norway is at this stage over administrated have fuelled the debate until now. The present coalition government is divided between those in favour of the suppression of counties and those opposing this radical view. This explains why the debate has not been settled yet.

44. The delegation has understood that though no agreement has been reached so far about counties, a clear tendency to reduce the importance of the county councils arises, the most recent example of this policy being the hospital sector which was taken away from the counties and given to the central state.

45. It must also be remembered that counties as they are known today can only boast a rather short experience in the sense that the county councils are elected directly by the citizens since the 1970’s. This means that the council’s administration has been organized separately from the administration of the county governor for only 30 years. Before this reform, the governor was the Secretary of the council and the head of its administration.

Recently, the government made an assessment of this reform and decided to experiment a new organisation – so far on a voluntary basis - akin to what existed untill the county reform in 1976: county councils and county governors are to establish “unitary counties” by merging their administrations. This idea was entailed by the fact that the county council administration was considered by the government to be overmanned, once counties were no longer responsible for hospitals.

A chronological review of the debate over the regional level in Norway

46. The Committee for distribution of responsibilities between levels of government (a committee appointed by the Government) submitted its recommendations in July 2000. The committee recommended that the county authority should be strengthened, especially related to regional authority (i.e. the county authorities should be given new tasks). The committee recommended also that the numer of county authorities should be reduced to 10-15 (from 19).

47. The Government (Labour Government) published in April 2001 a White Paper on the distribution of responsibilities between the levels of governement (nr. 31 – 2000-2001). The Government proposed to strengthen the county authority as regional development actor –

§ The responsibilities for agricultural issues and environmental issues should be transferred from the county governor to the county authority
§ The county authorities planning authority should be strengthened
§ The Government did not propose changes in the number of county authorities – but encouraged voluntary mergers between the county authorities

The parliament approved the proposals in the White Paper (in June 2001). The changes should have been implemented from the 1st of Janury 2003.

48. But a general election took place in September 2001 and a centre-right government came into power.

This Government proposed a new White Paper on the division of responsibilitties in April 2002 (nr. 19 - 2001-2002) with the following proposals :

§ The responsibilities for agricultural issues and environmental issues should not be transferred from the county governor to the county authority ;
§ The county authorities planning authority should not be strengthened ;
§ Local agricultural and environmental issues should be transferred to the municipalities – the supervision and control of the municipalities related to agricultural and environmental issues should still be the responsibility of the county governor ;
§ The county authorities role as a facilitator and partner in regional development should be strengthened ;
§ Pilot-projets – 1) the unitary county, 2) some municipalities and counties are given the responsibilites of tasks usually assigned to the state or the county authority.

The parliament approved the proposals of the White Paper in June 2002.

The basic principles of the government’s proposed reform

49. What is known for sure at the moment is that the Norwegian Government is set on reforming the distribution of responsibilities between the different levels of local government. The Government aims at a thorough modernization of the public sector through the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity. According to the government, this policy should lead to a redistribution of responsibilities and a reduction of bureaucracy.

50. The general purpose of the first White Paper was to strengthen the regional development role of the county authorities. This is why the responsibility for regional environmental and agricultural affairs was to be transfered from the county governor the the county elected authority. Along with this change, the role of the county authority was also to be strengthened. The formel majority in the Parliament had also agreed with the Government’s proposal to give to the county authorities increased influence over regional transport and communications, and increased means to stimulate industrial developement and to establish an advisory committee to assist the county authorities in planning voluntary mergers of municipalities. These views are not upheld by the current government.

51. The former government wanted responsibilities in the areas of environment, agriculture, planning and land use to be redistributed according to the following priority lines :

§ local and regional elected bodies shoud have the responsibilites for matters demanding local and regional political approval ;
§ the central government should be responsible for standards and supervision ;
§ the central government should have the responsibility for matter requiring a uniform national approach ;
§ responsibilities should be placed at the lowest effective level ;
§ the county authority should not be developed into a superior local authority ;
§ changes in the distribution of responsibilites should always be meant to ease the burden of bureaucracy.

52. Today’s Government doubts that the current county system is efficient and holds the view that the county authorities should voluntarily assess the appropriateness of this current organisation. The Government considers that many counties should merge in order to form bigger entities or that cooperation between counties should be increased when merging is not yet compatible.

53. The Government wishes to implement experiments involving alternative models such as :

§ the organisation of the county governor and the county authority in a single adminsitrative body ;
§ the possibility to endow certain municipalities with responsibilites usually assigned to the county or to the state.

54. The Government proposes in the so called “second” White Paper (nr. 19 - 2001-2002) a reform of the division of responsibilities at the regional level. The county authority (i.e. the regional government) would be in charge of the welfare services and regional development.

The county governor would monitor and supervise the municipalities and coordinate the state’s activities entrusted to the municipalities.

As to the size and number of the county authorities, the current government wishes to foster voluntary mergers.

It is to be noticed that so far only two pilot-projects with a unitary county were approved in May 2003 and should start in 2004.

Lastly the government plans to assess the county authorities during 2004 and 2005 and to make an evaluation of the pilot-projects in 2008-2009.

The background of the reform

55. Norway has a small population (4.5 millions) but a large territory (as large as Germany) and the population is unevenly distributed which means crowded counties and almost empty counties having a population not even of an average city. Towns and cities are a recent feature in Norway which remained a rural country until the second half of the 19th century and the public opinion will balk at anything redolent of centralization. Yet though municipalities seem to be endearing to the man in the street, counties do not enjoy the same status of established aknowledgment.

56. Nevertheless one must remember and stress that the debate is not about whether a regional level of administration is needed in Norway but whether this regional level should keep the current form of an elected body with its own administration.

57. When the counties were established in 1976 as directly elected regional councils, the idea was that the regional state authority headed by the county governor would gradually shrink and be left in the end with the sole task of supervision. But things turned out differently and the regional state authority has grown ever since to the point that the regional state authority has more responsibility and leverage than the regional elected authority. In the meantime, county councils have been stripped of many of their traditionnal tasks.

58. The number of local and state civil servants and employees has dramatically inscreased and the general administrative organisation seems to be less efficient and its logic is blurred in the citizen’s eye.

All these factuals elements make the need for reform even more pressing.

Detailed analysis of the current administrative reforms

59. As was said before, the report of the Committee for Distribution of responsibilities between levels of Government (Green paper) was presented in July 2000. The conclusions of his report were underlining the necessity of a regional elected level of self-government with important competences (a reform of distribution of competences would be required), but hesitating about the number of new regions. The Committee recommended that the number of county authorities should be reduced to 10 or 15. As was said before, so one can feel that there is now some sort of consensus about the need to reduce the number of counties. In June 2001, the former Government had submitted to the Parliament a White paper on “Municipality, county authority, central government – a better distribution of responsibilities”, which stressed the need for a regional level of government given democratic legitimacy by means of direct elections. In this respect, a new type of county should be the key for regional development and the role of the county authorities would be strengthened. This paper encouraged intermunicipal cooperation, but did not consider these structures appropriate for providing the democracy, efficiency and control afforded by a directly elected regional level of government. In brief, the former government meant to maintain elected regional councils whereas the new government doubts the need for elected regional authorities.

60. This is why after the last general election of 2001, the new coalition government presented in 2002 another White paper which vents its recommendations regarding the new deal of responsibilities between the different levels of government and aims at modernising the public sector by delegating and decentralising authority and responsibilities. The redistribution of competencies between central government and territorial self-government (counties and municipalities) should reduce bureaucracy, be clear, efficient, well balanced and based on the principle of subsidiarity. According to this document, the government contemplates the reviewing of the central government administration of the regions with a view to establish principles and carry out measures to improve cost-effectiveness and expediency. The government wishes to promote the role of counties as regional development agents and to stimulate voluntary mergers between counties (the concept is the same for municipalities the number of which should be reduced), but until now there are no initiatives from the counties to amalgamate. But at this stage, one feels that there is a slight discrepancy between the goals of the second White Paper and the motives. The real aim of the Government seems to abolish not the counties themselves but the elected councils.

61. The concept of “reunited county” or a unitary county presented in the second White paper consists, as has been already mentioned, in merging the county governor (central state representative) and the county authority (elected body) in a new unit – the single administration county authority with a unitary leader, in order to avoid the overlapping of activities. But it is obvious that this is only a second best solution which the government will have to stick to so long as a majority in favour of the abolition of the elected councils has not been found.

62. A part of reform will start in January 2004 by setting up of the Pilot projects on regional development. Two counties (and maybe only one) are already taking part in these experiments, and three more seaside counties on the western coast created so-called “regional councils” for better co-operation in the field of transport. Counties do not seem to be too enthusiastic about theses projects.

63. One of the major points of the current political debate in Norway focuses now on the question whether the present three-tier system of government should be modified and whether the directly elected regional level (counties) should be maintained. Another question lies with the responsibilities the counties should have. The question of the size and number of regions (county authorities) is also frequently raised, taking into account the dilemma between keeping the historical counties (listed as constituencies in the Constitution of Norway of 1814) or creating from 5 to 15 new regions by merging present counties.

64. Another alternative suggested by the current government in the case of abolition of directly elected county authorities could be the reinforcement of municipalities (which have already strong powers), and promotion and encouragement of their co-operation and amalgamation.

On the other hand, the central government has already established state districts in different fields (health, transport etc) the number of which varies from 4 to 6, but there are till now no common policies in this process.

65. The present government supports the idea that the directly elected regional level, having few responsibilities, is not necessary for such a country as Norway (with a population of 4,5 million inhabitants), but reaching an agreement between the different political parties in the government coalition seems to be difficult and even out of reach before the next general election due in 2005.

questions raised

66. After the first visit, the delegation raised the following questions and asked for more detailed information on certain elements and a closer study of the Norwegian reality before coming to conclusions ; the govermental authorities submitted the following answers to questions raised during the second visit of the delegation :

Ø Does administrative efficiency demand fewer and bigger municipalities and counties in Norway ?

The answer was : “Yes, with reference to ”the economy of scale”

Ø Does administrative efficiency demand the supression of elected county councils in Norway ?

The Norwegian local authorities stress that they need a regional level but also modestly remark that whether the regional council should be elected must remain a political question.

Ø Is the sharing administrative staff and resources between county council administration and regional state authority viable and compatible with the principles of local and regional self government ?

According to the majority to our interlocutors, the cruxial point is the power of decision, a point which does not seem to be settled yet.

Ø Can the territorial organisation of Norway rely on central state government on the one hand and one single level of local government on the other ?

That depends on municipal structure and inter-municipal cooperation, was the common answer.

Ø Can local government be adapted to the density of the population and organized accordingly with big municipalities fulfilling more tasks and sparsely populated counties taking up the tasks usually delegated to the municipalities ?

Not only a question of density, but also of the number of inhabitants according to our local interlocutors. Asker municipality and Bærum municipality (outside Oslo) have a relatively high number of inhabitants.They will be given the responsibility for upper secondary schools as an experiment.

Ø Can this differenciated type of territorial organisation be considered as a breach of equality and a threat to unity ?

No, equality and unity are related to the services provided for inhabitants.Differenciated responsibilities for politicians is not a threat to equality for inhabitant, but entails a more complex legal and financial structure.


67. Following the discussions with the Norwegian governmental authorities, the question arises of the extent to which the future reforms in Norway can be guided by experience with the German Kreise and the Polish Powiats. These two structures are therefore briefly outlined below.


68. Germany has four levels of government: the federal state, the Länder, the Kreise and the municipalities. The Kreise are territorial authorities whose territory also constitutes the lower administrative tier of the Land. The rights of the Kreise as territorial authorities are guaranteed by the Constitution. Under the terms of Article 28 of the German Constitution, the people are represented in the Kreise by a body elected by universal suffrage. The legal status of the Kreise (their organisational structure and general powers) is governed by the Local Government Organisation Act.

69. The history of the Kreis goes back to the Middle Ages, and it has survived to the present day as a territorial subdivision. Germany has 656 Kreise. It should be noted that the general rule is that only cities of around 100,000 inhabitants or more have equivalent status to a Kreis because their administrative power enables them to take on, in addition to their own municipal powers, those which are normally vested in a Kreis.

70. The German Kreise have the major advantage of being local authorities capable of performing supramunicipal, complementary or equalising functions and enjoying a certain level of administrative power. It therefore seemed advisable to transfer social assistance, child welfare, waste disposal and responsibility for secondary and vocational schools from the level of the municipality to that of the Kreis.

71. Powers of the Kreis

The Kreise have powers which vary from one Land to another, but it is possible nevertheless to identify three types of functions: supramunicipal, complementary and equalising functions.

- Supramunicipal functions:

These are functions related to the administrative area of the Kreis and the general needs of the population (roads, public transport, economic development).

- Complementary functions:

These are functions which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, cannot be adequately performed by the municipalities falling within the area of the Kreis. It is interesting to note that, for functions in this category, responsibility may be shared between the Kreis and certain better-equipped municipalities. Examples include the management of upper secondary schools and music schools.

- Equalisation:

The purpose of the equalisation function performed by the Kreise is to ensure equitable cost sharing between the municipalities falling within their administrative area. This equalisation is achieved by means of grants paid by the Kreis.

72. The Kreis authorities

The highest organ in the Kreis is the Kreis assembly (Kreistag), the political representative body of the Kreis which is elected by direct universal suffrage. The term of office of its members is five years. The Kreistag is responsible for adopting the budget, making the decision to contract loans, recruiting administrative staff, and setting up public services. The Kreis administration is headed by an official appointed by the Kreistag (except in Bavaria, where he or she is directly elected by the population). He or she prepares the decisions of the Kreistag and sees to their execution. Each Kreis decides on its own administrative organisation.

Of course, the lower state administrative authority at Kreis level nominally constitutes a separate administrative unit. However, in the light of the pilot project launched by the current Norwegian Government, which wishes to merge the county administration and the higher level of state administration under the authority of the governor, it is interesting to note that some Länder make state personnel available to the Kreis for the performance of tasks falling within the ambit of the lower state authority, but that, in addition, the head of the Kreis administration is empowered to assign local government matters to state civil servants and state matters to Kreis civil servants. It should be added that this practice fuels legal debate in the law faculties, but does not seem to detract from the efficiency of the two levels of government.

73. Kreis finances

The Kreise enjoy fiscal autonomy and decide on their own revenue and expenditure, but they do not enjoy the right to raise taxes in all Länder. In some cases, therefore, the Kreise receive a grant from the Land. Generally speaking, however, the Land is under an obligation to provide the Kreise with the resources needed to exercise their responsibilities. Revenue is derived both from Land grants (75% on average) and from levies made by the Kreise on the municipalities (25%).

74. Supervision of the Kreise

The acts of the Kreise are subject to a review of lawfulness, which is carried out by the Land (its president or minister of the interior). It is not a review as to expediency (except in the case of responsibilities transferred by the Land to the Kreis).

75. Assessment

In Germany, the local authorities might be described as self-management bodies based on a powerful, independent and efficient local administration. It is for this reason that the Norwegian Fylkekommuner, which have only had their own administration since 1976 and, consequently, have neither the same historical tradition nor the same political weight, cannot be designed on the same model as the Kreise.

76. It will be noted that, in everyday practice, the municipalities and the Kreise co-operate closely. From the constitutional standpoint, this co-operation is made all the easier by the fact that some of the representatives on the Kreis council also sit on a municipal council.

77. It is a well-known fact that, in most European countries, there is a “vacuum” between the municipal level and the regional level and that, in contrast to the German model of the Kreis, this vacuum is filled through intermunicipal co-operation. This co-operation means that municipalities are not forced into groupings and are not merged to form larger municipalities, but it does lead to the shifting of the bulk of administrative tasks from the municipal to the intermunicipal level. Initially this creates an additional level of government, but the next stage is a weakening of the municipal level. When successful, this solution must inevitably produce a reduction in the number of levels of government. It should be noted that intermunicipal assemblies, which are not elected by direct universal suffrage (in France, for example), often have wider powers and larger budgets than those of the municipalities and sometimes even those of their département.


78. Polish territorial organisation comprises three tiers: the gminas, or municipal level, the powiats, or intermediate level, and the voivodships, or regional level. Central government is represented in the voivodships by a governor, the voivod, who also reviews the lawfulness of the decisions taken by the gminas, the powiats and the voivodships. There are 2,489 gminas, 65 of which also hold the status of powiat. The gminas are responsible for meeting all the needs of the local population; then come 315 powiats which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, are responsible for local matters which cannot be dealt with by the gminas. Whereas the gminas have general competence, the powiats can only exercise the responsibilities which have been assigned to them by law (transport, road maintenance, secondary education, public health, culture, public order, public safety, social assistance, and fire and flood prevention); there is no supervision or co-operation between the gminas and the powiats. For their part, the voivodships are responsible for economic development.

79. The powiats are headed by a council elected by direct universal suffrage: the sajmik. They recruit their own administrative personnel. The powiats receive from central government the resources needed for the proper performance of their functions.

80. At this stage of the reform of Polish territorial organisation, begun in 1990 where the municipalities are concerned and in 1998 where the powiats and the regions are concerned, there is a clear need to increase the financial autonomy of Polish local authorities and it would be fair to say that the powiat has not yet found its place, or even that it might lose its place if intermunicipal co-operation was extended. In Poland, intermunicipal co-operation is confined to associations between municipalities to take joint action on behalf of the population. The powiats are currently regarded as the weak link in Polish territorial organisation and are quite unlike the Kreise which served as their model.

81. In the light of these brief comparisons, it may be concluded that the Kreis indeed constitutes an ideal model, but that it is difficult to implement it today in Poland, which is unable, financially and politically, to follow it.

The Kreis cannot be a model for Norway either, because it has wider and much more firmly established powers than the Norwegian county.


82. Consensus on a necessary reform

Its two official visits convinced the delegation that a reform of Norwegian territorial organisation is necessary. This point of view is in fact shared by a large majority which comes close to a complete consensus. Nearly all the people we spoke to agreed that the current “county” should be reformed.

83. A minimum reform

It was also found that a consensus could be reached on a minimum reform which would be limited to reducing the number of counties (currently 19) to between 5 and 10 by setting up large regions.

84. Abolition of the elected county assembly

On this point, however, no consensus can be reached, either within the government coalition or, a fortiori, between the majority and the opposition.

However, the delegation did not find that its interlocutors saw the abolition of elected assemblies as interference with the free administration of local authorities, even though the return to an authority combining the governor and the county seems impractical, and even unacceptable to some of them. It seems rather that some sections of public opinion (particularly in outlying rural areas) are afraid that a reform of territorial administration based on efficiency might deprive citizens of some of the quality of service characteristic of the current Norwegian arrangement, which is particularly costly to the taxpayer but which has the merit of operating satisfactorily. What is at stake for people who have grown up in the comfort of the welfare state is the risk - which is purely hypothetical at this stage - that the welfare state might one day be dismantled or, quite simply, become less generous. As has already been mentioned, however, the example of the transfer of hospitals to the state proves the opposite because, at this stage, the State is spending more on hospitals than the local and regional authorities used to. However that may be, rural public opinion is living in fear of the closure of some hospitals.

85. The place of the county in history and in public opinion

The “county” has not acquired such legitimacy that its disappearance today would cause unrest in public opinion. The reform of the county has become a symbol today and serves as a catalyst for vague fears of a decline in the welfare state. Consequently, there is no historical or emotional obstacle to the abolition of the county. Neither is there any constitutional obstacle.

86. Desirability of the reform

It was not easy for the delegation to assess the real development of intermunicipal co-operation; but it emerged from our talks and visits that intermunicipal co-operation was a solution already practised in Norway, along with associations between counties. This situation proves, if proof were needed, that the county in its current form is obsolete. The reform proposed by the current government therefore seems desirable, to the extent that Norway, without awaiting this reform, has decided to experiment, as from 1 January 2004, in several areas with an “à la carte” distribution of powers, based on the size of authorities. It seems, moreover, that this progressive and pragmatic approach is the best possible solution until such time as a majority emerges in favour of the straightforward abolition of the counties.

87. The number of levels of government

When all is said and done, it seems unreasonable that a country of 4.5 million inhabitants should have to have three levels of government in its present form and one can understand the arguments advanced by certain politicians in favour of the abolishment of one of them. Norwegian pragmatism should be able to come to terms with a redistribution of the county’s powers between central government and the municipalities, especially as the taking over of certain powers by the state is a guarantee that the equality of treatment between citizens over the country as a whole will be maintained.

It is clear that Norwegian citizens want the quality and equality of public services to be maintained and, basically, do not really care very much who provides them, whether it is the municipality, the county or the state. For this reason, the first way forward which the Norwegian Government would perhaps do well to explore - and, in fact, it has already taken this direction - is that of experimentation. Just as it is perfectly natural that the city of Oslo should have a special status, it is natural that a county with dominating rural structures should be entrusted with municipal responsibilities and that, on the contrary, those of a county dominated by an urban structure should be exercised by the main municipality, thus leading to the disappearance of the urban county in question.

Appropriate structures should therefore be found for the territorial planning of regional development, calling for geographical and economic concepts on a larger scale than that of the municipality or groups of municipalities.

Appendix I


CLRAE MONITORING MISSION, First official visit, January 30 – 31, 2003, Prepared with the assistance of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS)


Thursday, January 30

09.00 – 12.30 Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development

09.00 – 09.30 Welcome and presentation of programme by Mr Eivind Dale, Director General

09.30 – 10.00 Meeting with Ms Erna Solberg, Minister

10.00 – 10.45 Introduction to local and regional government in Norway by Ms Greta Billing, Deputy Director General, and Mr Trond Christensen, Assistant Director General

11.00 – 11.45 On-going reforms of Regional government in Norway – presentation by Ms Helene Ohm, Assistant Director General

Legal questions – comments by Ms Nina Britt Berge, Advisor, and Mr Steinar Dalbakk, Advisor

11.45 – 12.30 Answers to questions from the CLRAE delegation

12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

14.00 – 15.00 Ms Berit Aasnes, KS Expert on Regional government and the on-going reform

15.00 – 16.00 Mr. Per Ditlev-Simonsen, Mayor of Oslo, Oslo City Hall

Friday, January 31

10.00 – 11.00 Answers to the questions of the CLRAE delegation by Ms Aina Simonsen, KS Senior Adviser, and Ms Berit Aasnes, KS Expert on Regional government and the on-going reform

11.00 – 12.00 Mr Oyvind Hartvedt, Advisor to the County Mayor of the Hedmark County, and Ms Hildur Horn Øien, Deputy County Mayor, Akeshus County Council, member of the CLRAE

12.00 -13.00 KS Executive Committee – chaired by Mr Halvdan Skard, Vice-President of the CLRAE, President of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities

· Presentation of CLRAE delegation
· CLRAE’s work with monitoring of local/regional democracy
· Questions and dialogue with the Executive Committee


- Halvdan Skard, President
- Odd Arild Kvaloy, Vice-President
- Gunnel Edfeldt
- Øivind Hunskaar
- Anne Marie Grymyr Sterten
- Oddleif Olavsen
- Inger Lise Nyberg
- Bjørg Tysdal Moe
- Harald Røed

- Thorleif Vikre

- Hildur Horn Oien

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch with KS Executive Committee

14.00 – 15.30 Professor Harald Baldersheim, University of Oslo, Institute of political science, and Ms May-Britt Nordli, KS Director for local democracy

15.30 – 16.00 Summing up and planning of next visit

Members of the CLRAE delegation:

- Mr Roberto RUOCCO, Rapporteur, Member of the Government of the Region of Puglia (Italy), Member of the CLRAE

- Mr Fabrice HUGOT, Administrator at the Department for territorial authorities at the French Senate, Expert of the Congress

- Mr Günter MUDRICH, Secretary of the Chamber of Regions, CLRAE

- Ms Irina BLONINA, Administrative assistant to the Institutional committee of the Chamber of Regions, CLRAE

- Mrs Aina SIMONSEN, Director of International Affairs, Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities

Appendix II
Second official visit, June 16 – 18, 2003



09.00 Meeting in the Ministry of Local and Regional Government:

Mr Eivind Dale, Director General, Ms Greta Billing, Deputy Director General, Mr Trond Christensen, Assistant Director General, Ms Helene Ohm, Assistant Director General, and Ms Nina Britt Berge, Advisor

11.00 Meeting in the Parliament
Parliamentary Committee for Local and Regional Government:

- Ms Kari Lise Holmberg, Member of Parliament (Conservative party)
- Mr Karl Eirik Schjött-Pedersen, Member of Parliament (Labour party)
- Ms Anita Apelthun Saele, Member of Parliament (Christian Democratic party)
- Mr Heikki Holmas, Member of Parliament (Socialist Left party)
- Mr Torbjörn Andersen, Member of Parliament (Progress party)

13.00 Lunch followed by meeting at KS with Mr. Halvdan Skard, President of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, President of the Chamber of Local authorities of the CLRAE

15.00 Meeting wit Prof. Eivind Smith, Professor at the University of Oslo, Member of the Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government


In Trondheim meetings with:

- Representatives from political and administrative leadership of the county of Sør-Trøndelag and the county of Nord-Trøndelag: Ms Merethe Storødegård, County Mayor of Nord-Trøndelag, Mr Yngve Brox, Member of the County Executive Board of Sør-Trøndelag, Mr Inge Fornes, Regional director, Mr Tore Kiste, Chief Planning Officer, Mr Bjorn Oyvind, Senior Adviser, Ms Bente Aina Ingebrigtsen, Deputy Executive Officer of Sør-Trøndelag County, and Mr Birger Elvestad, representative of the City of Trondheim


In Lillehammer meetings with:

- Political and administrative leadership in Oppland County:
Mr. Odd Foss, Deputy County Mayor, Mr. Audun Tron, Member of the County Council, Executive board, Mr. Håkon Kolden, Member of the County Council, Mr. Halvor Skjeggstad, Deputy County Executive, Mr Jorn Prestsaeter, Leader of the Department of Planning and Environment
- Information about Oppland County
- The project “Fritt Fram” – a project on regional development and partnership
- Presentation of experiences from regional cooperation/partnership by Ms Synnove Brenden Klemtrud, Mayor of Lillehammer, who is also chairman of KS Oppland (the regional branch of KS)

1 In this respect, the Congress delegation was told during its visits about the necessity for Norway to comply with the formal demands of Article 2 of the European Charter of local self-government, ratified by Norway in 1989, which states : “the principle of local self-government shall be recognized in domestic legislation and where practicable in the Constitution”.

2 Hereafter “the county” is understood as “the county authority”; while “the county governor” is mentioned explicitly.