Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Norway to Ukraine Ule Terje Horpestad tells about the progress of the Norwegian regional reform and its difference from the Ukrainian decentralisation reform.
By Dmytro Synyak
Photo: Oleh Baklazhov
According to the World Bank and IMF’s data, Norway ranks third in the world in terms of GDP per capita, which last year reached USD 72.046 (for comparison: in Ukraine it amounts to USD 2.656 per capita). Besides, this country has for many years been the world leader in human development index, being one of the oldest kingdoms in the world with over 1100 year-history. Though the state system of this country is in complete contrast to the absolute monarchy.
Several decades ago, the Norwegian government faced the problem of a sharp outflow of people from the northern territories, and in order to stop this process decentralisation was carried out. Now the Norwegians are making the next step, further increasing the amount of funds and powers on the ground, and at the same time carrying out administrative-territorial reform. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Norway to Ukraine Ule Terje Horpestad told decentralisation.gov.ua about the specifics of these changes.
In Ukraine, decentralisation has been implemented for the fourth year. Can you compare it with a similar reform in your homeland?
- Yes, the Ukrainian reform is similar to Norwegian, since its main idea is to transfer more powers from the national to the regional level. Though decentralisation is not a novelty for Norway, the current reform should further strengthen the municipalities, making them larger and expanding their capacity.
Does the Norwegian regional reform envisage changes in the administrative-territorial structure of the state, like the Ukrainian one?
- Yes, it does. The number of fylke (countys, regions) should be reduced from 19 to 10, not counting the capital, which will de facto be a separate county. The counties and municipalities should become stronger by providing quality services to the population.
Does it mean that there are only two levels of administrative-territorial division in Norway, namely countys and municipalities?
- I would rather talk about three levels, and, in fact, such a division was fixed in the decision of our parliament, adopted in 2015. According to it, the state should be governed from the governmental, regional and local political levels.
What is the amalgamation principle of Norwegian municipalities?
- The most important principle is voluntariness. Another important principle of amalgamation is capability.
What was the reform model in Norway? That is, the experience of which countries became the basis for change?
- It can be said that Norway was applying and developing the experience of many other European countries, yet the experience of Scandinavian neighbours was especially useful. For example, Denmark was reforming its municipalities from 1960 till 2007.
What were the main problems of regional reform in your country? How were they overcome?
- Apparently, like every reform, the regional reform had both its supporters and opponents. Several municipalities were not willing to amalgamate, because they believed that it would be better for them. In addition, there is already a decision to create two new large countys. In order to convince people, the government is doing everything to demonstrate the benefits of amalgamation. The main instrument of convincing reluctance is the transfer of powers and funds to the regional level. However, sooner or later, the parliament should decide on the compulsory amalgamation of counties and municipalities opposing the reform.
Were there political forces opposing the reform? How was their resistance overcome?
- As I have already mentioned, we had several cases of frank resistance to the reform at both the municipal and county levels. At the national level, the Centrist, Labour, as well as two left-wing parties, are primarily against the reform. Nevertheless, the reform supporters have a steady majority in the parliament, which makes it possible to talk about changes’ implementation in any political weather.
Decentralisation is usually closely linked to the educational and healthcare reforms. Have there been any changes in these sectors in Norway?
- Already now, the municipalities are responsible for primary and secondary schools, and the county is in charge of the high school. The regional reform will not change this division of powers. In the healthcare sector, municipalities are responsible for primary healthcare, and counties – for the secondary link, except for several specialised hospitals that are directly administered by the state. This principle will remain after 2020, but the powers and responsibilities of the counties will increase after the reform.
How is the state control over the lawfulness of local self-government’s decisions exercised in Norway? Who and how controls them?
- The county head – fylkesmann – is a representative of the king and the state in a particular county. He is responsible for controlling the implementation of laws and orders, as well as for observing the most important principles of the parliament and government on the ground. In addition, we also have the county mayor – fylkesordfører, who is elected by vote and is the chairman of the county council. The state undertakes to provide municipalities and counties with adequate regulatory frameworks that will enable them to solve all local tasks in the spirit of democracy and for the benefit of the residents. However, the main budget revenue sources of municipalities are the taxes on income, real estate, etc. In Norway, there is the Ministry of Local Self-Government, which is, in fact, a coordinator between the local authorities and the government.
How has Norway's life changed after decentralisation? Have the communities become more capable and richer?
- The regional reform was primarily intended to create wealthy and productive municipalities and counties, as well as to improve coordination and cooperation in providing services for the population. And as a result of the reform, the counties were able to defend their interests more effectively before the government.
How has the reform affected the development of depressed (mountainous) territories?
- This can only be said after the completion of the reform in 2020. But I should mention that the support of the northern and mountainous regions has always been a priority of the Norwegian regional policy.
Are the rapid development of tourism in Norway and regional reform implementation interconnected?
- Yes, to a certain extent. Cooperation at the municipal level increases in proportion to the size of the municipality.
How do you evaluate decentralisation in Ukraine? What are its weak and strong points?
- Judging by my personal impressions of travels around Ukraine, decentralisation is quite successful here.
What could Ukraine learn from Norway in the field of decentralisation? What would you recommend to Ukrainian reformers?
- The basic principle of decentralisation is the transfer of responsibility for political decisions as close as possible to the population they directly concern. Residents of communities start having more and more influence on certain important decisions. I think, these very principles were caught and understood by the Ukrainian reformers. Therefore, the Ukrainian reform is bound to succeed.
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