Norwegian Official Urges Municipal Sovereignty

Norwegian Official Urges Municipal Sovereignty

Navarsete believes foreign political systems can be applied in other countries.

Published: October 5, 2011 (Issue # 1677)

Active municipal councils are instrumental in building a prosperous society, believes Liv Signe Navarsete, Norway’s Minister for Local Government and Regional Development who visited St. Petersburg last week to give a lecture at the State Academy for National Economics and State Service.

Navarsete is convinced that it is possible to make use of political experience and tools from other countries, and successfully apply foreign systems in other countries.

What makes municipal councils in Norway particularly strong, according to Navarsete, is the wide range of rights and high level of authority granted by the state. For example, while in Russia, all state-run health centers are funded either directly by the federal government or by the regional authorities, in Norway, municipal health care is an integral part of the national system. Municipal clinics are something completely unheard of here.

“As in Russia, in my country there are often long distances between villages and small towns,” Navarsete said. “For that reason, in order to make at least basic medical aid easily accessible, it was essential for us to organize health centers even in the most distant places, wherever there are people living. These centers are funded from local budgets.”

Next year, Norway will introduce even bigger responsibility for health care among municipal councils. When patients go to a state hospital for any treatment or rehabilitation, 20 percent of the costs will be covered by their local municipality, Navarsete said.

“Ideally, we would like to have more diverse health care services available locally. This is one of the key goals for the near future. We would like to see several municipalities joining forces to build a local hospital. This would be good for both the patients and the economy.”

When a new road or key industrial project is being proposed in Norway, it is the municipal councils that have the authority and the responsibility to make a decision. There are very few exceptions in which the federal government has had to intervene.

“Municipalities in my country are responsible for all construction projects built on their territory,” Navarsete said. “It is in their own interests to resolve any arguments locally. Every municipality has a detailed plan of the development of its land, and if an investor has a proposal, they have to go directly to their local council to discuss it. Most investors in Norway respect the law — including environmental regulations — and residents, so there are rarely debates regarding an industrial project on a large scale.”

Municipalities in Norway even have their say on seemingly global issues, such as climate change and global warming. Norway’s Local Government and Regional Development Ministry joined forces with the country’s Environmental Ministry to develop nationwide programs involving all municipalities aimed at, for example, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The source of 40 percent of emissions are buildings that belong to or are managed by the municipalities,” Navarsete said. “It would therefore be logical to invite municipalities to search for solutions to related environmental issues together with the government.”

Navarsete’s lecture was part of the Nordic Countries Weeks that are currently taking place in St. Petersburg.

“We strive to present our countries in as versatile a way as possible,” said Mika Bedeker, head of the regional bureau of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Nordic Countries program also features lectures on contemporary architecture organized jointly by St. Petersburg’s Pro Arte Institute and Norway’s Snohetta architectural bureau at the Peter and Paul Fortress and film screenings during the “Message to Man” international festival of documentary and animated films.

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