Northern Norway merger overwhelmingly rejected in regional referendum

Finnmark County Council leader Ragnhild Vassvik believes she will be able to make the Norwegian government backtrack on its regional reform forcing Finnmark to merge with its neighbour Troms. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
This shows that Finnmark wants to be governed by people from the region, says County Council leader Ragnhild Vassvik.

As much as 87 percent of the voters opposed the government’s merger of Finnmark with neighboring Troms County. Turnout was 58 percent, results from the vote show.

The referendum, held on the 14th of May, was initiated and organized by the Finnmark County administration.

“Once again people in Finnmark have stood up for their opinions [and] shown that they are not afraid of speaking up against the Government when necessary”, says County Council leader Raghild Vassvik.

“This is a powerful message from the people of Finnmark to the Government and the Storting: we do not want this forced merger”, she underlines.

Concessions not enough for Finnmark

The merger between the two Arctic regions is part of a regional reform introduced by the country’s government and approved by the Storting, the national parliament.

Vassvik, a representative of the Labor Party, first signed an conciliatory agreement with neighboring Troms County, according to which Finnmark would get responsibilities for several policy areas of key importance in Arctic governance, including international cooperation and climate.

That, however, was not enough for the regional legislators, who demand that Finnmark remains a separate region.

Ragnhild Vassvik argues that Finnmark should not be governed by people from outside the region. “The only thing Finnmark wants is to continue to be governed by people from Finnmark”, she says.

“We have said what we think, now government must follow up.”

Will Oslo listen?

Vassvik now says that she will go to Oslo and officially deliver the result to Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Solberg and her government has repeatedly underlined that the merger of Troms and Finnmark will proceed irrespectively of the result from the referendum.

The County of Finnmark has a population of about 75,000 living on a territory of 48,000 square kilometers. It is one of the sparsest populated areas in all of Europe. The proposed new Troms and Finnmark region would have a population of about 245,000 living on a 75,000 square kilometer territory.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit perspectives crucial as Canada develops Northwest Passage says report, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark/Greenland: With Siumut’s re-election, will Greenland welcome Chinese investment?, Cryopolitics Blog

Norway: Norway’s two northernmost counties merge into one territory, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Arctic infrastructure: Moscow runs dry, companies step in, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden’s government wants to boost “neglected” countryside, Radio Sweden

United States: Agency supporting Alaska’s rural development has new interim leader, Alaska Public Media

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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