Norway

Norway - Monitoring report

Date of the monitoring visit: from 9 to 11 September 2014
Report adopted on: 26 March 2015

The level of local democracy in Norway remains very high.  The manner in which the provisions of the Charter are incorporated and implemented is generally satisfactory. Municipalities (and counties) have wide powers and adequate financial resources for implementing them. However, the supervision exercised over the municipalities and counties by the central government and its representatives in the counties (governors) is such that it limits the freedom of local and regional authorities to take decisions, especially since they have no judicial remedy against central government decisions affecting them, which is contrary to the requirements of Article 11 of the Charter, as indicated in Recommendation 203 (2006).  The ongoing territorial reform instituted by the new government, which includes plans to merge municipalities and give them and counties more powers, looks set to further bolster local and regional self-government in Norway.

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Article ratified Ratified with reservation Non ratified
Compliance Partial compliance Non compliance To be determined
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Article 2
Constitutional and legal foundation for local self government - Article ratified

The principle of local self government shall be recognised in domestic legislation, and where practicable in the constitution.


In Recommendation 141 (2003) on regional democracy in Norway, the Congress noted that the Norwegian Constitution of 1814 contained no provision relating to either local or regional self-government. Likewise, the Local Government Act of 25 September 1992 contains no binding general provisions on the legal protection of local self-government.

 

No constitutional or legislative reform aimed at recognising local self-government has succeeded to date.

 

Various proposals for constitutional reform have been tabled by MPs with a view to expressly enshrining the principle of local self-government or local democracy in the Constitution (there were 12 proposals during the previous parliament) but none has ever been adopted by the Norwegian Parliament. These proposals tend to come from individual MPs rather than entire parties. One such proposal was rejected in 2012. Three further alternative proposals for constitutional amendments were then submitted to Parliament and must now be examined by the Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs. They are expected to be voted on in 2015. If adopted, they would have the effect of enshrining in the Constitution people’s right to manage local affairs through bodies elected by direct universal suffrage within the framework prescribed by national law. During the consultation process, the government pointed out, that a public committee to propose a new Local Government Act was appointed in June 2013. By means of the comments received following the visit, the delegation noted that the government considers the formation of the public committee as an effective measure to comprehensively review the Local Government Act and therewith strengthen municipal self-government.

 

The procedure for amending the Norwegian Constitution provides that the amendments must be considered by two successive parliaments and approved by a two-thirds majority. The Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs reviews and makes recommendations to the Storting on constitutional bills. A bill to amend the Constitution may be put forward by a member of the Storting or a member of the Government. The proposed amendments to the Constitution must be submitted during the first three Stortings of an electoral term. There will therefore always be a general election between submission of a proposed amendment and the decision whether or not to adopt it. This allows the electorate to make its opinions known. A two-third majority is required to adopt an amendment to the Constitution and at least two-thirds of the members must be present in the Chamber to vote on any constitutional matter. One pragmatic way of protecting local self-government would be to incorporate the principle of local self-government in specific legislation, as a first step to constitutional recognition. The local government association KS, supports the idea of incorporating the principle of local self-government into the local government act. Still, the KS insists that the principle should nevertheless be incorporated in the Constitution.

 

The rapporteurs are on the opinion that the situation is not in compliance with the Charter on this point.

Article 3.1
Concept of local self government - Article ratified

Local self-government denotes the right and the ability of local authorities, within the limits of the law, to regulate and manage a substantial share of public affairs under their own responsibility and in the interests of the local population.


The Norwegian system of local and regional government fits the definition of local self-government given in Article 3 of the Charter. Municipalities are responsible for a substantial share of public affairs which are managed under the direct responsibility of councils freely elected by secret ballot on the basis of equal, universal suffrage. The Local Government Act of 25 September 1992 envisages two systems for governing municipalities (and indeed counties). Under the “parliamentary” system of local government which may be adopted if the majority of municipal council members so decide, the executive board (“cabinet”) is the highest organ of local government. Members of the executive board report to the council and can be forced to resign if the council passes a resolution to that effect.

 

Norway also offers a wide range of opportunities for participatory democracy. The Local Government Act allows municipal councils (and county councils) to hold local (or regional) consultative referendums. Since 1970, there have been 721 local referendums in Norway. There is also an arrangement known as a “citizen’s initiative” whereby petitions can be submitted to the municipal council if they have been signed by at least 2% of the local population. All municipalities, furthermore, are required to set up councils for the elderly and councils or similar arrangements for the disabled. The councils have a consultative role in all matters relating to this share of the population. In addition, specific consultation and participation procedures have been introduced in a number of municipalities.

 

In the rapporteurs’ view, Norway is in compliance with this provision of the Charter.

Article 3.2
Concept of local self government - Article ratified

This right shall be exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot on the basis of direct, equal, universal suffrage, and which may possess executive organs responsible to them. This provision shall in no way affect recourse to assemblies of citizens, referendums or any other form of direct citizen participation where it is permitted by statute.


Consult reply indicated at article 3.1.

Article 4.1
Scope of local self government - Article ratified

The basic powers and responsibilities of local authorities shall be prescribed by the constitution or by statute. However, this provision shall not prevent the attribution to local authorities of powers and responsibilities for specific purposes in accordance with the law.


Norwegian local authorities have extensive basic powers but they are not prescribed by the Constitution or any general statute. Instead, the extent of the powers enjoyed by local authorities in a given subject area is determined by specific laws. The division of powers and responsibilities between central government and local authorities may vary, according to the level of social development and what is required for the proper functioning of the welfare state.

 

There is no general competence clause in Norwegian legislation. Unless the responsibility is explicitly by law designated to others, local authorities can go beyond the powers expressly assigned to them by law if local interests warrant it (economic development, culture, tourism, industrial activities, etc.). A number of municipalities even own power stations.

 

Norwegian legislation contains no specific reference to the principle of subsidiarity but in practice, local councils have authority in matters which concern citizens directly (health, primary and lower secondary education, waste removal, etc.). Parliament allocates competences and responsibilities between the various tiers of government, while endeavouring to take account of the size and nature of the tasks and the need for efficiency and economy.

 

Although the government continuously reaffirmed the de jure autonomy of local and regional authorities the actual scope of local self-government seems however to be limited, insofar as central government guides the exercise of local powers and responsibilities. Central government departments can also object to decisions taken by municipal authorities, e.g. with regard to the content of urban plans. The county governor, who represents the central government in the counties, acts as supervisor and adviser to local authorities. Besides reviewing local authority decisions to ensure they comply with the law, he or she can also make judgments about the expediency of local policy (approval of major capital investments, etc. on certain conditions according to the Local Government Act). The number of laws, bylaws, guidelines and recommendations and as a result the influence of central government on local government has increased. It appears, however, that the new government, through the minister for local government and modernisation, has instructed governors to show more respect for local self-government. Furthermore the government emphasized, that any interventions from the part of the central government or county governors are strictly limited to the competences referred to them by law.. Municipal decisions regarding the inhabitants’ rights and duties can be appealed against, by the individual concerned to a central government institution. This institution may then, in addition to overruling the municipalities’ interpretation of the law, also overrule the purely discretionary elements of the decisions.

 

Norwegian local authorities are regularly consulted by the government through their association (KS, the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities). An agreement was concluded in February 2000 between local authorities and central government on the meetings and regular consultations that must be held, whether plenary meetings or bilateral meetings between KS and the ministries. Such meetings provide an opportunity to discuss the general framework for the distribution of resources in connection with the tasks assigned to local government, the financial position of local authorities, the cost of reforms, etc. Of special interest is the agreement between KS and the government about calculation of costs related to new reforms. Accordingly, KS is also invited to take part in the preparations of new laws, to establish balance between local and national interests. The current reform of municipal structures and powers has accordingly given rise to numerous meetings between KS and the government.

 

With regard to paragraphs 1, 2 and 4, and in view of the above, the delegation considers that the situation is partly compliant with the Charter.

Article 4.2
Scope of local self government - Article ratified

Local authorities shall, within the limits of the law, have full discretion to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter which is not excluded from their competence nor assigned to any other authority.


Consult reply indicated at article 4.1.

Article 4.3
Scope of local self government - Article ratified

Public responsibilities shall generally be exercised, in preference, by those authorities which are closest to the citizen. Allocation of responsibility to another authority should weigh up the extent and nature of the task and requirements of efficiency and economy.


Consult reply indicated at article 4.1.

Article 4.4
Scope of local self government - Article ratified

Powers given to local authorities shall normally be full and exclusive. They may not be undermined or limited by another, central or regional, authority except as provided for by the law.


Voir réponse indiquée à l’article 4.1.

Article 4.5
Scope of local self government - Article ratified

Where powers are delegated to them by a central or regional authority, local authorities shall, insofar as possible, be allowed discretion in adapting their exercise to local conditions.

 


Consult reply indicated at article 4.1.

Article 4.6
Scope of local self government - Article ratified

Local authorities shall be consulted, insofar as possible, in due time and in an appropriate way in the planning and decision-making processes for all matters which concern them directly.

 


Consult reply indicated at article 4.1.

Article 5
Protection of local authority boundaries - Article ratified

Changes in local authority boundaries shall not be made without prior consultation of the local communities concerned, possibly by means of a referendum where this is permitted by statute.

 


Local communities are in fact consulted prior to any change in local authority boundaries. The territorial reform currently under way, and which is expected to produce mergers between municipalities, has given rise to extensive consultations with local authorities and their association (KS). According to the legislation, municipalities should consult their inhabitants about changes in the boundaries of local authorities. This can be done by a local referendum, opinion polls, questionnaires, meetings or by other means.

 

The rapporteurs accordingly conclude that Norway is in compliance with Article 5 of the Charter.

Article 6.1
Appropriate administrative structures and resources for the tasks of local authorities - Article ratified

Without prejudice to more general statutory provisions, local authorities shall be able to determine their own internal administrative structures in order to adapt them to local needs and ensure effective management.


Norwegian local authorities have considerable freedom to determine their own internal administrative structures, in accordance with existing law, in particular the Local Government Act. When it comes to political structures, they can choose between the traditional system of government and the parliamentary system (see above). They can also set up specialised committees to deal with particular sectors and have a fair amount of leeway in organising local public services.

 

Local authorities are free to recruit their own staff. They are currently having some difficulties finding high-quality staff owing to the extent of the responsibilities which they are required to discharge.

 

The rapporteurs conclude that as regards the appropriateness of administrative structures and resources for the tasks of local authorities, Norway is in compliance with Article 6 of the Charter.

Article 6.2
Appropriate administrative structures and resources for the tasks of local authorities - Article ratified

The conditions of service of local government employees shall be such as to permit the recruitment of high-quality staff on the basis of merit and competence; to this end adequate training opportunities, remuneration and career prospects shall be provided.


Consult reply indicated at article 6.1.

Article 7.1
Conditions under which responsibilities at local level are exercised - Article ratified

The conditions of office of local elected representatives shall provide for free exercise of their functions.


The conditions of office of local elected representatives are such as to enable them to exercise their functions freely and efficiently, with a satisfactory system of financial compensation. Within municipal councils, safeguards exist to protect the rights of the opposition (distribution of posts according to election results, right to ask written or oral questions, access to information, provision of documents, etc.). It is not customary for officials in Norway to hold more than one elective office at a time.

 

The situation is in conformity with Article 7 of the Charter.

Article 7.2
Conditions under which responsibilities at local level are exercised - Article ratified

They shall allow for appropriate financial compensation for expenses incurred in the exercise of the office in question as well as, where appropriate, compensation for loss of earnings or remuneration for work done and corresponding social welfare protection.


Consult reply indicated at article 7.1.

Article 7.3
Conditions under which responsibilities at local level are exercised - Article ratified

Any functions and activities which are deemed incompatible with the holding of local elective office shall be determined by statute or fundamental legal principles.


Consult reply indicated at article 7.1.

Article 8.1
Administrative supervision of local authorities' activities - Article ratified

Any administrative supervision of local authorities may only be exercised according to such procedures and in such cases as are provided for by the constitution or by statute.


Administrative supervision of local authorities’ activities is exercised by the governor (fylkesman) who acts as the representative of central government in the counties. Under Section 59 of the Local Government Act, the governor exercises supervision to ensure that acts and decisions adopted by local authorities comply with the law. Section 59 of the Local Government Act limits the supervision applied to acts of local authorities to a simple verification of compliance with the law. This can concern the inherent lawfulness of the act (the act must be lawful in terms of content), the empowerment of the authority issuing the decision (made by a person or persons empowered to make such a decision) or the lawfulness of the procedure which resulted in the decision (came into being in a lawful manner). A decision deemed unlawful will be annulled.

 

There is no requirement to submit local authorities’ acts and decisions to the governor, who exercises supervision by monitoring local authorities’ decisions on-line. The governor may carry out reviews on his or her own initiative, or if asked to do so by at least three members of the municipal council. The governor has the authority to revise any acts or decisions which he or she considers unlawful. He or she may also issue directives to local authorities, drawing their attention to the need to comply with the law.

 

In this regard, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation clarified, that it is responsible for rules on the framework, procedures and instruments for government supervision of municipalities and county authorities in the Local Government Act Chapter 10 A. The Local Government Act stipulates amongst others that the audit should provide legality supervision, i.e. supervision of the municipality’s compliance with the duties imposed on it by the ministry, which by law is given the authority to supervise. Which parts of the municipality's activities are to be supervised, has to be specified in each separate law. Ministries themselves are responsible for special statute authorizations for audits and that these are in accordance with the general supervision rules of the Local Government Act. Through the allocation letter to the supervisory bodies each ministry sets financial limits for supervisory activities, provides possible guidelines for methodology, volume etc. The role of the governor and other supervising bodies is in actual fact much wider, as he or she likewise has the power to oversee the running of local public services. Consultations with the KS supported the delegation’s observation that by overseeing the municipalities, the supervising bodies actually deviate to a substantial amount from existing legislation related to procedures, documentations while showing a lack of administrative routines. This appears to be the case at least from the perspective of governmental institutions and the way those bodies interpret the legal framework. The governor may also be asked to examine appeals from members of the public who consider that their individual rights in relation to health, social welfare, education or construction and planning have been infringed by local authority decisions. These decisions can thus be reversed in favour of the individuals concerned.

 

Besides supervising compliance with the law, it appears that governors can also exercise a form of supervision with regard to expediency and issue recommendations or even instructions to local authorities and raise objections, e.g. in matters relating to town planning. Some local elected representatives, notably those from the municipality of Bergen as well as the representatives of the local government association KS, expressed the wish that the supervision competences of governors should be strictly limited to legality control. KS has expressed its view that supervision should neither be based on an increasing number of guidelines nor recommendations by the central government, but solely on statutory law. The current Norwegian government seems willing to better regulate the powers of governors. The principle of subsidiarity, meanwhile, is not specifically mentioned in the texts relating to supervision and its application is not systematic in practice.

 

Norwegian legislation and particularly section 59 of the Local Government Act appears compliant with the requirements of the Charter in so far as it limits state supervision of the acts of local authorities to a simple verification of lawfulness. It nevertheless appears in practice that certain governors exercise supervision over local authorities exceeding simple verification of lawfulness and akin to a review of expediency (merit). The rapporteurs have reservations regarding a certain amount of administrative supervision carried out by governors on the own competences of local authorities. This practice remains variable, but the delegation wishes to draw the attention of Norwegian authorities to the issue.

Article 8.2
Administrative supervision of local authorities' activities - Article ratified

Any administrative supervision of the activities of the local authorities shall normally aim only at ensuring compliance with the law and with constitutional principles. Administrative supervision may however be exercised with regard to expediency by higher-level authorities in respect of tasks the execution of which is delegated to local authorities.


Consult reply indicated at article 8.1.

Article 8.3
Administrative supervision of local authorities' activities - Article ratified

Administrative supervision of local authorities shall be exercised in such a way as to ensure that the intervention of the controlling authority is kept in proportion to the importance of the interests which it is intended to protect.


Consult reply indicated at article 8.1.

Article 9.1
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

Local authorities shall be entitled, within national economic policy, to adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their powers.


Norwegian local authorities have their own resources thanks to local taxes, central government transfers and charges levied on users of public services (water supply, waste collection, child care, etc.). The central government transfers are made up partly of general grants (36% of total revenues) and partly of earmarked grants (5% of total revenue in 2014). Resources derived from taxation and general grants awarded by central government may be disposed of freely. Municipalities (and counties) may spend these funds as they see fit provided that they duly perform the tasks assigned to them by law. In total, it appears that some 75% of all local authority resources may be freely disposed of.

 

It appears from the information received from Norwegian local authorities that the resources available to them are generally sufficient to enable them to carry out their tasks. Central government transfers can be increased if municipalities have to meet particular needs. The four biggest municipalities (Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger) receive a special “urban grant” to offset the costs entailed in being an urban centre.

 

Local taxes and levies account for approximately 40% of local authorities’ total resources. Fees and charges levied on users of public services make up roughly 15% of this amount. Local authorities are free to set the rate of local tax, within the limits of a statutory ceiling, but it seems that, because of financial needs, it has been nearly 35 years that any local authority has set the local tax rate lower than the highest level permitted by law. As a result, all municipalities apply the same level of taxation.

 

Local authorities’ main source of tax revenue is income tax, of which they receive a share. The amount of income yielded by this source does in fact evolve, therefore, depending on economic growth. There is also a wealth tax which is levied at both municipal and central government level. Municipalities can also choose to levy a property tax under the Property Tax Act. Between 2005 and 2013, local authority revenues rose by 2.5% per year, 0.3% up on the previous 15 years, due to regulations of property tax creating a larger base for taxation.

 

One of the main aims of the system of funding local authorities is to equalise their resources so that they can offer the same standard of service anywhere in the country. There is therefore a significant degree of redistribution of resources by central government, based on several criteria. When distributing general grants, which are allocated in the first instance according to the number of inhabitants in the municipality (a per capita grant totalling NOK 218,00), central government takes account of both structural cost differences between municipalities (expenditure equalisation) and differences in tax revenues (income equalisation). The expenditure equalisation component is based on a set of objective criteria designed to equalise resources across the country. They include the age structure of the population, the number of married, single and divorced people, the number of jobless, the number of immigrants and the number of people with disabilities. The income equalisation component, on the other hand, is based on the income tax and wealth tax paid by individuals and the natural resources tax paid by companies operating in the energy sector. Local authority resources also include central government transfers to enable authorities to pursue regional policy goals (e.g.: Northern Norway and Namdalen grants, district grants to Southern Norway). A special grant is available, furthermore, for small municipalities (fewer than 3,200 inhabitants) whose tax revenues have been below 120% of the national average over the past three years. Municipalities which are experiencing unusually rapid population growth receive a special grant. In addition, “discretionary” grants can be awarded to local authorities to compensate for specific circumstances which are not compensated by the general grant scheme. All in all, it appears that the system of distributing resources between Norwegian local authorities fully satisfies the requirements of the Charter.

 

Norwegian local authorities represented by their association (KS) are regularly consulted by the Norwegian government about the distribution of resources between local authorities. In the course of these meetings, the cost of reforms and the compensation payable by central government to local authorities are also discussed, due to the general principle that new tasks for local government should be fully compensated by the central government – while full compensation may often be a matter of negotiation.

 

The share of earmarked grants in total central government transfers to local authorities is significantly smaller than that of general grants and has tended to diminish in recent decades. In 2014, (unconditional) general grants accounted for 36% of local governments’ total resources, whereas (specialised) earmarked grants made up only 5%. In this context, KS remarked that there is continuous pressure from interest groups and their political spokesmen to introduce and increase earmarked grants.

 

Since 2001, Norwegian local authorities have been able to borrow without the prior approval of central government, but only for the purpose of financing capital investment. While there is no limit on the amount that may be borrowed, restrictions apply to municipalities whose budget is found, in the course of the governor’s review of local government budgets, to be in deficit, and also to municipalities which have failed to eliminate their deficits within two years after the deficit has been presented. These municipalities are then entered in a register (the ROBEK, Register for Governmental Approval of Financial Obligations) and may borrow only with the prior approval of central government. As of 1st September 2014, 54 municipalities were listed in this register (roughly 12% of the total number). After rising sharply in 2005 (to approximately 120), the number of municipalities listed in the Register has levelled off since 2007.

 

In the light of the above, the rapporteurs conclude that Norway is in conformity with Article 9 of the Charter.

Article 9.2
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

Local authorities' financial resources shall be commensurate with the responsibilities provided for by the constitution and the law.


Consult reply indicated at article 9.1.

Article 9.3
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

Part at least of the financial resources of local authorities shall derive from local taxes and charges of which, within the limits of statute, they have the power to determine the rate.


Consult reply indicated at article 9.1.

Article 9.4
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

The financial systems on which resources available to local authorities are based shall be of a sufficiently diversified and buoyant nature to enable them to keep pace as far as practically possible with the real evolution of the cost of carrying out their tasks.


Consult reply indicated at article 9.1.

Article 9.5
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

The protection of financially weaker local authorities calls for the institution of financial equalisation procedures or equivalent measures which are designed to correct the effects of the unequal distribution of potential sources of finance and of the financial burden they must support. Such procedures or measures shall not diminish the discretion local authorities may exercise within their own sphere of responsibility.


Consult reply indicated at article 9.1.

Article 9.6
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

Local authorities shall be consulted, in an appropriate manner, on the way in which redistributed resources are to be allocated to them.


Consult reply indicated at article 9.1.

Article 9.7
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

As far as possible, grants to local authorities shall not be earmarked for the financing of specific projects. The provision of grants shall not remove the basic freedom of local authorities to exercise policy discretion within their own jurisdiction.


Consult reply indicated at article 9.1.

Article 9.8
Financial resources of local authorities - Article ratified

For the purpose of borrowing for capital investment, local authorities shall have access to the national capital market within the limits of the law.


Consult reply indicated at article 9.1.

Article 10.1
Local authorities' right to associate - Article ratified

Local authorities shall be entitled, in exercising their powers, to co-operate and, within the framework of the law, to form consortia with other local authorities in order to carry out tasks of common interest.


The right of local authorities to associate is guaranteed in Norway. There is a Norwegian association of local and regional authorities (KS), to which all municipalities and counties belong, and which is the government’s preferred contact point in all matters concerning local and regional authorities. Local authorities can also set up co-operation structures to carry out tasks of common interest. These intermunicipal co-operation structures may take various legal forms: public bodies, bodies governed by private law or even municipal foundations. Most Norwegian municipalities are involved in a number of co-operation structures that can range from 8 to 15.

 

There are also associations which bring together counties and which are active on the international front. For instance, the Eastern Norway County Network association, which gathers eight counties, developed a “European Strategy” for the period 2013-2017, resulting in cross-border cooperation, in particular with regions from Nordic countries, the regions of the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. A cooperation agreement has also been signed with the German Land of Schleswig-Holstein.

 

The situation is in conformity with article 10 of the Charter.

Article 10.2
Local authorities' right to associate - Article ratified

The entitlement of local authorities to belong to an association for the protection and promotion of their common interests and to belong to an international association of local authorities shall be recognised in each State.


Consult reply indicated at article 10.1.

Article 10.3
Local authorities' right to associate - Article ratified

Local authorities shall be entitled, under such conditions as may be provided for by the law, to co-operate with their counterparts in other States.


Consult reply indicated at article 10.1.

Article 11
Legal protection of local selfgovernment - Article ratified

Local authorities shall have the right of recourse to a judicial remedy in order to secure free exercise of their powers and respect for such principles of local self-government as are enshrined in the constitution or domestic legislation.


In its Recommendation 203 (2006), the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities recommended that the Norwegian authorities bring their legislation and judicial practice into compliance with Article 11 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government by guaranteeing, in their domestic legal system, local authorities the right, and the full exercise of that right, to judicial remedies against decisions taken by the state administration. In a reasoned opinion, the Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government expressed regret that there was no independent judicial body for settling disputes between central government and local authorities or even between two local authorities. For the text of Article 11 implies that a local authority must have the right to a judicial remedy against any legal entity that violates its powers or autonomy, whether central government, another local authority, a regional authority or even a private individual. The right to a judicial remedy further presupposes that the procedure is fair and offers guarantees such as adversarial proceedings, a public hearing, equality of arms, the rights of the defence and reasoned grounds given for the solution. In the Norwegian system, it appears that where a dispute arises between central government and local authorities, whether it concerns the interpretation of legislation, the division of powers or the apportionment of costs, central government is usually both judge and jury. Accordingly, any decisions by the governor which adversely affect local authorities may be challenged by lodging an administrative appeal with the relevant minister.

 

Although local authorities are fully fledged legal entities governed by public law, they have no legal right to a judicial remedy in disputes between central government and local authorities regarding their public authority and competences, and Norwegian courts have issued rulings refusing to grant such a remedy. The Appeals Selection Committee of Norway’s Supreme Court accordingly found in Case No. 1993-445 that “the position of the local authority as a public authority under the Concession Act (Norway) cannot of itself provide grounds for a right of action for the local authority”. Likewise, in the Kongsberg-Nes case of 2007 (No. 2007–234), the Supreme Court confirmed that decisions taken by the governor (fylkesmann) could not be challenged through the courts.

 

There have, however, been a number of positive changes as regards the settlement of disputes between central government and local authorities since Recommendation 203 (2006).

 

For example, under an agreement between the Ministry of Child Welfare and Equality and KS, an independent body to settle child welfare disputes was set up on 1 January 2010. The new body’s remit is confined to resolving disputes over expenditure and the division of responsibility between central government and municipalities in matters relating to child welfare. It is chaired by a judge, assisted in each case by two members. These members are selected on a case-by-case basis from a list, drawn up in advance based on area of expertise, of six members, three of whom are freely chosen by central government and three on a recommendation from KS. The proceedings are mainly written but the parties may be called upon to appear where deemed appropriate. Although the decisions taken are purely in the nature of recommendations and are not binding on the parties, the latter are nevertheless expected to comply with them.

 

The ministry of health and KS also signed an agreement in February 2012 to set up another independent national advisory body to settle certain local disputes between central government and local authorities in the health sphere. The body in question consists of a chairperson, who must be a lawyer, and a vice-chair, also a lawyer.

 

In January 2011, KS suggested that the government set up independent semi-judicial bodies, or even an administrative court, where central government and local authorities would be represented but where decisions would be taken by the judge or a body with no connection to either party to the dispute. In the white paper dated 10 February 2012, the government refers to this proposal from KS, while emphasising that it would prefer to observe the operation of the existing bodies for a time, before considering extending this arrangement to other sectors.

 

The setting-up of independent bodies with the authority to resolve disputes between local government and local authorities in certain sectors does not seem to meet the requirements of Article 11 of the Charter as the bodies in question are of a non-judicial nature, and have a purely advisory role. This is nevertheless an improvement on the previous situation where local authorities were in a very weak position vis-à-vis central government in the event of a dispute.

 

Lastly, it is important to note that in January 2014, the government set up an inter-ministerial working party to consider and propose setting up a dispute resolution body that would have the authority to deal with disputes between central government and local authorities. This working party has also been asked to consider what restrictions might be placed on the power of central government to reverse decisions taken by municipalities. It is expected to produce a report recommending a number of legislative changes by the end of 2014. According to the Norwegian government, the setting-up of this independent dispute resolution body would enable Norway to meet the requirements of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

 

The rapporteurs conclude that the situation is not in conformity in law with Article 11 of the Charter.

ACCESSION

to the Council of Europe

RATIFICATION

of the European Charter of Local Self-Government

CONSTITUTION | NATIONAL LEGISLATION

No constitutional or legislative reform aimed at recognising local self-government has succeeded to date.



30Ratified provision(s)
0Provision(s) with reservation(s)
0 Unratified Provision(s)
19Compliant Provision(s)
6Partially Compliant Articles
2Non-compliant Provision(s)