The twists and turns of regional politics in Sweden – or to be more specific: the politics of regional administrative divisions – during later years have been complicated and would demand a series of blog-posts were I obliged to do them justice.
But let me just note that the Conservative Party (always the party of centralised government) in principle blocks any proposals for reorganisations on the regional level against the will of – well, every other party.
Two obvious questions about the regional level of government are: 1) What should the regions do, and 2) How large should they be? The recent Danish reform of local government answered those questions with 1) health care and 2) Around 1 mill. inhabitants.
If we should apply this principle in Sweden, the country should have nine instead of twenty-four regions and there would of cause also be quite a bit of reshuffling of operative administrations between the state, regions and local councils. Here, I should note that one reason that the Conservatives block a reform of the regional level probably also has to do with the party’s opposition against giving regions responsibilities in regional development and industrial policy but we’ll leave this aside for the moment.
If you look at the existing counties in Sweden, it is obvious that all four regions in Norrland – ie. Jämtland, Västernorrland, Västerbotten and Norrbotten (population numbers here) – are needed if you want to reach the 1 mill.
On the other hand, you will also have to acknowledge that a region including the four present Norrland counties would be pretty large in geographical terms – somewhere around 225000 sq kilometres. In terms of size, that’s a little smaller than Romania and a bit bigger than Belarus. And around half of Sweden’s territory.
It seems that resistance against a Greater Norrland region has been most intense in Jämtland and parts of Västernorrland. Örnsköldsvik (Västernorrland), on the other hand, has voiced its interest in being part of an Upper Norrland region and to have as close relations with Umeå as possible.
In any event, the result of a meeting today of the committee discussing the possible future administrative divisions in Norrland was that neither Jämtland nor Västernorrland as a whole want to join a Norrland region. Instead, two regions are proposed: One consisting of Jämtland county, Sundsvall and Ånge, and another consisting of Norrbotten and Västerbotten counties as well as Örnsköldsvik, Sollefteå and Kramfors. One strange angle on this is that Timrå apparently wants to join Upper Norrland while Härnösand wants to keep its options open (if Timrå joins Upper Norrland, Härnösand would be an exclave in Lower Norrland).
Reactions among local politicians in Umeå have been furious across the board – the Conservative Andreas Ågren complains that this solution puts Umeå at a disadvantage to Luleå when a regional capital has to be chosen while Liberal Britt-Marie Löwgren and the Social Democratic mayor Lennart Holmlund blast the Jämtes. Holmlund – in his usual colourful language – even wants to offload Jämtland to Norway.
The problem is, that if someone decided to present the Jämtes with serious offer of (re-)joining Norway, they might just accept it.