Norway is divided into 19 counties and 430 municipalities (2008). The powers of the county and municipal councils for self-government have been delegated from the State, and are set out in legislation, not in the Constitution.
The State is directly represented at a local level through the County Governors’ offices.
The municipalities are the most important units of local government administration. They are responsible for primary and lower secondary education, social services, municipal roads, water and sewerage and zoning regulation. Upper secondary schools and a number of technical services are administered at the county level. Each of these levels of administration receive part of their revenues through local taxation, fees and local business management, and partly from allocations from the central authorities and other public institutions.
The counties represent a traditional administrative division dating back to the Middle Ages and Viking Age, when local “fylkesting” (county councils) still retained great power. The system of local self-government of the Middle Ages gradually dissipated after Norway was united into a single realm. Following the union with Denmark, authority became centralized under the King. In 1837, local self-government in the municipalities was reintroduced.
The counties and municipalities are governed by elected councils, and elections are held every four years. Mandates are distributed according to a system of proportional representation, and the number of mandates varies from 13 (municipal councils) and 25 (county councils) to 85. The councils are led by an executive committee comprising a representative selection of all the party groups from the relevant council and a mayor. A few exceptions, chiefly Oslo and Bergen, employ a parliamentary form of government and thus establish a party-based local government.
The 18 county administrations (Oslo is not defined as a traditional county) were established in 1975 to provide an administrative level between the State and the municipalities. Since the major amalgamation reform of 1967, the number of municipalities has stabilized at a figure around 420-440.