Norway's elongated shape, numerous geographical barriers, and distributed population barriers has led to a number of conventions for its subdivisions. These have changed somewhat over time, and various reforms are under continuous consideration.
The political administration of Norway takes place at three levels:
As infrastructure for travel and communication has improved over the years, the benefits of consolidation are under ongoing discussion. The number of municipalities has decreased from 744 in the early 1960s to today's number, and more mergers are planned. Similarly, the political responsibilities of the counties has been decreased, and there was talk of combining them into 5–9 regions by 2010. These plans were, however, recently abandoned.
Within the government administration, there are a few exceptions to the county subdivision:
A county municipality (Norwegian: Fylkeskommune) is the public elected body that is responsible for certain public administrative and service tasks within a county. Each county is governed as a county municipality, with the exception of Oslo, which is both a municipality and a county municipality. The main responsibility of the county municipalities are upper secondary schools, dental care, public transport, county roads, culture, cultural heritage management, land use planning and business development.
The main body of each county municipality is the county council (fylkesting), elected by direct election by all legal residents every fourth year. The county councils typically have 30-50 members and meet about six times a year. They are divided into standing committees and an executive board (fylkesutvalg), that meet considerably more often. Both the council and executive board are led by the Chairman of the County Council or County Mayor (fylkesordfører).
The national government, formally the King, is represented in each county by a county governor (Norwegian: Fylkesmann). This office mainly function as a supervising authority over the county and municipality administrations and their decisions can be appealed to him.
Municipalities are the atomic unit of local government and are responsible for primary education (through 10th grade), outpatient health services, senior citizen services, some social services, zoning, economic development, and municipal roads. Law enforcement and church services are provided at a national level in Norway. The main body of each municipality is the municipality council (kommunestyre), elected by direct election by all legal residents every fourth year.
Three municipalities, Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger, are divided into boroughs. In Oslo and Stavanger, they elect their own political council. They are part of the municipal organization, but have a certain amount of influence in issues regarding health, education and naming.
Norway has three dependent territories (Norwegian: biland), all uninhabited and located in the Southern Hemisphere. Bouvet Island is a Subantarctic island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Queen Maud Land is a sector of Antarctica which spans between 20° west and 45° east. Peter I Island is a volcanic island located 450 kilometres (280 mi) off the coast of Ellsworth Land of continental Antarctica. Both Peter I Island and Queen Maud Land are south of 60°S and are thus part of the Antarctic Treaty System. While the treaty states that the claims are not affected by the treaty, only the other countries with claims recognize Norwegian sovereignty on the island. The dependencies are administration by the Polar Affairs Department of the Ministry of Justice and the Police in Oslo. Norwegian criminal law, private law and procedural law applies to the dependencies, in addition to other laws that explicitly state they are valid on the island.
Norway is generally divided into five regions (Norwegian: landsdel), which largely represent areas with a common language and culture: Northern Norway, Trøndelag, Western Norway, Southern Norway and Eastern Norway. Regions hold no official status in the government, but is used for organizing some public organizations, including the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and the regional health authorities. Central Norway is a region which consists of Trøndelag and Møre og Romsdal. Trøndelag and Northern Norway is collectively known as Nordenfjells. Sápmi is an area which spans into Sweden, Finland and Russia and is defined as the "homeland" of the Sami. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute uses different regions, corresponding to the weather patterns.
|Northern Norway||Nordland, Troms, Finnmark|
|Western Norway||Møre og Romsdal, Sogn og Fjordane, Hordaland, Rogaland|
|Southern Norway||Aust-Agder, Vest-Agder|
|Eastern Norway||Oslo, Akershus, Østfold, Vestfold, Telemark, Buskerud, Oppland, Hedmark|
Districts (Norwegian: distrikt) represent an unofficial area organized by common language, culture or geographical barriers. Their boundaries are subjective and some areas may be regarded as belonging to multiple districts. Districts are larger than municipalities and smaller than counties, although some districts may span across county borders. Some districts form a hierarchy where a district can be subdivided into multiple lesser districts.
Statistics Norway operates with the term settlement for any collection of at least 200 people who live close to another. Outside of these there may be rural areas which have an unofficial border. Sometimes these are defined by school districts. Cities are often divided into boroughs, which may or may not have
Municipal independence was established in 1838. The introduction of self-government in rural districts was a major political change. The Norwegian farm culture (bondekultur) that emerged came to serve as a symbol of national resistance to the forced union with Sweden. The legislation of 1837 gave both the towns and the rural areas the same institutions: a minor change for the town, but a major advance for the rural communities.
The composition and amount of municipalities and their function and the existence and function of the counties are being continuously debated. However, there are currently no plans for reform.