Denmark has recently been through a process where the number of municipalities has been reduced, and the division of labour between the state, regions and municipalities has changed.
At the annual opening of the Danish Parliament in October 2002, the Government announced that it would appoint a commission of experts (Public Sector Task Commission) to investigate whether the public sector structure met the requirements of a modern society.
The commission accomplished its work throughout 2003 and released its recommendations in January 2004. Its report proposed six different administrative models, and most of them pointed towards larger municipalities. The model that was adopted has resulted in municipalities with at least 20,000 (preferably 30,000) citizens. Municipalities with less than 20,000 citizens were only accepted where a legally binding cooperation with a larger municipality was in place.
In the second half of 2004, all Danish municipalities were requested by the Government to decide which neighbouring municipalities they wanted to merge with. The deadline for this decision was 1 January 2005. Thus, a decentralised process took place where municipalities were negotiating with their neighbours on the formation of new and larger municipalities.
The decentralised creation of the new municipalities was smoother and gave rise to less conflicts than expected. In only two instances, the formation of new municipalities was decided by the state. Many of the new municipalities are also larger than was expected at the beginning of the process.
The new municipal structure came into force on 1 January 2007.
32 of the "old" municipalities did not merge with other municipalities; they all had more than 20,000 inhabitants, and most of them were located in the Copenhagen area. Out the 98 new municipalities, seven have less than 20,000 inhabitants. They are mostly smaller islands and have made cooperation agreements with neighbouring municipalities.
Five New Regions
The Danish Government and Parliament also decided a change from 14 counties to five regions. Since 1 January 2007, the regions have been responsible for the hospitals, including health care services. Furthermore, the regions have a few other tasks in the field of regional development, environment and public transport. The regions will not have the right to impose taxes, and the activities of the regions are paid by subsidies from the municipalities and the state.
Each of the five regions is led by a Regional Council with 41 members, elected by the people every four years.