Local Government Reform
In 2007 the structure of the Danish public sector was reformed. The number of Danish municipalities was reduced from 271 to 98 and the reform led to several changes in the division of labour between the state, the (new) regions, and the municipalities.
The Time Leading Up to the Reform
In October 2002 the Danish government announced that it wanted a commission of experts to look at the public-sector structure and investigate whether or not this structure was able to deliver on the requirements of a modern society. In January 2004, the commission released its recommendations in a report proposing several changes – among other things larger municipalities.
Through increased demands regarding the minimum municipal size, this recommendation was later operationalised politically: Municipalities must have at least 20,000 (and preferably 30,000) citizens, otherwise enacting legally binding cooperations with larger municipalities.
Until the 1st of January 2005 the municipalities participated in an open process leading to voluntary agreements on how to draw new lines on the municipal map. After having negotiated with neighbouring municipalities and listened to local citizens most decisions were made in peaceful terms – overall avoiding conflicts. Only twice, the state had to take direct action and make decisions on behalf of disputing municipalities. Generally, the result of the process was larger municipalities than expected.
The 1st of January 2007, the new municipal structure was formally enacted. 32 municipalities (mainly urban-based), each of them originally having more than 20,000 inhabitants, did not merge with other municipalities. Only 7 municipalities (mainly island-based) ended up with less than 20,000 inhabitants and legally binding cooperation agreements with larger neighbouring municipalities.
Along with the reform of the municipal structure, the Danish parliament reformed the regional structure in Denmark – closing down 14 counties and opening up five new regions. The regions are mainly responsible for running the hospitals but do have certain responsibilities regarding regional development, environmental protection, and public transportation. Unlike the previous counties and unlike the municipalities, however, the regions do not have the right to impose taxes on their inhabitants, thus relying on subsidies from the municipalities and the state.
Each of the five regions is politically led by a regional council with 41 members, elected every fourth year.