Dane becomes first foreigner elected mayor of major German city

Danish businessman Claus Ruhe Madsen became the first non-German to win the mayor's office in a major German city Sunday with his election victory in Rostock.

Dane becomes first foreigner elected mayor of major German city
Claus Ruhe Madsen on the campaign trail. Photo: DPA

Madsen, an independent, claimed about 57 percent of the vote in a run-off ballot in the northern city, beating Steffen Bockhahn of the far-left Linke with around 43 percent.

Copenhagen-born Madsen, 46, has lived in Germany since 1992 and settled two decades ago in Rostock on the Baltic Sea. However he has never taken a German passport.

READ ALSO: The Dane who wants to be mayor of a German city – and how he plans to modernize it

He has led the local chamber of commerce for six years and ran a campaign promising “pragmatic” politics and a strong ecological stance.

Madsen was able to maintain his lead from the first ballot three weeks ago when he won 34.6 percent of the vote against eight other candidates, while Bockhahn won 18.9 percent. The second round was held because no candidate received more than half of the votes.

'Stuck in the past'

As The Local reported, Madsen's campaign was based on modernizing Rostock, a harbour city on the Baltic Sea coast which he said was “stuck in the past”.

He pledged to make the city more attractive for companies in other countries around the Baltic Sea, including Denmark and Sweden.

That would be achieved through renovation of the harbour, improving public transport and bicycle lanes, and making the city a climate frontrunner through a series of environmentalist initiatives, according to the Danish candidate’s platform.

Madsen also said he wanted to build a new theatre in Rostock.

Madsen, who sports a prominent beard and sharp business suits, had pledged to hand over management of five furniture stores he owns to his wife should he be elected.


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Green Party leader: ‘Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament’

Per Bolund, joint leader of Sweden's Green party, spoke for thirteen and a half minutes at Almedalen before he mentioned the environment, climate, or fossil fuels, in a speech that began by dwelling on healthcare, women's rights, and welfare, before returning to the party's core issue.

Green Party leader: 'Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament'

After an introduction by his joint leader Märta Stenevi, Bolund declared that his party was going into the election campaign on a promise “to further strengthen welfare, with more staff and better working conditions in healthcare, and school without profit-making, where the money goes to the pupils and not to dividends for shareholders”. 

Only then did he mention the party’s efforts when in government to “build the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”. 

“We know that if we want welfare to work in the future, we must have an answer to our time’s biggest crisis: the threat to the environment and the climate,” he said.

“We know that there is no welfare on a dead planet. We need to take our society into a new time, where we end our dependency on oil, meet the threat to the climate, and build a better welfare state within nature’s boundaries, what we call a new, green folkhem [people’s home].” 

He presented green policies as something that makes cities more liveable, with the new sommargågator — streets pedestrianised in the summer — showing how much more pleasant a life less dependent on cars might be.  

He then said his party wanted Sweden to invest 100 billion kronor a year on speeding up the green transition, to make Sweden fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

“We talk about the climate threat because it’s humanity’s biggest challenge, our biggest crisis,” he said. “And because we don’t have much time.” 

In the second half of his speech, however, Bolund used more traditional green party rhetoric, accusing the other political parties in Sweden of always putting off necessary green measures, because they do not seem urgent now, like a middle-aged person forgetting to exercise. 

“We know that we need to cut emissions radically if we are even going to have a chance of meeting our climate goal, but for all the other parties there’s always a reason to delay,” he said. 

“We are now seeing the curtain go up on the backlash in climate politics in Sweden. All the parties have now chosen to slash the biofuels blending mandate which means that we reduce emissions from petrol and diesel step for step, so you automatically fill your tank in a greener way. Just the government’s decision to pause the  reduction mandate will increase emissions by a million tonnes next year.” 

The right-wing parties, he warned, were also in this election running a relentless campaign against the green party. 

“The rightwing parties seem to have given up trying to win the election on their own policies,” he said. “Trying to systematically push out of parliament seems to be their way of trying to take power. And they don’t seem above any means. Slander campaigns, lies, and false information have become every day in Swedish right-wing politics.” 

He ended the speech with an upbeat note. 

“A better, more sustainable world is possible. There is a future to long for. If you give us a chance then that future is much closer than you think!”

Read the speech here in Swedish and here in (Google Translated) English.