Ole von Beust, Former Mayor of Hamburg

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Ole von Beust
Former Mayor of Hamburg
By Brian Baker, Senior Correspondent

24 June 2010: Ole von Beust became First Mayor of the city state of Hamburg in October 2001 after his conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) formed a coalition with the post-9/11 right-wing Party for a Law-and-Order Offensive, popularly known as the Schill Party. The coalition collapsed in the autumn of 2003 after Ronald Schill, the leader of the law and order party, threatened to out von Beust as gay. Allegedly, Schill tried to blackmail the mayor over a personnel dispute. Ole von Beust has been nominated for the 2010 World Mayor Prize.

Update 7 March 2011: Olaf Scholz (Social Democratic Party) elected Mayor of Hamburg

Update July 2010: Ole von Beust has announced that he would step down as Mayor of Hamburg on 25 August 2010.

The scandal, rather than harming the mayor, helped to win his party an overall majority in early elections held in February 2004 - much to the dismay of the opposition Social Democrats who, prior to 2001, had ruled Hamburg for 40 years.

However four years later, von Beust’s CDU lost its absolute majority but remained the largest party in the Hamburg city parliament. The election result forced Ole von Beust to form a coalition with the Green Party, the first black-green administration at federal state level in Germany. Despite initial doubts, Conservatives and Greens managed to compromise on policy differences over energy, education and the environment.

Ole von Beust was born in Hamburg in April 1955. His full name is Carl-Friedrich Arp Ole Freiherr von Beust. His mother is half Jewish and his father was a politician. He is descended from the 19th century statesman Count Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust. Von Beust has been a member of the Christian Democrat Party (CDU) since 1971 and has served on its Federal Board since 1998.

He qualified to practise law in 1983 and has been a self-employed lawyer ever since. He was first elected to the Hamburg Parliament in 1978. For a period he was its youngest member. He became leader of the CDU group in Hamburg in 1993.

As mayor, he has responded to the economic crisis by ensuring that the administration provides financial support for hard-pressed locally based businesses and by pushing on with major infrastructure projects. These include the expansion of the port (though not its footprint), deepening the River Elbe and expansion of the city southwards.

The sensitive issue of the River Elbe and its ecological and habitat value has been an example of the so-called Black/Green coalition working together under Ole von Beust’s leadership. Whilst the river will be deepened as planned before the 2008 elections there is also now in place a habitat protection plan and a pledge to not deepen it further in future.

Mayor von Beust said in a message to CDU members in early 2010 that with the establishment of a Science Foundation and a state excellence initiative, the coalition had taken decisive steps in trying to make Hamburg the most innovative metropolitan region in Europe.

Support for the creative industries has also been increased by the coalition. Investment has been possible because the city state had no debt at the beginning of the global economic crisis.

The Mayor has also led Hamburg in a major master-planned, high density re-development of the old harbour area. The first phase of this 15 year multi-billion euro development is now built. The Hafen (Harbour) district will be served by new U Bahn Line 4 which is due to open in 2012. Another priority for the mayor is to secure the construction of a new rail line to serve the southern extension – the ‘Y’ line.

Since 2008 Mayor von Beust has deftly managed the Conservative/Green coalition and secured the support of his CDU colleagues for a raft of sustainable development and ecological protection policies and projects such as the better funded and more structured protection for the Elbe habitat and the introduction of statutory building standards which are even stricter on energy efficiency than the Federal requirements.

The agreement between the CDU and the Green Party for the electoral term set the focus of the administration towards education and research, family and social affairs, business and labour and environmental and climate protection.

The city’s environmental focus was recognised when the European Union selected Hamburg to be its second Green Capital. Its year as title holder begins in January 2011.

The selection panel said that Hamburg had delivered major achievements in recent years and excellent environmental standards across the board. They said that the plans for the coming period promised additional improvements and were very ambitious.

Like Bremen and Berlin, Hamburg is effectively both a city and a state tier of government and whilst there have previously been CDU/Green coalition administrations at city level e.g. Frankfurt and Freiburg, this is the first at region level. Some of Germany’s political class believe it can be a harbinger to free up the sclerotic formulae of coalition partnerships in the country and lead to better administrations.  

The most contentious priority for the coalition is to reform the school system in the city. The Leader of the Hamburg Greens Christa Goetsch is the Senator for Education. This is an issue on which both coalition leaders are likely to be judged in future and one on which Mayor von Beust has changed his view since his time as a young conservative politician.

He has said “I was an ardent supporter of the tripartite education system but the longer l was responsible for the services the “more l became convinced that our present system is wrong,”

Politically, the reform is a hot issue with parents campaigning both for and against it. But von Beust told Suddeutsche Zeitung in spring 2010 that the three tier system was out of date and Hamburg was now out of step with most of Europe. “Four years in primary school is not enough Students need more time in primary to develop their potential. The number of drop-outs is too high.”

One of the many controversial elements of the package is that parents will not be able to send their children to gymnasium schools at the age of 10 or without teacher endorsement. Early transition to gymnasium schools has hitherto been favoured by many middle class families.

Parts of the complex package of reforms are being subjected to a referendum in August 2010. Others are earmarked for implementation in autumn 2010.

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