No extra sausage for the Danes

New SSW mayor has to balance between German and Danish voters

FLENSBURG – Simon Faber is German and part of the Danish minority in his city Flensburg. Faber is a politician for the SSW- the South Schleswig Voter federation – the political party which represents the Danes in this German region. He just got into office as the first SSW mayor of Flensburg since 60 years. What makes his job interesting in a difficult way.

Margot Perrier and Anouk Mentink

Flensburg chose its new mayor at the end of 2010. Simon Faber represents the border city in the north of Germany. He has been chosen by a low election turnout. Only 26 percent of the 88.521 voters of Flensburg showed up. Although one fourth of the population belongs to the Danish minority in this city, it is unlikely that they all voted for Faber. Surprisingly, the mayor is also supported by a part of the German majority. But that does not make his task easier.

Simon Faber, mayor of Flensburg

Simon Faber has to stand up for both the expectations of the German and the Danish voters. Since a mayor represents his whole city and not only the political party from which he originates. Flensburg has a great number of inhabitants who belong to the Danish minority, which also is open for Germans who choose to become part of the community. This particular situation has a long history (See box 1). And that leads to the fact that Faber is certainly not an ordinary mayor.

Box 1 – The national Danish minority

Flensburg is part of the German – Danish border region Schleswig-Holstein.

It became part of the Prussian province in 1867 and had a mixed population of Germans and Danes. The region has known many conflicts because of that. A referendum was held in 1920. The majority of Flensburg voted to be reunified with Denmark, but the region stayed German because of local pro-German majority. The relationship between the Danes and the Germans remained difficult. In 1955, both border minorities gained rights through the Bonn-Copenhagen declaration: ‘Danish-German culture is a free choice and may not be disputed or questioned by the authorities.’

This also means that Germans can decide to become part of the Danish minority- and the other way round in South Denmark- by sending their kids to a Danish school, to become member of the community or the political party SSW.

The border region of Schleswig

Balance is the challenge

Firstly, Faber got elected in the middle of a local heated debate. Recently, the Danish minority only gets 85 percent of their original school funding, paid by the national government. The parliament of Schleswig-Holstein had to reduce the deficit by cutting the budget. They argued that the minority already gets enough money from the Danish government.

That upsets the SSW and their voters. They struggled for decades to get an equal treatment in Germany. Finally, they accomplished a treaty between the Danish and the German government which states that they are equal to the Germans. ‘And now they are suddenly not equal anymore?’

Martin Klatt – a minority expert from the University of Southern Denmark– argues that Faber got elected because of this budget cut. ‘The community of the Danish minority- the SSF- wrote letters to all its members, with a request to vote for Faber,’ says Klatt. ‘By voting for SSW its members could show their dissatisfaction with the cuts to the school budget. ’ The tricky part is that the mayor does not have the power to change anything about this situation. His voters expect nevertheless that he will solve this conflict for them.

Martin Klatt - minority expert

This problem mainly concerns the Danes, therefore the mayor must remember to stand up for everyone within his municipality. That is not as easy as it seems. After three months in office, Faber noticed that the citizens of Flensburg watch everything he does, and also what he does not do. ‘For example, as a mayor I have to keep in contact with other municipalities. Since they are doing fine at the moment, I haven’t visited them yet. And immediately there was criticism; if he does not visit us, he probably only cares about the Danes.’

To prevent these kind of situations, Faber realises that he has to be strict to his own political party. ‘No extra sausages for the Danes, as the Germans say. I have to be more critical towards the SSW, because I don’t want to cause a split between the political parties in Flensburg.’

On top of that, the press is very keen on his mistakes. Martin Klatt describes the local newspaper of Flensburg as very ‘pro-German’. ‘The Flensburger Tageblatt would cry out immediately if Faber favours the Danish minority,’ says the minority expert. ‘There was even a media riot before he came into office. Some journalists heard that Faber wanted to move his office from the third to the thirteenth floor of the city hall. That would have cost a lot of money according to the newspapers, and that was certainly not done.’

Face the difficulties

Fortunately, Simon Faber has thought about tools to fight these difficulties. The new mayor of Flensburg feels relieved to work from the basis of total equality between the two communities. “I don’t have to choose between the German majority or the Danish minority. For instance, if I invest money in a German sports club, I also have to invest in a Danish one.”

Anke Spoorendonk - chairwoman of the SSW

As mentioned before, the new mayor has to keep some distance from his own political party. The SSW understands this attitude very well. Anke Spoorendonk – chairwoman of the SSW – points that the SSW does not expect from Faber that he represents their political party. “He represents the town. Being a mayor is a special job. That this mayor is one of us is new for us, but we have faith that it will turn out well for the party and for Flensburg.”

Even though the SSW can’t rely on extra power through the mayor, it still gets power trough the nine seats on the city council. The political party operates independently from the mayor, builds projects on its own and holds meetings of the mayor. The SSW has accomplished these council seats through large support by the civil society of Flensburg– 22 percent of them voted for SSW at the last elections. Apart from the city council, the political party is also represented in the parliament of Kiel with four seats.

The risk of disappointment

Although Faber can prevent most issues, one remains. As both the SSW and Martin Klatt point out, he has been mainly elected because of the school funding issue. The SSW gained a lot of solidarity because of this adversity, within its own community and the German majority as well. All the German parties in the city council of Flensburg defend the SSW in this conflict with the state.

“The problem is that Faber does not have the power to resolve this issue because it is a decision of the parliament of Kiel,” says Klatt. The current parliament is from the right wing. There will be new elections in 2012. “In the case this parliament is re-elected, nothing will change for the Danish minority,” explains Klatt. Faber will probably be held responsible for that by his voters.

Faber understands that risk, as well as his own party. As Spoorendonk points out, ‘people will be disappointed if that happens’. “Therefore the mayor has to explain why he does what he has to do. And that some things are just not possible,” concluded the chairwoman.

The majority of the citizens ignore how the political system works. The voters could be very disappointed if the situation for the Danish schools remains the same. They would think that the mayor is responsible for this lack of change.

Check out what the citizens of Flensburg think of their mayor:

SSW mayor in Flensburg: yes or no?



About Anouk Mentink