By Tann vom Hove
After representing Baden-Württemberg, Germany’s second most prosperous state, at the European Union (EU) in Brussels for nine years, Richard Arnold could have moved to any number of senior government positions in either Berlin or Stuttgart. Instead he decided to return to his hometown of Schwäbisch Gmünd to run for mayor. In an interview with City Mayors, Mayor Arnold explained that at local level a politician is not only closest to ordinary people but can also influence and implement cutting-edge changes. “I cannot imagine anything more rewarding than to be able to be part of and help shaping these changes in my hometown,” he said.
Richard Arnold was born in 1959 in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a city of some 60,000 people, 50km east of Stuttgart and, following his education at a local high school, studied public administration at the universities of Konstanz and Frankfurt. After a scholarship year at one of America’s elite universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology“ (MIT) in 1988, Arnold worked for two years at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels as expert on EU agricultural and environmental policies. Before returning to Brussels in 2000, he occupied several senior posts with the state government of Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart. From 2000 until 2009, Arnold headed the representative office of Baden-Württemberg at the EU. In 2007, during the German presidency of the Council of the European Union, Arnold was voted one of the best-known and most influential Germans in Brussels. In May 2009, Arnold defeated Schwäbisch Gmünd’s incumbent Social-Democrat mayor in the first round of the election.
Mayor Arnold is a member of Germany’s centre-right Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and one who cherishes his Christian, liberal-humanistic values. He considers people and their concerns central to all major decisions. “Whatever we aim for, we have to achieve it for the people and not regard them as a means to an end.” He believes in a modern conservatism that recognises that more and more people no longer want to be dominated by a cold, soulless, purely profit-orientated technocracy.
During his years outside Germany, Arnold embraced globalisation – he now speaks German, English, French, Dutch and Spanish – but also learnt that in an increasingly mobile, outward-orientated society, the role of the local community was more important than ever. Even while working in Brussels, he never cut the ties that bound him to his hometown. As an accomplished tenor, Arnold was particularly keen to remain part Schwäbisch Gmünd’s cultural scene.
Recently the mayor has attracted national and international attention for his advocacy for greater rights for refugees. At Schwäbisch Gmünd he regards himself as mayor of all people including asylum seekers and believes they should be allowed to participate more actively in society. “Forced idleness can lead to apathy and even crime.”