”I will bring with me my 20 years of experience from the Barents Cooperation”, Rune Rafaelsen stresses as results show that he will be the next mayor of Kirkenes, the Norwegian town located near the border to Russia.
The Labour Party took a sweeping victory in the local election. With 50,5 percent of the votes, the party will have a firm grip over developments in the municipality the next four years. Rune replaces Cecilie Hansen, outgoing mayor from the Center Party.
”I will do my best to strengthen international cooperation and use my contacts in neighboring Russian regions”, Rafaelsen stresses, adding that cross-border cooperation will remain a top priority for Kirkenes and the municipality of Sør-Varanger.
Rafaelsen in the period 2001-2014 headed the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, a resource center for Norwegian-Russian relations, and became known as an eager promoter of regional cross-border cooperation.
He takes over the mayoral chair as the local municipality is facing potential major hardship. Trade with neighboring Russia is dropping following sanctions and the weakened ruble, and the local mining company is on the brink of bankruptcy because of the low iron ore prices.
On the positive side, Kirkenes is in the process of developing major plans for its local sea port, and aims for a significant role in Arctic shipping.
”Kirkenes has unique possiblities within the maritime sector”, Rafaelsen says. ”We will develop the port to become a key spot in cooperation with Russia and a hub for the Northern Sea Route”, he adds.