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No Swedish OECD head – controversial Australian wins

No Swedish OECD head – controversial Australian wins

| Text: Björn Lindahl, photo: World Economic Forum/ Greg Beadle

Australian Mathias Cormann is the OECD’s new Secretary-General after beating Swedish candidate Cecilia Malmström. It has been 14 years since a new leader was elected for the organisation, which is made up of 37 industrialised countries.

Mathias Cormann was Australia’s Minister for Finance between 2013 and 2020. He comes from the Liberal Party, which despite its name is a conservative party. He is controversial because of his reluctance to support climate change mitigation. He does not question the science as such but has been sceptical to emission-curbing measures. 

Before his election, international environment groups wrote to the OECD expressing “grave concerns” over Cormann’s candidacy, according to The Guardian. He takes over the OECD leadership in June and will serve five years.

The Pacific region increasingly important

Cormann’s ascent also shows that the Pacific countries have become increasingly important to the global economy and the organisation, of which neither China nor Russia are members. Mathias Cormann’s background is interesting – he was born in Belgium and emigrated to Australia in 1996. He speaks fluent French and has spent half of his life in Europe and half in Australia. 

Ángel Gurría, the current OECD Secretary-General, is Mexican. Many had therefore hoped for a European candidate since 27 of the organisation’s member states are in Europe. It has not been led by a European since 1996.  

Under Mr Gurría the OECD, which is based in Chateau de la Muette in Paris, has taken a knowledge-based approach to the challenges facing the global economy. 3,000 economists, lawyers and researchers gather comparable statistics and write hundreds of reports every year. In addition to the annual country reports, which contain advice for what kind of economic policies countries should pursue, there are several other major reports – like the World Economic Outlook and the World Employment Outlook. The OECD under Gurría has also become an increasingly strong proponent of collective bargaining and social dialogue. It has explored new ways in which to measure welfare beyond only looking at a country's GDP.

Global Deal

One example of the latter was when the OECD in 2018 took on the responsibility for the Global Deal, launched by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Àngel Gurría and ILO leader Guy Ryder during a UN meeting in 2016.

The Global Deal is a global partnership working for social dialogue and better labour market conditions.

“The key message carried by the Global Deal is clear: Social dialogue has a critical role to play in reducing inequalities and in shaping the Future of Work,” said Ángel Gurría as the organisation took on the responsibility.

He also pointed to how increased inequality goes hand in hand with a fall in trade union membership and in collective bargaining coverage. 

“Our Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth highlights that creating new forms and spaces for social dialogue can go a long way in helping us achieve our objectives of decent work, quality jobs and inclusive growth,” said Gurría.

Mathias Cormann
Recent roles:
  • Minister for Finance - 2013-2020
  • Leader of the Australian Government in the Senate – 2017-2020
  • Chair of the National Security Investment Committee
  • Member of the Expenditure Review Committee and the National Security Committee of Cabinet
  • Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council of Australia – 2017-2020
  • Senator for Western Australia – 2007-2020

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