Monday, January 24

Australian Mathias Cormann is emerging as the new OECD Secretary General | Economy

Former Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, in a file image.
Former Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, in a file image.DENIS BALIBOUSE / Reuters

The wave of female nominations at the head of the main international financial institutions seems to slow down in Paris. The 37 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, a sort of think tank of the rich countries) are preparing to elect in the coming days the former Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann as the new secretary general of the body based in the French capital to replace the Mexican Ángel Gurría. For the position, former European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström also competed. The Swede was considered a favorite and, with her appointment, the trend of recent years of appointing women to the heads of key organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) or, more recently, the World Trade Organization (WTO).

However, in the last round of consultations and voting before the final appointment, originally scheduled for next Monday or Tuesday, the conservative Cormann It was imposed this Friday by a “narrow margin” on its Swedish rival, diplomatic sources from the OECD have confirmed to EL PAÍS.

According to these sources, after the fifth and final round of individual consultations held this week by the dean of the think tank of the rich countries – who was at the forefront of the selection process – British Ambassador Christopher Sharrock, both Cormann and Malmström received “basically” the same number of votes, with some “two or three abstentions from one country”.

Faced with this situation of practical tie, this Friday it was decided to hold a straw poll, a straw or unofficial vote, for which all the ambassadors appeared at the agency’s headquarters in Paris and cast a physical vote, anonymously, in a ballot box. Although by “a narrow margin”, the winner of that tiebreaker was Cormann. Hence, although the process is not completed until the dean calls a council, predictably next week, it cannot be formally said that the Australian will be the new head of the OECD. However, in fact, many already consider him the winner, since in the pending appointment what is done is to present the candidate who has attracted the most support, that is, Cormann. Voting is by consensus and it would be very rare for someone to decide to block the process.

The Australian’s election has come as a surprise, especially since the politician, born in Belgium 51 years ago, aroused many suspicions for his skeptical stance on climate change, one of the burning agendas of his future mandate. In fact, at the beginning of the month, almost thirty NGOs, including Greenpeace and Oxfam, sent a letter to the British ambassador warning that he was not a “suitable candidate” to lead an OECD that must “lead the fight against climate change”.

As Minister of Finance, between 2013 and 2020, of an Australian Government that “has persistently failed to take effective actions in its country to reduce carbon emissions and that has acted consistently by blocking (actions) in forums For NGOs, it is “highly unlikely that Cormann can play an effective role in advocating ambitious action to reduce emissions within OECD nations.”

Voting “very tight”

According to the Agence France Presse, Cormann would have benefited from the agency’s willingness to open itself more to Asia and has been able to “give guarantees in environmental matters” during his campaign to achieve the position. Against Malmström, AFP adds, citing sources close to the organization, they would have played, even within Europe, their positions “considered too liberal” on trade.

The tightness of the vote could compromise Cormann’s margin of action if, as everything points out, he is confirmed as the new secretary general of the OECD. The sources consulted by this newspaper insist that the vote has been “very tight”, which shows that there is a “divided opinion” about the candidates and constitutes a wake-up call for the new leader of the organization.

The new general secretary must understand that his appointment is not the result of unanimity, they emphasize, which will be transferred in that he must be aware that he will not have carte blanche. Cormann, if as everything indicates he is confirmed for the position, he will succeed from June 1 and for a period of five years to the Mexican Gurría, who in the 15 years that he has been in charge of the think tank of the rich countries has had to deal with the two biggest global crises in recent history.

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