OECD member states have confirmed on Monday former Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann as the new secretary general of the Paris-based body. After defeating the former Swedish European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström by the minimum in the last stage of his path to become Ángel Gurría’s replacement, his appointment has generated not a few reluctance both inside and outside the think tank of rich countries, especially among the many environmental organizations that have shouted to the sky for their so far skeptical stance on climate change, a key issue on the agenda of the institution that he will now lead.
Even so, in the final session of a selection process that began six months ago and in which there were ten candidates, the 37 States with the right to vote on Monday respected the custom of the 60-year-old Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (OECD) and approved by consensus the appointment of Cormann last Friday. The Australian who will replace the Mexican Gurría from June after 15 years at the head of the Paris-based organization. Breaking the tradition of consensus would have been a dangerous show of division at times of maximum economic uncertainty. But the evident lack of enthusiasm when greeting the candidate – there has not been a shower of congratulations despite the fact that his name was already in the limelight for days – are a sign that the new head of the OECD will not count, they point out. diplomatic sources, with carte blanche. Their steps, they affect, will be watched very closely.
Perhaps aware of this, in all his statements since it became known that he was the finalist candidate, Cormann – conservative, 51 years old and who in addition to English dominates German, French and Flemish that he learned in his native Belgium – has insisted in his commitment to the environment, despite the fact that during his long period as Minister of Finance in the Australian Government – almost eight years – his policies border on denial. Those suspicions will not be enough to prevent the conservative from becoming the sixth secretary general in the history of the organization.
“We need genuine, ambitious and effective action on climate change in a way that is also economically responsible,” he told the Australian broadcaster ABC. Also in the official statement that he issued after it was known that he had been the winner – albeit by a “narrow margin”, as the sources emphasize – in a secret vote held on Friday to break the tie he maintained with Malmström, the question of environment prevailed in his speech. “As the world continues to grapple with the impact of the most severe pandemic in more than a century, our essential mission in the past – to promote stronger, cleaner and fairer economic growth and to increase employment and living standards – remains the most important mission for the future, ”he said, trying to make a clean slate. It also pledged to “lead and promote global leadership in ambitious and effective action against climate change to achieve zero global carbon emissions by 2050.” Some guarantees that do not reassure the thirty NGOs that had asked to have their candidacy rejected. Unsuccessfully.
Cormann, who emigrated to Australia in 1996, was an essential part of a government that in 2014 “abolished the carbon pricing scheme” introduced by his Labor predecessor to force companies to reduce their carbon emissions and has not even proposed a An alternative to that measure, nor has he committed to the global zero emissions policy for 2050 that he must now defend and promote at the head of the OECD. That same Executive, which he only resigned to run for the post in Paris, still offers subsidies to fossil fuels worth 29,000 million dollars a year – 2.3% of the national GDP – and remains willing to open exploit fossil fuel reserves. Greenpeace, Oxfam, ActionAid and the rest of the signatories also criticize having stopped in international forums the commitments of other countries in the fight against climate change, as when in 2017 he described the restrictions on loans from coal banks as a “very, very disappointing” measure.
Wink to Asia-Pacific
Cormann’s choice is perceived as a relative surprise within the organization. Your poster of outsider that it had the support of many non-European countries – a third of the 37 Member States – made it an option to consider when reaching the final round. His Swedish rival, of a liberal court, started with several lengths of advantage, but some factors, however, seem to have played against him in the foto finish.
First: the method of suffrage finally chosen in the event of a total tie – secret ballot, in the ballot box – always favors the vote for candidates who are not well seen to support in public. Second: Malmström’s stage as European Trade Commissioner raised important blisters in the United States, something that has not played much in her favor despite the greater ideological harmony with the Biden Administration, even less when the European bloc has not voted far from it en bloc. Had he done so, Cormann would have had no choice. And third: in full swing of the center of gravity of the world economy towards Asia-Pacific, the election of a representative of that region is interpreted as a clear indication that the future of the think tank passes by expanding to the east. With no Japanese, Korean or New Zealand candidate in the running, his was the only possible asset in the area. “If the OECD wants to be a global organization, it has to look at the place where the future passes,” argues a technician from the Paris-based entity.
A mandate with many open fronts
The former Australian finance minister does not come to the head of the OECD at any given time. After the biggest recession since World War II, the rich bloc faces a key five years of reconstruction of the world economy. Two especially hot topics on the agenda: closing a deal on the call Google, that equitably tax technology companies regardless of the country in which they reside, and advance in the imposition of a global tax on carbon dioxide emissions. On the first of those fronts, everything indicates that the changing of the guard at the White House is going to bring with it the white smoke: the new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, has already dropped Washington’s biggest obstacle to the proposal. In the second, the pact seems more distant: Malmström had it as one of the priority axes of its commitment – ”it is something in which the OECD has to take the initiative; in five years I think it would be possible, “he said in an interview with this newspaper in January,” but with the Australian he seems to be moving away.
In the corridors of the organism he worries – and not a little – Cormann’s past. But there are those who choose to see it in the positive: “Precisely because of all the noise that his appointment has generated, he will have to demonstrate a lot in the environmental field. In all the issues, also in this one, the agenda is set more by the member countries than by the secretary general, and he will not be able to deny progress ”, says one of the sources consulted. “He’s going to have to show that he knows how to navigate OECD waters.” His past won’t make it easy for him.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.