Cormann wins OECD leadership race


Former Australian finance minister Mathias Cormann has won the race to lead the OECD, becoming the first person from outside Europe or the Americas to head the international organisation.

In the final round of voting on Friday, the 50-year-old politician narrowly beat Cecilia Malmstrom, the former EU trade commissioner, who was unable to secure a unified bloc of European countries to support her. The process was a very close race, according to some of the 37 ambassadors to the OECD who recorded their nation’s view. Cormann’s appointment was backed by the UK and France, they said.

Although both candidates had “broad support” among members, a straw poll on Friday revealed “Cormann as the candidate with the most support”, Christopher Sharrock of the UK, the lead ambassador of the process, told the Financial Times.

Climate activists criticised the choice of a former representative of a government that was sceptical of global warming. The OECD’s missions include helping countries “design and implement effective policies to address environmental problems”, they noted.

Cormann served under three rightwing Australian governments which took a sceptical attitude to climate change. He has in the past described Australian Labor party’s ambitions for a 2050 net zero target as “extremist and irresponsible”.

Jennifer Morgan, international executive director of Greenpeace, said: “We have little confidence in Mr Cormann’s ability to ensure the OECD is a leader in tackling the climate crisis when he himself has an atrocious record on the issue, including opposition to carbon pricing”.

In the race to head the OECD, he distanced himself from his former Australian Liberal party’s climate scepticism and instead pledged to use his European background and Asia-Pacific networks to help build a stronger and more integrated global economy.

Cormann has argued in recent months that the OECD should “provide important global leadership to drive ambitious and effective action on climate change” and “help economies around the world achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050”.

A lawyer by training, he emigrated from Belgium to Australia in 1996, allowing him to emphasise his international credentials in a race in which he did not start out as favourite.

Cormann had the strongest domestic political career of all the candidates and was seen by many of those close to the process as the person most likely to prove a strong voice internationally for the policies needed to help advanced economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

He will succeed Angel Gurría, who has run the organisation for the 15 years, at the start of June. The main immediate task will be to seek to foster international agreement on the taxation of multinationals, which has been given a boost by the US dropping the objections from the Trump administration.

With Joe Biden in the White House, there is renewed momentum behind finding a new agreement on cross-border corporate tax issues to prevent a race by countries to implement a plethora of domestic taxes on tech giants.

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