Six in Race to Become Next Head of OECD
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
Six in Race to Become Next Head of OECD
Comprised of 30 relatively wealthy nations in the world, the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) has often functioned as a trendsetter for discussions on such themes as globalization of the economy, promotion of free trade, establishment of cross-border investment rules, and economic development of poor nations.
It is, however, rare for the OECD to hit the headlines of mass media. This is because the activities of the organization are more focused on the economic well-being of the world rather than political negotiations, while carefully avoiding to be accused of being a spokesperson for the "rich" countries. Even then, at times OECD has been misunderstood to be "preaching" the poor nations in explaining the methods for them to raise their living standards.
Another characteristic of the organization is that the decisions are made based on consensus, which is unlike in the case of the U.N. where the numbers of votes for and against are counted. This means the decisions of the OECD are stipulations of what every member agrees to, or at least do not object - which in a way can be viewed as a traditional form of "diplomacy" in action. One of the consequences of this practice is to make it difficult for ordinary media, which prefer eye-catching conflicts and confrontations, to post its activities on their front pages.
It does not mean, however, that there are no conflicts based upon national interests among its members. Although issues of political confrontations are not usually tabled for discussion, there is a lot of give and take negotiations, peer pressures, and other form of persuasions - sometimes just short of arm-twisting - behind the scenes to achieve the form of consensus advantageous to the country each delegate represent. This is where the importance of the Secretary General becomes prominent. By functionally being able to know all the issues and stances of everyone, it is assumed that the homeland of the Secretary General, however sincerely he/she personally wants to function in a non-partisan manner, which would be able to secure an advantageous position over other members.
From a historic perspective, the forerunner of the OECD was the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which was formed by 16 European countries to administer American and Canadian aid under the Marshall Plan for reconstruction of Europe after World War II. It was reformed into OECD in 1961 including the U.S. and Canada as its members to become a forum of then "industrialized" countries to discuss economic development of its members and the world. Japan joined in 1964 as the first - and the only until 1996 when Korea joined - member from Asia.
Samuel Johnston, having occupied the seat of the Secretary General since 1996, has declared to step down next year, after 10 years of service. He was a prominent politician in Canada, a major party leader when he succeeded the office. A number of factors were accounted for, albeit mostly unofficially behind the scenes, when he was to take the seat. It was considered sound to have someone outside of Europe, and Canada was the preferred, being not a huge country in political terms, and considered less likely to push through its interest by arm-twisting the others - not like its Southern neighbor. In addition, as a senior Canadian politician, Mr Johnston was proficient in English as well as French, a necessary asset working at the OECD where the official languages are English and French, and the clerical staff are virtually all locally hired French people.
The article introduced above reports there have been six formal candidates registered to succeed Mr Johnston as the Secretary General of the OECD, with a quick rundown of the candidates. The runners are reported to be Poland's Marek Belka, Australia's Allan Fels, Mexico's Angel Gurria, South Korea's Seung-Soo Han, France's Alain Madelin and Japan's Sawako Takeuchi.
Among the runners, Poland's Marek Belka is probably most prominent in terms of political protocol, being the Prime Minister of that country. But some question whether the sentiment and philosophy of democracy and free economy has fully infiltrated to the country. Mexico's Angel Gurria, a proven bureaucrat and then also a politician well versed in international negotiations, could make a powerful leader. But the notion of two successive Secretary Generals from the Americas may annoy some. South Korea's Seung-Soo Han is also an experienced politician, but that Korea being relatively new in the OECD - joining in 1996, and his age - at 68, may be a drawback. France's Alain Madelin is another well-established politician having served as economic ministers in the country's three regimes. Australia's Allan Fels is a successful leader in running various large organizations, but some are skeptical of his capability in handling international affairs.
From Japan, Sawako Takeuchi was chosen to run - an academic and former adviser to the prime minister, working as an economist at the World Bank. Japan has been a long standing member of the OECD, bearing 22% of the cost - next only to the U.S., and the age - youngest at 53 along with Belka, as well as the fact that she is the only woman among five other male candidates, can be the advantage. But as pointed out in the article, having no political background can be considered as a drawback by the opponents.
Mr Johnston has informally indicated that he prefers his successor "from Asia rather than Europe", "a politician rather than a bureaucrat", and "a woman rather than a man." Although Mr Johnston has no formal say on the matter, Ms Takeuchi certainly seem to have a good chance of winning the seat as the first Asian and the first woman of the Secretary General of the OECD.