Ensuring a smoother flight

Secretary-General of the OECD

©OECD Observer

If Shakespeare was right, and the world is a stage, then “Gathering Storm” could be the title of the play as we enter 2008. With a US economy flirting with recession, the euro area losing stamina under a strong euro, a barrel of oil close to $100, international food and commodity prices reaching record levels and climate change intensifying, it looks like we are heading into a turbulent zone.
However, the OECD is not here to shout “fasten your seatbelts” there are many others doing that already. We are here to present scenarios, identify good practices and provide innovative solutions to assure a smoother flight and a safe landing. Reversing these negative trends will require an extraordinary degree of multilateral co-operation, and a lot of creative thinking. We can make a difference, and actually, the OECD is already making a valuable contribution.

Ancient wisdom says: be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it! Our member countries have entrusted us with many important briefs and honouring them will demand hard work, talent and co-ordination. In 2008, the OECD must carry these initiatives forward and consolidate our role as a hub of globalisation.

Looking back on our achievements of 2007 fills me with a sense of satisfaction that the organisation is adapting to a constantly changing world with remarkable agility and speed.

Take enlargement talks with Chile, Estonia, Israel, Russia and Slovenia. The accession roadmaps have already been delivered to capitals in candidate countries, with kick-off missions already launched.

Our process of “enhanced engagement” with five of the world’s major emerging economies—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa—has gathered momentum too, as shown by the growing participation of these countries in OECD work.

This historical “opening” is giving the OECD new weight and significance in global affairs.

Further testimonies of this vibrant, more relevant OECD are everywhere. They include the creation of the Heiligendamm Process Support Unit to facilitate G8 dialogue with major emerging global players, and the Partnership for Democratic Governance to help build capacity in new democracies and fragile states around the world. Our collaboration on development matters with other international organisations like the World Bank, the WTO, the UNDP and the regional development banks has never been stronger.

On promoting the political economy of reform, we are helping countries as diverse as Mexico, Hungary and France in setting forth the conditions needed to achieve higher sustainable growth paths. Our PISA survey of student competence has proven itself as an international reference for the improvement of educational systems, with the model now being used to assess adults too. And on health, we are drawing worldwide attention to neglected infectious diseases.

Our active participation in the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December underlined our capacity to propose innovative solutions and facilitate a better understanding of the way forward on what is set to be the most important global challenge of this century. We will continue our efforts in April at our environment ministerial meeting, and again at our main OECD ministerial council meeting in June, which will focus on the economics of climate change.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the OECD Innovation Strategy is moving ahead, to help our members enhance their economic performance in the global economy by investing in research, new  value-added products and new ways of doing business. A strong  global economy also relies on policies for supporting infrastructures,  and that includes the still evolving Internet, whose future challenges  will be addressed by member governments in an important  ministerial meeting in Korea next June.

We must further our work in many other areas too: on migration,  labour, governance, competition, trade and agriculture, etc.  However, our challenges are not just external. We are also engaged  in a process of internal reform, to strengthen the OECD’s  institutional foundations. Our staff and financial rules, including our  auditing arrangements, budget and human resource policies: all  must be reviewed to enable the organisation to move forward and  meet fresh challenges .

The start of 2008 also marks the opening of the OECD’s state-of-theart  conference centre in Paris, giving new physical expression to a  new chapter now unfolding in this institution’s history.

For the OECD is not merely a group of international officials,  economists or diplomats; we are a multicultural team that believes a  new reality is possible. As Woodrow Wilson would have it: “We are  here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater  vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. We are here to  enrich the world, and we impoverish ourselves if we forget this  errand.”

The OECD is in the business of helping to transform this world into  a better place. With hard work and talent, and the commitment of  our member countries, we can face the gathering storm and build a  brighter future for everyone.

©OECD Observer No. 264/265, December 2007-January 2008

For more on the Secretary-General, see www.oecd.org/secretarygeneral

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