Australia's former finance minister named as OECD chief

Mr Cormann beat Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom to win the post despite criticism over his climate change stance

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 22, 2018 Australia's Finance Minister Mathias Cormann attends a press conference in Parliament House in Canberra.  Australia's former finance minister Mathias Cormann was named the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) chief on March 12, 2021 according to official sources. / AFP / MARK GRAHAM
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Australia's former finance minister Mathias Cormann was elected as the new head of the OECD on Friday, according to media reports, despite his stance on climate change stirring up controversy ahead of his appointment.

The 51-year-old politician was chosen "by a slim majority" during a meeting of ambassadors of the 37-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris.

A powerbroker in the ruling centre-right Liberal party and Australia's longest-serving finance minister, Mr Cormann quit parliament late last year to seek the top job.

He is the first person from Asia-Pacific to take the helm of the OECD, and takes the role in the middle of one of the worst global recessions on record.

But his candidacy was dogged by complaints from environmental groups that his record on climate change did not qualify him for the OECD job.

More than two dozen environmental groups said Mr Cormann should not have been considered for the top OECD job, citing former statements they said opposed climate change.

But Mr Cormann defended his climate record, saying that "action on climate change to be effective, requires an ambitious, globally coordinated approach".

He emerged as a surprise frontrunner and went on to beat fellow top contender, Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom, a former EU trade commissioner.

The duo faced off in the final leg of the months' long battle to be head of the Paris-based organisation, a prize that sees the winner address global challenges including digital taxation and pandemic recovery plans.

Delegates were understood to be evenly split between the two hopefuls in the run-up to the final decision.

Initially created in 1948 to run the Marshall Plan to reconstruct post-war Europe, the OECD is closely engaged in offering solutions to intractable international economic problems. Currently that includes the Transatlantic dispute over how to tax multinational technology giants such as Alphabet and Facebook.

Mr Cormann will succeed Mexico's Angel Gurria, who ends his third-five year term in the role in May. The political jockeying for a successor saw candidates including BlackRock’s Philipp Hildebrand and former European Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou fall by the wayside.

Cecilia Malmstrom, European Union (EU) trade commissioner, pauses during a panel discussion at the 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods system of monetary management in Paris, France, on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Global central bankers are again in the driving seat when it comes to propping up the world economy, but many are demanding governments join them in the rescue effort. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Cecilia Malmstrom, former EU trade commissioner, would have become the first woman to head the OECD if she had won the leadership race. Bloomberg via Getty Images

If Stockholm-born Malmstrom, 52, had won the race, she would have become the first woman to hold the office and the first European in a quarter of a century.

Meanwhile, Mr Cormann, 50, marketed himself as a candidate who can act as a bridge between Europe and the Asia-Pacific. He was born in a German-speaking community in Belgium and grew up in Europe before moving to Australia as a young man.