President: Idea of OECD nomination came from foreign ministry

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

For the first time, President Kersti Kaljulaid spoke on her nomination for secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), saying the idea came from people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kaljulaid told ERR: "We should start to exercise bringing our people forth more vigorously. I am not the only one who thinks so because the idea [of nomination] was not born in my head. I do not know for certain but I assume it came from the heads of people in the foreign ministry."

She continued: "And it is silly to think that perhaps we do not dare do so because we might not win. Each such campaign has the value of bringing some of your ideas to the table and at the same time, our visibility would increase. It is very important to us."

Kaljulaid has not yet applied for secretary-general of the OECD because that is for diplomats to do. "I will not draw up that paper, I will write a vision paper and that is done. People in the foreign ministry will say when is the correct time to go with an application. One option is to go now and the other option is to wait and see what will happen elsewhere and adapt accordingly.

"And to try to differ - that might perhaps be incorrect to say - I know I stand out. Because we are the only digitally transformed country in the world. Noone else has a person who knows what it is like to choose the prime ministerial candidate for Estonia while sitting in the parliament of Portugal. I am certain that all these conversations with Angela Merkel and all these discussions we have had have created a preparation for me to present this world to those who are still on another page," she added.

Kaljulaid expressed hope that it will become an interesting discussion and that at one point, a moment will be reached where she has a role in the campaign i.e. the interview round.

"And believe me, I have been able to convince many people in many forums that the industrial age has passed and that we need a completely different tax system and economic model for the digital age," she said.

Answering a question about how her nomination for secretary-general of the OECD would interfere with her running for a second term as President of the Republic of Estonia, Kaljulaid said: "This campaign will last a year, meaning one does not exclude the other."

She also shed light on how her campaign trail is going and said that it differs greatly from Estonia's campaign for the United Nations Security Council, which she headed.

Kaljulaid said: "I have not sent an application yet but that does not mean our diplomats are not working. The OECD campaign is not the same as the UN Security Council campaign. Discussing with diplomats, we have joked that with the UN, I had to do the campaign so that they could go there and work. Now it is the other way around."

She said she hopes to direct discussions around the world toward the need to change tax systems to accommodate the digital age.

The president said: "We see it every day: people become dependant on where they are located geographically, working for companies regardless of where they are located in the jurisdiction. It is necessary that an organization for the cooperation of developed countries would pull itself together and look at this new picture. Not hope that the people of today would flex themselves into this industrial age model."

Kaljulaid said her campaign for secretary-general of the OECD allows to bring attention to these discussions. "Us not influencing the OECD during this campaign is just not possible. Just as we emphasized in our UN campaign: the work we do is also important - extending our friend circle, offering opportunities for businesses - we have a similar concrete goal with the OECD campaign."

She has no complete solutions in mind yet but discussions during the campaign can help to achieve that. "I emphasize that the secretary-general of the OECD is the person who mediates and coordinates discussions between member states. The ability to think along while simultaneously showing the bigger picture is even more important than having your own ideas."

Applications for OECD Secretary-General

The OECD secretary-general post becomes vacant next summer when long-running current incumbent Jose Angel GurrIa will not seek reelection.

The selection process was started on August 1 this year, with OECD member countries able to nominate their candidate from September 1, through to the end of October.

The next Secretary-General will be elected by OECD member countries for a five-year term from June 1, 2021. What could happen in respect of the remainder of the president's term in office as head of state of Estonia, as noted due to end in October, has not been reported yet.

The OECD is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 37 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. It is seen as a "rich countries' club" since members are generally high-income economies, with a high level of human development.

Jose Angel Gurria, who became Secretary-General in June 2006, is stepping down in part due to Mexico wishing to boost its chances of providing the next World Trade Organization (WTO) head, after current leader Roberto Azevedo stands down at the end of this month.

From among Estonia's neighboring countries, Mari Kiviniemi, former Prime Minister of Finland, was OECD Deputy Secretary General 2014-2018.

In 2019, the basic salary for the Secretary General stood at €226,731 per annum, or approximately €19,000 per month, ERR reports.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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