Kaljulaid offers OECD Estonia’s experience during difficult times

Meinhard Pulk
, reporter
President Kersti Kaljulaid
President Kersti Kaljulaid Photo: Vabariigi Presidendi Kantselei

President Kersti Kaljulaid, who is running for the position of OECD secretary general, said when presenting her vision for the office on Monday that both the organization and the world are standing on the precipice of change. Mainly as concerns energy and digital revolutions.

Kaljulaid said that switching from an industrial to a digital economy and from fossil fuels to renewable energy are closely associated. It is the digital dimension where Estonia could blaze a trail for the rest of the world.

The arrival of digital economy has caused taxation to fall behind the times. This is causing increased fragmentation on international markets that the OECD will have to adjust to.

“Today, the person is increasingly the engine that drives private sector development. It is natural if we consider that we have been treating them as an important but inaccessible and immeasurable value for the last 40 years.  The digital turn focuses on the group we refer to as employees. More and more of them will become independent service providers,” Kaljulaid said. “But this model is no longer compatible with 20th century tax and fiscal policy.”

“Traditional industrial jobs will soon be unable to feed tax revenue. This forces countries to fly from flower to flower like bees. To collect taxes from citizens who work from France in the morning and the UK at night or who spend six months living in Estonia before hopping over to Australia.”

What else would Kaljulaid prioritize as OECD secretary general?

“Education is key in the 21st century. As is gender equality. It has been on the agenda for some time and we have made headway. Also, during a pandemic, the emphasis needs to be on healthcare. The crisis has shown that a fragmented healthcare system cannot help society,” Kaljulaid found, pointing out that the universality of the digital turn will help address all of these issues.

The OECD, created in 1948, is made up of 37 member countries today. Kaljulaid, who sees the OECD as a guarantor of conditions for successful cooperation inside the organization and the broader region, would keep the doors open as secretary general.

“Estonia is a latecomer itself. Every step has required time and effort, but we felt that the bus was waiting for us at the stop instead of driving away. I still have that feeling. Estonia has always supported the openness of international institutions. Naturally, it comes with certain conditions, such as respect for human rights and democracy.”

Editor-in-chief of the Diplomaatia magazine Erkki Bahovski said that Kaljulaid’s experience from the European Court of Auditors speaks in her favor. “That is certainly a plus. I am not up to speed on OECD specifics and there could be aspects that she is more or less well suited to handle, but it is clear that she is used to working in an international environment. She spent several years in Luxembourg. It would undoubtedly benefit Estonia if the head of such an influential organization was Estonian. It has not happened before.”

How would Kaljulaid run the OECD?

“Every international organization must prioritize finding compromises and bringing the sides together for talks,” Bahovski said. “I believe that Kersti Kaljulaid possesses that skill. The head of an international organization must refrain from self-importance and facilitate negotiations instead.”

Even though Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) did not see the president’s press conference live on Monday, he is up to speed on the tenets of her vision.

“I hope they will help her achieve the desired result. The propositions were excellent, and I hope they will ring true with voters,” Reinsalu said. However, the foreign minister added that propositions are one thing, while such high-ranking diplomatic positions often boil down to political decisions.

The competition to find the new head of the OECD was opened on August 1 and new candidates can be nominated until the end of October. Current candidates include, in addition to Kersti Kaljulaid, former EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström from Sweden, former Czech economy minister Vladimir Dlouhy, adviser for the Trump administration Christopher Liddell and former Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau.

Current secretary general, former foreign and financial affairs minister of Mexico Angel Gurria has been at the helm of the OECD since 2016.