OECD Secretary-General

Better Policies for Better Lives


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at OECD 50th Anniversary Forum

24 May 2011, OECD Headquarters

President Van Rompuy, Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Welcome to the OECD 50th Anniversary Forum. It is a great pleasure to see so many people from different walks of life, who have travelled here from different countries, to join our celebration and our effort to bring about “Better Policies for Better Lives”.

We are here to embark in a joint effort to find the best possible answers, the most innovative solutions, to address the critical challenges that our societies are facing today. This Forum is a unique tool to imagine and build a brighter future.

We are here to share experiences and knowledge, and to make proposals that can trigger important decisions. Decisions that can improve the lives of millions of people around the world. This is the essence of international cooperation; and the very essence of the OECD.

1. We are here to forge a collective response

Our countries are still facing difficult times. Growth and business confidence might be picking up. However, we are not out of the woods yet. The injuries inflicted by the crisis will take time to heal. In fact, I believe the crisis is not over. It has only changed its face.

How can we think that the crisis is over when we have an average unemployment rate close to 10%? When our youngsters are facing the tragedy of 20% or higher unemployment rates? When a significant part of these youngsters is losing touch with the labour market, and will be losing hope of a better future at a very early stage in their lives?

We are experiencing an uneven recovery, mostly based on temporary factors. Many OECD countries are facing unsustainable fiscal deficits, record levels of public debt, low growth and high unemployment. A sovereign debt crisis continues to threaten the outlook for the region.

Emerging economies are driving the recovery, but many of these countries are now facing the threat of high inflation, within a context of increasing inequalities. Developing and least developed economies are being affected by a severe hike in food and energy prices, global warming, diminishing remittances, weakened export markets and development aid efforts in OECD countries.

High unemployment has become a global concern and world poverty is on the rise again. In 2009 alone, the number of working poor increased by about 100 million. The current political upheaval in some of the Arab countries is very much related to the lack of good jobs and development opportunities.

These challenges demand collective responses. And this is what we are trying to generate in this Forum, and throughout all of OECD Week.

During these days, we will tap into your experience and creativity; but also into the knowledge and leadership of nearly 25 Heads and Deputy Heads of State and Government, more than 60 Ministers and Vice Ministers, plus many heads of other International Organisations, top academics, business leaders and representatives of trade unions, NGOs and youth.

2. We are trying to go beyond conventional knowledge

We are exploring, for example, new forms of measuring progress, like Your Better Life Index. We have innovating tools to improve the way we measure human satisfaction and fulfilment. This will help us better tune our economic and social policies, gearing them to promote what is fundamental in life ─ what the Persian poet Hafiz would call “the spirit’s wings” ─ not only to expand consumption and material wealth.

On the other side of the equation, we are analysing how governments are doing in helping their people reach this personal fulfilment. We measure how efficient they are as a vehicle to supply the necessary public services, the needed skills and knowledge. We evaluate their effectiveness in promoting competitive business frameworks, in fostering entrepreneurship and turning their fiscal systems into development tools.

We provide a mirror where governments can look at themselves and compare their performance with that of other governments. And sometimes, they won’t like what they see. But identifying flaws and weaknesses is the source of all improvement. Governments should use our rigour and objectivity to drive important reforms.

And we are also revising our own theories and concepts. We are conscious that the current crisis reflects a certain failure of traditional economics. We are trying to capture all the lessons to be learned, to generate new economic thinking.

3. We want to remain at the cutting edge of policy-making

We are making an effort to constantly explore new areas of knowledge. We have been doing this for 50 years.

This has allowed us to make revolutionary contributions, like the polluter pays principle, our PISA programme, or the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, now adopted by 38 countries representing close to 90% of global FDI outflows, or our Global Forum on Exchange of Tax Information, where more than 100 countries participate. Or like our Innovation Strategy which has spawned more than 10 specialised reports on modalities and applications of innovation.

Our recent work on the Protection of Children Online, addressing the risks of Internet use for children (which in the EU concerns 75% of 6-17 year-olds); or our study on The Causes of Growing Inequalities in OECD Countries, soon to be launched, are both expressions of this drive to be on the edge of social cognition.

Our Green Growth Strategy, which we will present to our Ministers tomorrow, will make a case for a new form of living; providing an actionable policy framework in a broad range of areas ─ including fiscal, innovation, trade, labour and social policies ─ to help governments achieve the most efficient shift to greener growth.

This will create a positive synergy with our Innovation Strategy, presented to our Ministers in 2010; and with our Skills Strategy, which will be launched in 2012 to help empower people with the knowledge demanded by the labour market in the 21st century.

4. And we are placing Development right at the centre

We are trying to put our policy knowledge and experience at the service of development efforts to complement international aid. To do this, we need to incorporate the concerns of emerging and developing countries into our work. We are becoming more inclusive and more sensitive to other cultures and regions with different development levels and needs. We recognise that the epicentre of economic activity is shifting, and that by 2030 developing countries will account for nearly 60% of global GDP.

Our interaction with developing countries has never been greater. Our work with Africa has flourished in our African Development Outlook; our Latin American Economic Outlook and Latin American Initiative are strengthening our partnership with this region; just as our South East Asia Economic Outlook is doing it in Asia.

Our Enhanced Engagement with Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa is bearing fruit.  It is critical to the future relevance of the OECD. Altogheter, around 100 non-member countries participate regularly in OECD bodies.

We are also launching a renewed partnership with the MENA region, with whom we have been working for several years now, to broaden the scope of our policy dialogue, adding jobs, taxes, education, health and many other areas to the well known work on gender, governance and investment.

We think this is a big-bang moment for development. So we are doubling our efforts to help developing and emerging countries reduce inequalities, fight corruption, improve public services and build competitive business frameworks. We are searching for new ways to combine policy knowledge and technologies, like the Internet, to address the most basic issues for development, like education, health, formal employment, food security, banking, taxation.

We are synchronising our work around an agenda on Policy Coherence for Development, to ensure that the “beyond aid” policies in OECD countries don’t undermine progress towards international development goals. But we also continue to make sure that the development assistance commitments are fulfilled. And we expect to get a new mandate from our Ministerial meeting to develop a broad Strategy for Development.

5. This is a changing OECD and you are part of this change!

During this 50th Anniversary Forum, we will discuss with you new ways to measure progress; we will share ideas on how to green our lives. We will talk about education, babies and bosses, women’s empowerment and jobs for tomorrow. We will talk about bringing confidence back and dealing with the crisis’ long-term effects. And we will dive into the fascinating dynamics of shifting wealth and new development paradigms.

President Van Rompuy, Ladies and Gentlemen:

What is the point of public policies if not to improve our lives? What is the purpose of international cooperation if not to create a stable, prosperous and healthy world where every person can develop to its full potential? And what is the OECD if not a place to blend experience and knowledge to promote global social progress?

We need to rebuild our future. We need to invent a new modernity through a new alchemy of social justice, respect for the environment and human dignity. We have 50 years experience of international cooperation and millions of youngsters hoping we can make it. Hoping we get it right, so let’s make the most of this OECD 50th Anniversary Forum, the place where innovative solutions transform into “better policies for better lives”.

Thank you very much!


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