Solemn Seminar to celebrate 40 years of peer learning by Finland in the OECD


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Helsinki - Finland, 20 January 2009

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to be with you to celebrate 40 Years of Peer Learning by Finland in the OECD. We are living very difficult times but we should never lose sight of all the positive things that happen around us.

This time I didn’t come to present any study, or to talk about Finland’s policy challenges on this or that area. This time, I came to celebrate with you four decades of co-operation between Finland and the OECD. In other words, I came to tell you how happy we are to have Finland on board.

Peer-learning is the essence of OECD, and Finland has been an excellent team player. When we think about convergence in OECD, we very often turn our eyes to Finland. This country is at the top of the list in many social and economic indicators; with one of the highest GDP per head of the world (50,540 dollars).

From higher education attainment to public finances, from people employed in research and development to e-government, or innovative rural policies, Finland leads the OECD tables. And you did not get there by magic. This is the product of tough decisions, persistent effort and timely and effective policies.

Finland’s remarkable transformation from an inward looking agricultural economy into an open, internationally competitive and technology oriented economy, with a solid macro-economic stability and an exemplary social safety net, is a success story in itself, full of valuable lessons.

Let me give three examples that I consider crucial in the light of our current efforts to address the global economic crisis and its implications for national governments.

Firstly, throughout these past 40 years, you have proved that the most effective way to make the most of globalisation is by investing in intellectual capital. At OECD we have accompanied and witnessed your policy improvements in education and innovation. Now your research and development expenditure in relation to GDP is one of the highest in the world ─ at about 3.5% of GDP ─ and the number of researchers in relation to population is the highest in the world.

Secondly, the way you confronted and resolved the economic crisis of the early 1990s, by addressing frontally your structural long term economic and social challenges, is a valuable lesson for our efforts to address the current crisis. I have been emphasising this point in all my recent speeches in different forums: addressing the urgency of the crisis should not drive us away from our structural challenges; on the contrary, it is by addressing our structural challenges that we will come out of the crisis.

In this area, the Finnish experience is all the more useful. Thanks to previous reforms, Finland is facing the current crisis in a much better shape, with a more resilient economy and a sound fiscal position.

And thirdly, while addressing your economic and social challenges in these last 40 years you have been readily open to learn from others, just as you have been ready to share your knowledge and experience. This open attitude towards multilateralism has made you one of our most valuable members at OECD.

Whenever anyone asks me why I think Finland has this vocation for multilateral co-operation, I answer very simply: it’s in their nature.

An increasingly active member

Since its first days, the participation of Finland in the work of the OECD has always been enthusiastic, creative and committed. Our debates in Council, Committees and other bodies of the OECD, have always been enriched by interesting and constructive Finnish ideas, questions and proposals.

The range of OECD activities in which Finland has played a relevant role is broad. Over the years, Finland has been supporting OECD work in crucial fields to build a more balanced and inclusive globalisation; areas like development, environmental sustainability, effective and efficient government, employment policies and social cohesion.

The public service in Finland has created an organisational culture with high standards of integrity. This is clearly demonstrated by Transparency International reports that place Finland consistently as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Finland has also contributed to OECD work on human resources management, performance management, regulatory reform, policy-making and ethics in the public service.

Finland will chair the next meeting of our Territorial Development Policy Committee (TDPC) at Ministerial level on 31 March, 2009. During this meeting we will address important structural challenges like: Building Innovative Regional Economies for Global Competition; Promoting Regional Infrastructures and Investments for Sustainable Growth; and Mobilising Actors and Capacities for Regional Development. 

This is also a timely occasion to highlight the very successful presidency of Finland of the 2008 International Transport Forum. The theme was Climate Change and there are political and research conclusions that are already making an important contribution to international and national discussions.

In the area of development aid, Finland has been one of OECD’s most active players, and has always adopted policies that show concern for the neediest of the world. It is actually one of the countries that have so far responded positively to a letter that the DAC Chair and I sent our members to encourage them to maintain their ODA commitments under the financial crisis. In its response last November, Finland confirmed its commitment to achieve 0.51% ODA/GNI by 2010 and 0.7% by 2015. I want to thank the Government of Finland, Prime Minister Vanhanen, Minister Väyrynen, for this constructive response.

In education, due to the performance of Finnish students in the OECD Program for International Student Assessment, the educational system of Finland has become a beacon around the world. The way you organize the system, and the attention and care you put in the learning process of students, have become a reference point to all those that want to get it right in this sector.

Innovation is also at the forefront of the Finnish contributions to the OECD. Your experience at advancing the knowledge economy in the 90’s, and at taking advantage of ITC to restructure the economy had positive results in terms of growth and productivity.  This will be very useful as we move forward with the innovation agenda in the OECD.

Actually, thanks to the initiative of Ambassador Majanen, we are launching a series of seminars, where recent national innovation strategies can be presented, discussed and compared; especially in light of their role as a counterweight to the global economic downturn. The first of these seminars is scheduled for February 16th and 17th in Paris.  This is an area where Finland has much to share, as one of the technologically advanced economies.

More importantly, Finland has brought to the OECD a different way of doing things, a development path that inspires us to do better. Along with its Nordic counterparts, Finland has become one of the most equalitarian societies, in a world with increasing economic and social disparities. This is an outstanding achievement.

Indeed, the Nordic model (flexible labor and product markets, coupled with substantial social protection) is an interesting experience. It is not free of challenges, but it establishes a sound base from which to continue building healthier and more sustainable societies. Only last March, Ambassador Majanen organized a seminar to explore the “Nordic Model” further, in the context of the work of the OECD on the political economy of reform.

In the current international debate, where questions are being asked regarding the reliability of markets and the role of the State is being re-valued, the Nordic model may be relevant, as it focuses on the effectiveness of public interventions, rather than on the role of the State itself.

Finland has also enhanced our understanding about Policy Coherence. A key challenge for democratic governments is to design and implement effective mutually reinforcing policies in different areas. The dynamic relationship between development and the environment is a good example. Finland always supports the work on Policy Coherence for Development at the OECD, and there are specific findings to help us increase the synergies between policies in different sectors in governments.

As we move forward, I would like to continue having the Finnish support for a fairer, more inclusive world economy. Thus, we need to continue building a more effective, open and plural OECD. The mandates that we have received in terms of enlargement and enhanced engagement have also enjoyed broad Finnish support.

But we also need such support to continue addressing the most pressing challenges of our time, which include fighting climate change and poverty. More recently, we are counting on you as we move forward in the implementation phase of the OECD Strategic Response to the crisis, a blueprint to contribute to the global effort which we have just rolled out, after its approval by the OECD Council.

Dear friends, Prime Minister Vanhanen, Minister Väyrynen:

These 40 years of peer-learning and collaboration between Finland and OECD couldn’t have happened without the dedication and wisdom of many talented Finnish diplomats and civil servants. I want to thank them all today. I cannot mention all, but certainly people like Bo Göran Eriksson, Veli- Pekka Talvela, Matti Purasjoki, Pekka Niskanen, Anja Peltonen, Seppo Ahvenainen, Niilo Hintikka, Matti Pietarinen, A Salo, Lasse Aarnio, Olli Ojala, Arvo Jäppinen, Tom Ylkänen and Eero Timonen, made excellent contributions to strengthen the OECD-Finnish relationship.

In this highly competitive world economy, the quality of our governments, parliaments, business men and women, academics, and decision-makers, is a determinant factor to make the most of globalisation. And you are very well equipped in this area. My congratulations, by the way, to your Finance Minister, Jyrki Katainen, who has just been selected by the Financial Times as the best Minister of Finance in the European Union.

2009 is the beginning of another 40 years of fruitful cooperation, and it looks like it is going to be a challenging year indeed. We are facing the gravest economic crisis of our lifetime and the only way out of it is through enhanced multilateralism. It is time for a renewed “creative diplomacy”. And there are signs of hope, in the emergence of more inclusive multilateral schemes, in the US new administration that is taking position today, in the increasing collaboration between the BRICs and OECD, and the growing recognition of interdependence throughout the world.

We need each other, and we will help each other. I am confident that together, Finland and the OECD are going to turn this crisis into a great opportunity. An opportunity to bring about a stronger, cleaner and fairer global economy.

I know we can count on each other!

Thank you very much.