Leading Article: A job that calls for the Lawson touch

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The Independent Online
IT IS a happy coincidence that today's annual ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) follows hard on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Set up in 1948 as a purely European organisation, its main task was to maximise the benefits of the Marshall Aid provided by the United States to repair the ravages of war. It thus helped to prepare the ground for the era of peace and prosperity that followed, and the founding of the European Economic Community.

Its own mandate was broadened when aid ended in 1961, leading to two decades in which its analyses of economic policy in member states exerted considerable influence. That has since been eroded by the growing power of other organisations and groupings. Yet the OECD has remained an invaluable source of objective and reliable comparative economic statistics.

It will, however, be in no spirit of self-congratulation that ministers from the 25 member states meet today. The organisation is divided over who should be its new secretary-general, a decision that will in turn affect its own future role. All previous holders of the post, including Jean-Claude Paye, the present French incumbent, have been Europeans and bureaucrats. The Americans and Japanese believe, very reasonably, that it is time a non-European was appointed, to show that all three of the world's big trading blocs are members. They are backing Donald Johnston, a Canadian politician. The best-equipped European candidate is Britain's Lord Lawson. There is also a German contender, Lorenz Schomerus, a trade negotiator.

Unfortunately for his own cause, Lord Lawson was somewhat disparaging about the organisation in his memoirs, published just 18 months ago. He said the OECD had 'outlived its usefulness as an institution', and called its annual meetings a talking shop and waste of time and money. It is hardly convincing for him now - in today's interview on page 28 - to say that criticism may have been unfair. He might have done better to cite it as evidence of his conviction that changes needed to be made.

But he is surely right to argue that the post should be filled on the basis of qualifications rather than regional origin. The former Chancellor has the sort of brain, intellectual curiosity, experience and personal authority that could give the OECD a genuine boost. He may be a European, but his views on economic issues are likely to be nearer to American than much continental thinking. The OECD needs to be a powerhouse of cogently argued ideas. Lord Lawson is well equipped to lead it into a new era.