Anna Diamantopoulou is the first Greek female on the shortlist to lead one of the world’s most powerful international organizations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
After the election of Katerina Sakellaropoulou as the first female President of Greece, Diamantopoulou hopes to continue the trend of more women in the upper echelons of politics by becoming the Secretary-General of the OECD.
The OECD has never had a female at the helm, so “It would mean breaking another glass ceiling,” Diamantopoulou tells Greek Reporter.
“The selection of a woman as head of such an important international organization will inspire women and girls to break down barriers and achieve milestones in their own lives,” she adds.
“We Greek women know very well from our grandmothers and our mothers that we are always in the first role, in national fights, in the labor market, in the family, but women have not been recognized for their political skill as much as they deserve.
“I think things are changing,” she points out. “So it’s very important that we have the first female president, it is very important for Greece, Europe, and the world, to have national leaders that are female.”
From Kozani to the global stage
Born in Kozani, northern Greece, Diamantopoulou became one of the youngest regional governors in her country when she rose to the top of the leadership of Kastoria at the age of 26.
Since then, she has been elected a deputy, a minister — twice — and a European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs. Since 2013 she has presided over Diktio, a think tank that was founded by herself.
“I think it’s very important for girls and women across the world to see that a woman who comes from a small country, from a poor family, from a region at the end of the country, can be a candidate or a winner in this race, because I think it helps women and girls have inspiration,” she tells Greek Reporter.
Today, at 61, she is among five candidates left in the running for the top job at the OECD.
The other four are: Cecilia Malmström, from Sweden, Swiss banker Philipp Hildebrand, the Dane Ulrik V Knudsen, and the former Australian Finance Ministern, Mathias Cormann.
The goal is victory
Diamantopoulou admits that the race is tough. “We have to keep in mind that 38 countries across the world will make a decision,” she tells Greek Reporter.
“We must be realistic. And realistic means that we know that we’re a small country, and it’s the first time ever that we’ve entered this kind of fight, we’ve never in the past tried to win such a position — the leadership of such a big international organization.”
She points out, however, that the procedure to appoint a new Secretary-General is not based on a majority voting –the winner must be appointed by consensus. “They need a person that everybody will have to agree on,” she explains.
The decision will be taken sometime in February. Diamantopoulou remains highly optimistic, saying: “When you fight, you have to have a very concrete goal, and this goal is victory, there is no alternative.”
She wants to thank Greeks across the world for helping her campaign.
“Wherever I have meetings or discussions with governments, I could always easily find a Greek in a very high post. You cannot imagine, in all corners of the world; and I’m very proud that wherever we are, we play an important role and we’re respected people.”
A choice on merit
She says has the experience, the skills and the credentials for this important post.
First of all, she notes that her CV is very appropriate for this organization. “This is why PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis has chosen me, although I do not belong to his party. And this has been appreciated across the world, because it’s a choice according to merit.”
She underlines that she has managerial and political experience at three levels: at the local level as governor of Kastoria, as a minister, and as a European Commissioner.
“I have spent two-thirds of my career in public office and one third in the world of research and academia, I have a panoramic vision,” she tells Greek Reporter.
“Throughout my career, I have dealt with any kind of issue that is on the agenda of the OECD. From the labor market, to education, from competitiveness to gender equality,” she adds.
Tackling global inequality
But what are her priorities if she gets the top job at the OECD?
Diamantopoulou is well aware that, after the pandemic, inequalities on a global level will be increased.
“We will have inequalities within the countries, among the sexes, between the generations— so, everywhere, the issue of inequality will come and politicians, international organizations, have to deal with this.”
She says that there are three main priorities: digital transformation, climate change and the labor market. For all three, she has made detailed and concrete proposals to the OECD.
The election of Joe Biden in the US is a big change, Diamantopoulou says. She notes that initial statements and actions from the new administration point to a more multilateral approach to global issues.
The return of the US to the Paris Agreement, which is an agreement between 190 countries on climate issues, as well as the rejoining of the World Health Organization (WHO) are very much to be welcomed.
Diamantopoulou also highlights the announcement by Janet Yellen, the new US Treasury Secretary, that the country is coming back to the table for negotiations on digital taxation and for the international taxation agreement across the world.
Diamantopoulou notes that Greece, during and after the economic crisis, has implemented a huge number of reforms.
The country implemented 352 recommendations put forward by the OECD in 2012, including the opening of markets, of services from construction to tourism, she recalls.
“That’s why I’m optimistic that things can change and improve after the pandemic.”
“Of course, we have not done everything, and things change, needs change all the time, so there are so many reforms that need to be implemented now,” she tells Greek Reporter.
“Now we have to proceed with big reforms in the educational system, in the judiciary system, in public administration, and of course in the digitization issue, where we have to be proud that the government has done many things and made a lot of progress.”
With Kristalina Georgieva at the helm of the IMF, Christine Lagarde at the ECB and Ursula von der Leyen at the European Commission, some of the world’s greatest levers of power are now in the hands of a handful of women.
Will Diamantopoulou succeed in joining this powerful group of female leaders?
“The OECD is a very macho organization, there is one general secretary, and there are four deputies, and they are all men.
“So, if there is a woman there, it is a signal that we can break one more glass ceiling,” she tells Greek Reporter.