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19 November 2018

The Ger­man Fi­nance Min­istry at the OECD

In 2015, Germany’s ambassador to France asked the German Finance Ministry for support in budgetary and taxation matters. In response, Financial Counsellor Karin Hochhaus was seconded to Germany’s permanent representation to the OECD in Paris for a period of just over three years. The permanent representation plays a key role in communicating German interests in the OECD, but also in promoting OECD perspectives in Germany.

World Map with Highlight on Paris
Source:  iStock/Fotolia

Among its many tasks, Germany’s permanent representation to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) participates in various bodies (permanent bodies and committees include the Council, the Executive Committee, the Budget Committee and the External Relations Committee), liaises with the OECD Secretariat and other permanent delegations, prepares and supports ministerial meetings, as well as advising various German ministries. In addition to attending to the German Finance Ministry’s areas of responsibility, the permanent representation carries out activities that fall under the remit of other ministries, for example agriculture, transport and consumer protection.

Germany’s permanent representation to the OECD is relatively small. The ambassador is supported by 14 members of staff, a small number of local staff, as well as legal trainees and interns who work at the representation for up to three months.

Like many other international organisations, the OECD has a two-year budget cycle. Because Germany is the third-largest contributor, Financial Counsellor Karin Hochhaus plays a key role in the opinion-shaping processes of the other member states. She attends the meetings of the Budget Committee as the German Finance Ministry’s representative. This committee is particularly important, as its members prepare the Council’s budgetary decisions.

Interview mit Karin Hochhaus

The German Finance Ministry did not have a permanent presence at the OECD before I was posted here, but then the German ambassador asked the German Finance Ministry for support in budgetary and taxation matters. I had previously held various positions within the Finance Ministry’s Directorate-General for European Policy. Right before I was posted to the permanent representation to the OECD in Paris, I had been on secondment to the Austrian Ministry of Finance in Vienna to help enhance Austrian-German cooperation on issues surrounding the European banking union.
I was seconded to Paris by the German Finance Ministry in response to the ambassador’s request for support in budgetary and taxation matters. Since I already had experience in the field of international cooperation and it was also generally known that I take a professional interest in these matters, I was approached by the human resources division about this role. I met up with the ambassador to discuss the responsibilities that this new position would involve and then the secondment was formalised.
I live in a furnished flat on Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, which runs parallel to the Champs-Elysées. The embassy initially organised provisional accommodation for me, but I was able to find my own flat within a week. There was a fair bit of luck involved – I only viewed three flats.
The day-to-day work at the representation depends on the OECD schedule. Sometimes meetings for matters that fall under my responsibility are scheduled at the same time, and there’s a clash. The Budget Committee’s meetings, and this includes its informal meetings, always take priority, as this is a permanent committee. If no German representative is available to take part in one of the other meetings, I attend these as the German delegate. Other meetings have to be prepared and concluded with a report to the relevant ministries or other embassies.
One highlight was the conclusion of the Multilateral Instrument (MLI) to modify some 3,000 double taxation agreements. The negotiations lasted about a year and a half. The MLI was originally signed by 67 states under Germany’s G20presidency during Wolfgang Schäuble’s term as Finance Minister. There are now almost 100 signatory states. The MLI opened up legal challenges, as its purpose was to simplify the legal situation, while also conforming to the different tax systems of the countries involved. This has provided new ways to enable a large number of countries to cooperate with each other in the area of double taxation.
My secondment ends on 31 January 2019. After that, I will return to the Finance Ministry in Berlin, but I don’t know yet what my next role will be.
I have lived in many different places outside Germany over the course of my career. Paris is certainly an attractive posting – but the same is true of everywhere I’ve lived.