EC: Being prepared
Šefčovič,assignedtheport-folioofinter-institutionalrela-tionsandadministration,wasexaminedbymembersoftheConstitutionalAffairsCommit-tee(AFCO)onJanuary18.Membersofthecommittee, whoareexpectedtotesttheprofessionalskillsandoverallpreparednessofthecommis-sioner-designatetohandlehisassignedportfolio,questionedŠefčovičaboutimplementationoftherecently-approvedLis- bonTreaty,electoralreformof Europeanelections,therotat-ingseatoftheEP,andhislevelofeuro-federalism.RadovanGeist,theeditor-in-chiefofEurActiv.sk,saidtherewereseveraltough,polit-ically-sensitivequestionsputtoŠefčovičandthatsomecommitteemembersfoundhisanswerstobetoogeneral.“Ingeneral,thosewerequestionsaboutproblemsthatcannotbeansweredinawaythatwouldpleaseeveryone–suchastheregularmigrationoftheEPbetweenBrusselsandStrasbourg,theissueoftheop-timaldepthofEuropeaninteg-ration,etc,”GeisttoldTheSlovakSpectator.HesaidthatŠefčovič,whohadpreviouslyservedasambassadoratSlovakia’sPermanentRepres-entationtotheEU,usedhisexperienceandskillsasadip-lomatandeloquenceasaspeaker.
MediaattentionwasquiteheavilyfocusedonŠefčovič’shearing,notasatestofhispro-fessionalskills,butmainlybe-causeofaccusationsofanti-Romasentimentsdirectedathim.TheaccusationsweremadeafewdaysbeforethehearingbyJózsefSzájer,anMEPfromtheHungary'sFideszparty,whichisaffiliatedtotheEuropeanPeople’sParty(EPP).SzájerservesastheEPP'sco-ordinatorforcommissioner-designatehearings.SzájeraccusedŠefčovičof havingcalledRoma“exploitersoftheSlovakwelfaresystem”ataconferenceoftheEuropeanCommissionin2005.HesaidthatinhisECpost,Šefčovičcannothaveanydiscriminat-oryattitudes.Szájer’saccusationscausedaheatedreactiononboththeEuropeanandnationallevel.NotonlytheSlovakgovern-mentthatnominatedhim,butalsoRomaorganisationssuchastheEuropeanRomaInform-ationOffice,supportedŠefčovičandpraisedhimforhispersonalengagementintheareaofsocialinclusionof theRomaminorityinSlovakia. Aquestionabouttheseac-cusationswasraisedatthe verybeginningofŠefčovič’shearingandinhisresponsehestressedhispastworkwithRomacitizensandaskedtheMEPstoputthisworkonthesamescaleasthefive-year-oldquotewhichhesaidwastakenoutofcontext,theofficialEPpressreleasereported.
AnotherSlovakMEP,MonikaFlašíkováBeňová,whoisaffiliatedwiththePartyof EuropeanSocialists(PES)andelectedasarepresentativeof theSmerparty,believesthatSzájer’saccusationswereares-ultofaradicalisationoftheat-titudesofFideszMEPstowardsSlovakia.“Itseemslikethisyear,andmainlytheupcomingnationalelectionsinHungary,will bringalongmanymoresimilar verbalattacks,”shetoldTheSlovakSpectator.HerpartyleaderandSlovakprimeminister,RobertFico,expressedsimilarsentiments whentheconflicthitthena-tionalpoliticalscene.Afterthehearing,theSITAnewswirere-ported,hesaidthattheSlovakgovernmentcondemnsalltheattacksof“chauvinistFidesz”againstŠefčovič.“WerecommendthatFideszdealwiththecomplexit-iesonitsownnationalpoliticalscene,wheremurdersofRomaoccurred,”Ficosaid,addingthatheisconcernedaboutSlovakia’sHungarianCoalitionParty(SMK),whichaccordingtohim,servesasanextensionofFideszinSlovakia.
Geist,however,believesthenationalaspectorrelations betweenSlovakiaandHungaryarenotverysignificantinthiscase.“MEPSzájer,wholedtheattackonŠefčovič,wasdoingittoalargeextentbyvirtueofhispost–asheistheEPPcoordin-atorforcommissioners’hearings,”Geistsaid. AccordingtoGeist,ques-tionsaboutthepersonalinteg-rityofthecommissioner-des-ignatearefullyappropriateandjustified.Ontheotherhand,heagreedtherewerepoliticsinvolvedinthecriti-cismofŠefčovič,astheEuropeansocialists,thePES,hadbeenpressingontheBul-gariandesignate,RumaniaJel-eva,togiveupherpostoveradubiousassetsdeclarationandallegedlinksbetweenherhus- bandandorganisedcrimeinBulgaria.Shedideventually withdrawhername.“TheEPPagreedthey wouldreturnthestrikeandŠefčovič’sstatementfromfive yearsagoprovidedanoppor-tunitytodothat,”hesaid,ex-plainingthatŠefčovič,despitehimselfbeinganapoliticaldip-lomat,wasstillanomineeof Slovakia'sSmer-ledgovern-ment,andSmerinturnisaffil-iatedwiththePES.
January 25 – 31, 2010
A few more gloomy months to come for labour
THOUGHthehorizonisshowingclearer contours of an economicrecovery in 2010, data on avail-able jobs coupled with a stillrising jobless rate do not giveSlovakia’s army of unemployedmuch hope right now. InDecember 2009, the country re-corded 116,000 more unem-ployed than a year earlier and atotal of more than 335,000 job-lesscitizens.
Market watchers say it maytake many more months untilSlovakia’s labour market startsrecoveringandsomeanalystsarepredicting even gloomier newsover the first six months of 2010, with new additions to the un-employmentfigures.
While Slovakia’s labour au-thoritypresentedtheDecembernumbers more optimistically, with the spin that the growthin unemployment has nowslowed down, the oppositionquickly challenged the gov-ernment, saying that the job-less rate grew twice as fast dur-ing the economic crisis in Slov-akia as did the average acrosstheEuropeanUnion.The registered unemploy-ment rate in Slovakia climbed0.26 percentage point month-on-month in December 2009 tostandat12.66percent,accordingto data released by Ján Sihelský,the director general of the La- bour, Social Affairs and FamilyCentral Office. The registeredjobless rate thus reached itshighest level since March 2005.Compared to December 2008,the jobless rate inDecember2009 had increased 4.27 per-centage points, with 116,570Slovaks joining the ranks of theunemployed over the course of the year. At the end of Decem- ber, Slovakia had 335,490 re-gistered unemployed persons who said they were ready toimmediatelytakeupjobs.
ávid Dereník, a macro-ana-lyst with UniCredit Bank seessome seasonal influences behindthe December increase in the job-less rate since “in the last monthsof the year the number of unem-ployed increases primarily in theconstructionindustry”.“Thisisprovenbya50-percentincrease of newly unemployedconstruction workers inDecember,” Dereník said. “Last year in December approximately2,000 construction workers re-gistered with the Labour Office;thisyearitis1,000more.” According to Dereník, public-private partnership projects inroad building might bring somehope for jobless construction workersin2010.Sihelský said that the numberof availablejobsrecordedin labouroffices dropped considerably year-on-year,withonlyabout5,000jobsavailable at the end of December2009, 11,000 less than in December2008,theSITAnewswirewrote.
However, Sihelský also saidthat mass layoffs reported to la- bour offices seemingly droppedat the end of last year, as the au-thorities recorded only 500 job-lesswhohadbeenletgoinlarge-scalelayoffsasdefinedbySlovaklaw.Employersoriginallyrepor-ted1,300jobsasendangered.The December results haveconfirmed the expectations of market watchers, said JanaMrvová, an analyst withPoštováBanka.In October 2009 the numberof jobless Slovaks droppedmonth-on-month to 12.4 per-cent and then remained at thesamelevelinNovember.“The December increase inthe number of jobless wasevoked by the impacts of theeconomic downturn on the la- bour market, which has clearlyshown that we should not getcomfort from the stagnationover a roughly two-monthperiod,” Mrvová told The SlovakSpectator. “Though the impactof the crisis on Slovakia’s eco-nomy is gradually easing, wehave not won the battle and we willcontinuefeelingitsimpactsonthelabourmarketthisyear.”Mrvová agreed that in addi-tion to the crisis, seasonal influ-ences also had an impact on the year-end increase in the joblessrate since some jobs in the con-struction and agriculture indus-tries are often eliminated overthewintermonths.Underpressurefromsinkingforeign demand, production inSlovakia’s export-oriented eco-nomy fell significantly, openingthe gate to a wave of layoffs, ac-cording to Mrvová. While notsparing any segments of theeconomy, the crisis first hit in-dustrial producers primarily inexportmarkets.“Over 2009, from month tomonth there were significantcuts in the number of peopleemployed in industry, which isthe largest employment sectorforSlovaks,”Mrvovásaid.But she added that othereconomic sectors, for exampleretail sales, have been affectedaswell.“Even though we are cur-rently witnessing certain posit-ive economic results not only inthe Slovak economy but also inthe world economy which wecouldtickoffasthebeginningof an economic recovery, oneshould not forget that the re-covery will be slow andgradual,” said Mrvová. “The la- bour market responds to eco-nomic recovery with a certaindelay since it is first necessarythat demand and production re-covers and only then will jobopportunitiesfollow.”
Jobless rate nears5-year high
US: Nominee led 'Sportsmen for Obama'
Sedgwick donated a reported $28,000 toDemocratic Party candidates in 2008, raisedover $200,000 for the Obama campaign, andgifted $10,000 to the inauguration. A keen birdhunter, he tried to present the futurepresidentasanallyofhunters.“Maybe on the surface you wouldn’tthink that a guy from Chicago would be anatural advocate for sportsmen,” he said atthe Democratic National Convention inDenver, “but Obama wants to open up ac-cess on public lands to hunting andfishing”.Sedgwick aimed to organise a chapter of “Sportsmen for Obama” in every state tocounter the gun lobby’s portrayal of thecandidateashostiletoitsinterests.“I won’t argue with anybody that this isanuphillbattle,”hesaid.In 1978, at the age of 29, Sedgwick wasediting the energy sector newsletter CoalOutlook, when the owner suddenly an-nounced he intended to sell. Rather thanmove on, Sedgwick bought a 70 percentstakeinthepublicationfor$70,000.“My whole motivation for buying thenewsletter was protecting my job,” he toldtheWashingtonPost.Over a decade, Sedgwick turned his ac-quisition into the Pasha Publications pub-lishinghouse,with15newsletters.“It is rewarding work,” he told the NewYork Times in 1989. “We do a lot of very ar-cane stuff of interest just to a specific audi-ence. But when you call a source, they say,‘You really know what you're talkingabout.’” In 1998 he sold the energy wing of the publisher to the Financial Times groupfor$17.8million.Sedgwick also took the unusual step of suing a subscriber, the Enmark firm of Dal-las, for photocopying his newsletters anddistributing them to other offices. Enmarksettledoutofcourt.“Since we don’t take advertising, it’s areal financial issue for us,” said Sedgwick, whose subscribers paid up to $1,000 annu-allyforhispublications.In 1992, on receiving an award, he saidof the incident “if there’s anything to belearned from this, it’s that it pays to sue yourcustomers.”One of Sedgwick’s ancestors, Theodore(1746-1813), was the fifth speaker of theHouse of Representatives. Another, JohnSedgwick, was a general with the UnionforcesduringtheUSCivilWar.He was killed by a sniper in 1862. Ac-cording to historical accounts, just beforehisdeathGeneralSedgwickhadbeenurginghissoldiersnottoduckenemyfire.“I’m ashamed of you, dodging that way,” he is reported to have said. “At thisdistance,theycouldn’thitanelephant.”