EPP condemns nomination of EU’s first ‘business tsar’

Vazil Hudák, a former vice-president of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and economy minister in his native Slovakia, is the frontrunner for the post.
European Commission Audiovisual: Vazil Hudák

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Jun 2021

The European Parliament’s biggest political grouping has attacked the candidacy of Vazil Hudák, questioning Hudák’s credentials for the job and saying his nomination “asks more questions than it answers.”

German EPP member Christian Ehler, his group’s spokesman on Industry, Energy and Research, said the nomination “shows why many enterprises across the continent regularly complain about the EU, that it is out of touch with their business needs.”

MEPs had previously called on the European Commission to appoint an SME champion to help guide the executive’s economic policy response to the pandemic. They said such a post was particularly necessary because the crisis has had a disproportionate effect on small companies across Europe.

Prior to this office, Hudák was appointed as chief negotiator of the EU budget during the Slovak EU presidency and served as economy minister from 2015 until 2016. Before this, he was State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Slovak representative on the Board of Governors in the European Stability Mechanism.

The new envoy will play a key role in implementing the EU’s recently-unveiled Industrial Strategy, particularly those aspects that have implications for SMEs.

The Strategy includes financial support and measures to enable SMEs and start-ups to recover from the pandemic and weather the digital transition.

While no final decision has yet been made, Ehler insists that Hudák’s nomination “comes a year and a half late and worse still, comes devoid of any meaningful details.”

“This nomination brings more questions than it answers. A year and a half later, we are none the wiser. Why hasn’t the Commission published the curriculum vitae of Hudak? Isn’t it time for the Commission to publish his background and qualifications?” Christian Ehler, EPP

He added, “This nomination shows much more about the Commission itself than it does about Hudák; it confirms that the Commission treats small enterprises with contempt.”

“Why has it taken the Commission so long to nominate an SME envoy? And now that it has nominated one, why hasn’t it divulged the terms of reference of his mandate? Will he report directly to Commission President von der Leyen?” asked Ehler.

He said, “This nomination brings more questions than it answers. A year and a half later, we are none the wiser. Why hasn’t the Commission published the curriculum vitae of Hudak? Isn’t it time for the Commission to publish his background and qualifications? Did he ever own or run a business?”

He added, “Has the Commission published a vacancy or a recruitment posting? Will there be an appointment eventually? Why would the Commission nominate someone to itself?”

Two days after the Commission announced his nomination, news reports surfaced in the media that the 56-year-old Hudák was also appointed by the Georgian Prime Minister as his new special advisor for foreign investments.

Ehler said, “The EPP would like to know whether Hudák’s nomination as SME envoy is on a part-time basis.”

“This is, after all, a public appointment, paid by taxpayers’ money. These are all pertinent questions and indeed they are in the public interest. Therefore, we expect the Commission to answer them expediently,” Ehler added.

“This nomination shows much more about the Commission itself than it does about Hudák; it confirms that the Commission treats small enterprises with contempt” Christian Ehler, EPP

A source at EURADA, the European Association of Development Agencies, which is part of the network of SMEs’ envoys, said the new envoy “will have an important role in the implementation of EU SME policies and the implementation of the better regulation agenda.”

Hudák was not immediately available for comment but a Commission official told this website, “SMEs are the motor of our economy and even more so the motor of our recovery and the green and digital transitions.”

“Thus, the Commission has developed an SME policy with a range of actions to support our SMEs. Against this background, the Commission attaches the highest value to the position of the SME envoy. It is important for SMEs in Europe and to all of us to get this choice right. It requires a thorough and careful consideration for the appointment.”

The official added, “The Commission has not yet nominated a person as the appointment is being finalised.”

“It is worth highlighting that we have an SME Envoy Network, which was set up following the revision of the Small Business Act and started its work in early 2012. It has been active ever since, in particular during the pandemic crisis.”

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