Sweden cracks down on "sickies", Hungary's and Slovakia's war of words, and Paris trials electric-car sharing.
Swedes are known for taking more sick leave than most, but recently, they seem to be getting fitter – not by taking more excercise or popping miracle pills but because somebody has started checking up on claimants.
In 2005, 14 per cent of the working-age population (745,044 people) were on sickness and incapacity benefits – more than in any of the 30 major countries in the OECD. Sick leave in Sweden has also tended to be very prolonged; more than half of those on leave stay away for more than six months (in other OECD countries its between 10 and 20 per cent).
In 2008, the Swedish government introduced check-ups every three months for those on sick leave. The result? According to a report released in January by the Swedish Social Insurance Inspectorate, many people have suddenly discovered that they are well enough to work after all. And the number of people staying away from work for more than six months dropped dramatically.
In the first six months of the check-up scheme, the state saved €6.5m in benefit payments.
Nothing: The US and Japan are the only two major developed countries not to provide short-term paid sick leave.
Something: In Luxembourg or Norway, you will be paid throughout a 50-day cancer treatment. In the UK or Australia you get just 10 days’ pay and in New Zealand it’s five.
More: The European Court of Justice ruled in January that long-term sick employees are entitled to take holiday accumulated during their sick leave.
Toulouse is set to overtake Lyon in the next 10 years as France’s third-largest city, after Paris and Marseille. Popular universities and the aerospace industry are drawing in the crowds (growth is 2.5 times the national average). But the city could do more to welcome these newcomers. Its streets are scruffy and there’s huge potential to develop the riversides.
The British capital is seen as a city to burn a hole in even the fattest of wallets and in 2007 it certainly justified this reputation, being ranked as the second most expensive city in the world. The tides have turned, however, and London capital is now comparatively cash-friendly – at 1.6 per cent below the global average.
Two sets of national elections later this year and a millennium-old mutual antipathy are proving a toxic combination for Slovakia and neighbouring Hungary. With only months to go before their countries go to the polls (Hungary in April, Slovakia in June), the candidates are hoping that a bit of foreigner-bashing will help bring in the votes.
So what have the wicked foreigners done? Slovakia put a controversial law into effect in January that limits the use of Hungarian and other minority languages in official institutions. The 520,000 ethnic Hungarians who live there (Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1920) now face a penalty of up to €5,000 if they use their own language in the wrong place. The law is ambiguous, and no fines have yet been reported.
The law has probably helped Slovakia’s socialist prime minister Robert Fico (pictured right), who is expected to win another term in June’s elections.
Hungary’s conservative party, Fidesz, which has voiced some of the bitterest attacks on Slovakia’s new law, looks set to take over after eight years in opposition.
It’s already shown the world how to get people to share bikes; now, by the end of the year, Paris is planning to do the same with cars. Customers will be able to pick up one of 4,000 electric self-service vehicles (to be called Autolibs) at 1,400 rental stations. It is hoped that each electric car will replace five to 10 private gas-fuelled vehicles.