The French president's motorcade, learning to share in Italy, getting stuck on a train in Bosnia and an interview with Serbia's first deputy prime minister
The UK is considering Nordic-style paternity leave – allowing parents to share up to 12 months of paternity leave between both the mother and father.
Home to Ferrari and Maserati, Italy has had a long love affair with the car. It has one of the EU’s highest ownership rates at about 610 cars per 1,000 inhabitants but recession and 40 per cent youth unemployment have seen sales drop. One solution is car sharing. In Milan, Fiat has unveiled more than 600 Cinquecento cars, competing with Mercedes’ Car2go scheme, which is expanding to Rome and Florence.
Rail travel in the former Yugoslavia is rarely less than a test of endurance. Crippled by conflict and decades of neglect, the clapped-out carriages lack comfort, buffet cars and lickety-split. With a favourable wind it can be an eight-hour schlep from Belgrade to Zagreb; it takes less than half that by road Bosnia thought it had the solution to the regional railway go-slow. It paid almost €70m to renowned Spanish manufacturer Talgo for a small fleet of high-speed trains.
They were supposed to zip across the country at 240km/h. But they have remained parked– and unused – in a Sarajevo siding for the past eight years.
The culprit is a typically Balkan blockage. The rail network is split along ethnic lines – half Serb controlled, half Bosniak and Croat. And they have proved unable to coordinate the funding to upgrade the tracks so that the Talgo trains can run.
When Nicolas Sarkozy lost his re-election bid to François Hollande, the outgoing French president probably took a moment to ponder what he could have done differently. The expensive refitting of his aeroplane may not have topped the list but the €260m spent on what was dubbed “Air Sarko One” helped to paint the head of state as out of touch.
The pimped-out jet is said to have million-euro fittings including state-of-the-art ovens (for baking fresh baguettes, bien sûr). Even though President Hollande is known to be a bit more modest, he has still hopped aboard the A330 for a handful of state trips. In addition, Hollande has left his own mark on the motorcade. Continuing the long tradition of using Citroëns in the street fleet, the newly elected president took a victory tour around Paris in a brand new Citroën ds5, perched out of the enlarged sunroof as he waved to onlookers.
The bespoke hybrid ds5 seems fitting for a leader who wants the world to think of him as considerate. Don’t fret; Hollande has a cadre of more traditional (read: bulletproof) presidential cars to choose from as well. Whether it’s a Citroën, a Peugeot or an Airbus, there’s little doubt that the presidential motorcade is a grand display of French industry. National pride aside, other European leaders have been known to travel aboard Ryanair or hop on a flag carrier for the long haul. All of this makes us wonder: have the days of Air-Force-One-type jets come to an end? What once seemed to be a crucial mark of state pride is now just fodder for critics.
Monocle meets the man who’s been the driving force in tackling three key issues holding back Serbia – Kosovo, the EU and corruption. Aleksandar Vucic dresses to blend in. His grey suit, neat hair and glasses would fail to raise eyebrows in any boardroom or cabinet office. But in a reverse of the usual cliché, the leader of Serbia’s Progressive Party is a lot taller in person than he looks on TV – and packs an exceedingly firm handshake.
This is all very apt for a man who holds the title of first deputy prime minister – and yet is widely acknowledged as the most powerful figure in Serbian politics and an emerging leader in the Balkans. Within a year of his governing coalition taking office, it had completed deals with Kosovo on a normalisation of relations and with the EU on the start of membership negotiations. Meanwhile, Vucic personally took the helm of the anti-corruption campaign – as previously untouchable tycoons were arrested and charged for illegally profiting from privatisations.
All this has brought him enormous personal popularity – and power. There is constant speculation on when he will take over as prime minister, an office currently held by Ivica Dacic, the leader of the junior partner in the coalition. But Vucic appears to be content to bide his time. Perhaps this is because of his role in the notorious administration of Slobodan Milosevic. Vucic previously served as an oppressive minister of information who was known to fine journalists who opposed the government and ban foreign TV networks.
His return to power – along with Dacic, a former Milosevic spokesman – caused some nervousness among western diplomats. But even the sceptics are starting to melt. “They are different than before,” says Natasa Kandic, founder of the Humanitarian Law Centre. “It’s important that they have changed and are calling for democracy.”
Monocle: You are the leader of the party that has the most seats, yet your title is first deputy. Why are you stepping back where others would push themselves forward?
Aleksandar Vucic: I just wanted to show that results and benefits for our people are something that I am interested in – not my titles. There are many people above myself regarding titles but people in Serbia don’t care about that. They care about results and I do my best to deliver.
M: There has been a normalisation of relations with Kosovo and an agreement with the EU about membership talks for Serbia. Is this everything you wanted to achieve?
AV: Of course I’m not satisfied. If you want to really accomplish something you need to put your targets on a higher level. Yes, we succeeded in opening accession talks with the EU and getting and implementing the Brussels Agreement with Kosovo – and we started a very important anti-corruption fight. But I’m not satisfied with the economic situation and environment. Today, if you need to get, let’s say, a building permit you’ll have to wait for decades. I hope we will be able to change that to less than a month.
M: Historically your government has had better relations with Russia than with the EU. Why have you chosen to go down the path of EU membership?
AV: It is not so popular in Serbia as you might think. But it is very much related to the modernisation of this country. We will have to change our mindsets, our habits, ourselves – and that is the most important thing. If we don’t change ourselves, if we don’t do something regarding the rule of law or many other changes in different social spheres, we won’t be successful in the future.
M: You talk about changing mindsets – and you epitomise that. In the 1990s you were minister of information in the Milosevic government.
AV: After 1999 we saw the result of our politics – it was very bad in all social spheres. We had as many ruined bridges and buildings as you can imagine. We cannot say it was all the fault of Serbia – but that was the result of our politics. We needed to change our aims and our unsuccessful and harmful politics. We all made some terrible mistakes and I’m not ashamed to confess that. We need to find a better way for Serbia. We have to be very firm, focused, concentrated – and even devoted – if we want to move forward and find a better way for our people.