The small Spanish towns for sale, a shift to the right in Vienna and the impact of Berlin’s rising property prices.
Since his unexpected victory in last November’s election, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis has been racking up the air miles, criss-crossing Europe to meet with other EU leaders. However, unlike many other country leaders he’s had to do so without a presidential plane.
While Romania used to have its own executive plane, for the past three years the country has done without one, with the president and other officials mainly travelling on jets chartered from Romanian carrier Tarom. According to the country’s media, a third of the government’s annual travel budget was spent on chartering planes in the first part of the year; some are questioning if there will be enough cash for the rest of 2015.
Since taking office, Iohannis has been calling for a new governmental plane for the country. A 20-seater has been suggested, or a military plane kitted out with communication devices, an office and a bedroom.
When travelling closer to home, he has had more luck. Earlier this year an auction was held to decide on the president’s new car, with the winning vehicle a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Iohannis, who is ethnically German, seems to have a liking for German cars. In his previous role as mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu he fostered strong ties with automotive manufacturer BMW, and drove around in a series of BMW sedans.
However, Iohannis has previously said that he went everywhere by bicycle until he was 30, and during the presidential campaign last year he took part in a cycling event on a borrowed mountain bike. Since taking office he’s ridden in other cycling events and has urged as many people as possible to cycle rather than drive, to cut down on traffic and pollution.
After decades of service Romania’s last presidential aircraft, a Boeing 707, was sold in 2012.
Generally Iohannis travels abroad in a chartered Airbus a310 but there are negotiations underway between the Romanian government and Tarom to buy one or two outright.
Mercedes-Benz s500 4Matic
Iohannis’ new ride. A smart new luxury sedan, that, according to media reports, is armoured, has heated and ventilated seats with built-in massage function and is finished in leather and wood.
BMW 7 Series
One of several bmw cars that Iohannis drove while he was mayor of Sibiu, a city in Transylvania.
During last year’s elections, Iohannis borrowed a mountain bike and rode with the crowd to encourage people to cycle.
Hundreds of abandoned Spanish villages are up for sale and foreign buyers are at the front of the queue. With prices ranging from €50,000 to €1.5m, foreign demand for buying them has increased by 35 per cent this year.
Official statistics show that there are about 3,500 abandoned villages in Spain; it’s a number set to grow as younger people are lured to urban centres by the prospect of employment. About 1,500 of these towns are currently on the market, put up for sale by municipal or regional authorities. Property scouts should read the fine print first though: about 70 per cent require major construction work.
Italy’s poorer southern regions have always been at a disadvantage compared to their economically potent northern cousins. Today the gap has only worsened according to a recent study by Italy’s Svimez (Association for the Development of the South).
For the past seven years, the area’s GDP has continued to shrink and since 2000 its economy has performed even worse than Greece. Though prime minister Matteo Renzi has a masterplan in the works to boost the region, many southerners have already voted with their feet, with nearly a million inhabitants opting to emigrate north or abroad in the past twelve years.
Date: 11 October
Candidates: President Alexander Lukashenko, who celebrated 20 years in office last year, is standing for a fifth term – and will win. After the last election in 2010, seven of his nine opponents were arrested and three imprisoned; one, Mikola Statkevich, intends to run from his cell. The principal opposition leader will be Tatsiana Karatkevich.
Issues: Belarus’s economy is struggling due to Russia’s economic travails. And polls suggest that Russia’s inter-vention in Ukraine has made Belarussians warier of protest.
Monocle comment: The resolve of Belarus’s opposition remains the only grounds for optimism.
Since the end of the Second World War, Vienna has been run by the left-wing Social Democrats of Austria (SPÖ), remaining a liberal stronghold while the country as a whole has switched between left and right. In the 2010 elections, the SPÖ lost its absolute majority but still prevailed, taking on the Green party as a coalition partner. The red-green government extended pedestrian zones and reduced public transport costs.
Lately though, hot-button issues such as immigration and rising unemployment have resulted in more support in the rest of Austria for the populist right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) – the party made internationally notorious in the 1990s by controversial politician Jörg Haider. Elections held this month in Vienna may be closer than usual, particularly given the FPÖ's strong results in provincial elections in Styria and Burgenland in May.
Berlin city planner Florian Schmidt is fighting hard to protect artists’ spaces.
Berlin has made tremendous mileage from its status as a creative capital over the past 15 years, especially in the fine arts. Nearly 10,000 artists live in this cultural-production paradise but in order to sculpt, paint, or perform they need both time and space. Corporate interests and sell-it-fast property policies have been making the latter scarcer and more expensive. But there’s a Berliner whose aim is to ensure that the city’s art, one of its biggest soft-power assets, doesn’t entirely vanish.
City planner Florian Schmidt was appointed Berlin’s Atelierbeauftragter (atelier officer) last year, a municipally funded position created by the Berufsverband Berliner Künstler (Association of Berlin Artists) in the early 1990s to provide an advocate for artists and cultural spaces. He also runs the city’s studio programme, overseeing nearly 880 subsidised artists’ studios. “The city is changing and we have to adapt and react,” he says.
Schmidt was the man the newly formed Alliance of Threatened Berlin Studios turned to in late 2014 when 500 artists in 10 studios across the city realised that they faced rising rents or eviction. Beyond the studio programme, he says, “Berlin has around 1,500 more [art studios] in about 48 private or semi-private studio buildings. Only a few have a strong base, like 15-year contracts. Something could happen to about 30 of these buildings.”
Schmidt fights to retain and gain art spaces by lobbying, offering options to building owners (such as finding a non-profit to buy a building) or creating image problems for avaricious landlords. There is a plan to expand the studio programme that Schmidt looks after to 3,000 spaces, which would create a more sustainable situation for artists. Schmidt says now is the time: Berlin still owns enough buildings and land where this would be possible by converting properties – or the city could construct new buildings.
If it doesn’t happen, Berlin could soon look like a conventional city. “Will culture get enough space from the city’s portfolio or will the city just continue to go with what brings more money in?” Schmidt says. With art being one of Berlin’s great selling points, he and many others hope for the former.