Tuesday. 12/2/2019

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics

On message

As Mike Pompeo tries to make himself loud and clear in central Europe, will anyone be prepared to listen?

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is in Budapest, Bratislava and Warsaw this week to discuss bilateral relations, energy and defence. Three decades after the fall of communism in 1989, he’s keen to highlight the US’s role in bringing democracy and capitalism to central Europe. Yet, 30 years on, illiberal governments are in power in Budapest (which Pompeo visited yesterday) and Warsaw. US watchdog Freedom House has downgraded Hungary from “free” to “partly free” in its new Freedom in the World ranking, citing prime minister Viktor Orbán’s attacks on democratic institutions such as the media and NGOs. Tellingly, it’s the only country in the EU that’s been rated as just “partly free”. To prevent further backsliding, Washington must speak up.

Image: Getty Images

Defence

Deep water

Australia’s deal with France will shore up its naval presence in the wake of China’s maritime expansion.

After nearly two years of squabbling over the contract, Australia and France have finally agreed a deal over the purchase of 12 attack-class submarines that will be supplied by French ship-builder Naval Group for €31bn. The first of the vessels, which will be constructed in south Australia, will be delivered in the early 2030s, with the last to be completed at some point in the 2050s. Although Australia will not say it in so many words, this massive defence initiative is more than likely to deter further Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and the Pacific. But defence analysts fear that a delivery date of 2030 is too late: China has already locked down large swathes of water and is only likely to ramp up its maritime grab in the next decade.

Image: Getty Images

Finance

Buying time

An eleventh-hour delay to Najib Razak’s trial over the 1MDB financial scandal will enrage Malaysians.

Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak’s scheduled first appearance in court today in connection with the 1MDB financial scandal has been postponed at the eleventh hour. Najib’s lawyers filed an application for the trial date to be put back based on a legal technicality. The delay will infuriate many Malaysians, who are keen to see the scandal laid bare and Najib admonished. Current prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has vowed to turn the affair into a watershed moment for fighting corruption in the Southeast Asian country. Najib – Mahathir’s former protégé – is accused of channelling £8m from a government-run development company into his personal accounts. He denies wrongdoing and maintains that the sum was a gift from a Saudi prince. Najib’s wife is also awaiting trial after an Aladdin’s cave of luxury goods was confiscated by police from a number of properties linked to Najib, who faces 42 charges of corruption, money laundering and abuse of power in total.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism

Growing pains

Switzerland is struggling with urban sprawl – so why has a plan to tackle it been rejected in a referendum?

Switzerland’s Young Greens (the youth wing of the country’s Green party) have been left out in the cold after a referendum on Sunday in which the public rejected their plan to freeze construction zones and safeguard the sylvan nation from overzealous building. Despite growing concern over urban sprawl, 64 per cent of voters were against the idea, which suggested that nothing other than buildings in the public interest (such as streets or cable cars) or necessary for sustainable agriculture could be built outside zoned areas. The plan might have faltered but concerns about Switzerland’s complicated bottom-up planning system persist. “It’s good that someone came up with a plan,” says David Marquardt, co-founder of Zürich architecture firm Mach. “It’s good that they tried to tackle it but, ultimately, the plan wasn’t a good one – it’s too rigid.”

Image: Don McCullin

Don McCullin

The Monocle Culture Show

Tate Britain has opened its first-ever photography retrospective: a 60-year survey of work by Don McCullin, famed for his depictions of conflict around the world. Robert Bound is joined by Zed Nelson, Kathlene Fox-Davies and Eddy Frankel to discuss it.

The secret to buying a painting

In the latest episode of our ‘Secret to...’ series, Alexander Gilkes, co-founder of online auction house Paddle8, unveils the alchemy that surrounds the world of collecting art.

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