Thursday. 28/2/2019

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opener / Tyler Brûlé

High stakes

Just when you thought it was passé for governments (particularly European ones) to own stakes in airlines, it’s all change at both Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle. A series of high-profile stocks dropped in Wednesday trading when it emerged that the Dutch government had bought just shy of 13 per cent of Air France-KLM (the joint venture that owns the Netherlands’ national carrier), bringing its total share close to the French government’s 14.3 per cent stake.

Those crafty Dutchmen are clearly making a point: not only do they want to have a more prominent seat at the table but they’re underlining that their carrier is the more profitable part of the venture. KLM has always been seen as the loser of this deal and Schiphol’s not quite the hub it was 20 years ago. What next, dear flyer? The Dutch government and its agents are no doubt exploring all options as this is both an issue of national pride and strategic interest(s). While it would be brave for The Hague to go it alone, it's not out of the question. Rivals in Frankfurt and London will be paying close attention.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

Tongue lashing

Donald Trump may have been thanking his lucky stars he was with North Korea’s “great leader” in Vietnam (a country he managed to avoid when drafted during the war, citing bone spurs): it meant missing his former lawyer Michael Cohen muck-raking in front of the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Reform Committee. If we needed a top-up on salacious gossip then this was it; not that we didn’t have a pretty good idea of what he was going to say. As expected, Cohen went full throttle, calling Trump “a racist, conman and a cheat”. But, as Republicans were keen to point out, the debarred ex-confidant is not exactly the most credible witness: having been found guilty of tax evasion, campaign-finance violations and lying to Congress last year he is staring down a three-year stretch in prison. One wonders what these hearings achieve other than a poor advertisement for the partisan fuddle of US politics these days.

Image: Getty Images

Technology / Spain

Bumpy start

Every trade show has its gimmick and at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which ends today, it’s phones that fold in half. Offering the logical next step in the current trend of maximum screen in minimum phone, they provide the convenience of leaving your tablet at home – but, in truth, there’s a long way to go. For a start, when opened, the screen is almost square, which doesn’t serve video playback at all well. They are also twice as thick as regular smartphones and both the main models at the show (from Huawei and Samsung) seemed to have a bump down the middle of the display, reducing the visual impact. For now, the act of folding should be restricted to things made of paper or cotton, not silicon or glass.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / North Korea

Sister act

Following a platitudinous opening press conference and dinner last night, US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet for talks in Hanoi today. Amid the talk of denuclearisation and lifting sanctions, such meetings are a rare opportunity for watchers of North Korea to speculate about the inner workings of Kim’s government. The role of Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong is prompting the most intrigue: there is speculation that she might have veto power over proposals brought up by negotiators, even though she is not officially one herself. Her body language seems to support this theory: while exiting Kim’s bulletproof train yesterday she barged past Kim Yong-chol, a top aide to the North Korean leader and a negotiator in the summit with Trump, in order to speak to her brother.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Japan & Russia

Tug of war

When Russia and Japan agreed in November to speed up talks about finally signing a formal Second World War peace treaty, it seemed as though relations between the two countries, long in the deep freeze, might warm up. That hope is already fizzling out. At the heart of the dispute are the southern Kuril Islands. Known in Japan as the Northern Territories, this small group of islands that lies between Hokkaido and the Kamchatka Peninsula was seized from Japan by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in 1945. In December, Russia announced plans to move troops into four new barracks it has built on two of the disputed islands. Then this week it was revealed that Russia has spent RUB3.3bn (€44m) laying an 815km fibre-optic cable to bring high-speed internet to Sakhalin and several other towns and villages dotted around the remote islands. Russia is clearly hoping that even if Japan can’t be persuaded to give up its claim, some infrastructure investment might keep the population on-side.

St Pauli, Hamburg

Monocle’s Melkon Charchoglyan takes us on a tour of St Pauli in Hamburg, an area known for laidback neighbourhood-staple restaurants, top aperitivo spots and cafés that know a thing or two when it comes to coffee.

Blossoming business

The Netherlands is a world leader in the horticulture industry and shows no sign of wilting. We visit a delicately orchestrated flower auction, a grower and a florist to unpack the challenges of this fragrant business.

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