Wednesday. 20/3/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Fighting talk

Some have been asking the question for weeks: if the UK public aren’t allowed a second referendum on Brexit, why is Theresa May able to keep putting her withdrawal agreement to parliament, despite the fact that MPs have twice voted it down? Turns out she can’t. House of Commons speaker John Bercow ruled this week that May isn’t able to put the same plan to yet another vote without first making substantial changes to it, potentially scuppering her attempts to browbeat MPs into supporting it as the Brexit deadline looms.

So May has been stonewalled. Yesterday a spokesman for the prime minister confirmed that she would write to Donald Tusk and request an extension before the EU Council Summit on Thursday. Could that eventually lead to a second referendum on the issue? Predicting anything related to Brexit would be as foolish as trying to leave the EU without a deal but advocates of the UK remaining within the bloc are hopeful. After all – unlike May’s course of action – much has changed since the vote of 2016, including many people’s grasp of the stakes and what the UK stands to lose.

Defence / Germany

Military revision

The German cabinet convenes in Berlin today as finance minister Olaf Scholz presents the draft federal budget for 2020 and the finance plan up to 2023 – but the result might not be on the money. Scholz is already facing criticism from Washington and figures within the German military for his plans to cut defence spending: €2bn more than had originally been planned has been earmarked for the military in 2020 bringing spending to 1.37 per cent of GDP, however funds will fall back down to 1.25 per cent in 2023. That’s short of Nato’s edict that its members spend a minimum of 2 per cent of GDP on defence. “Germany’s lack of military spending is a historic trait that goes back to the end of the Second World War,” says Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University. “Its defences are very defensive, if you will. It doesn’t seek its own nuclear forces or intercontinental forces.”

Society / Vatican City

Reasons to be cheerful

Against the backdrop of recent political turbulence in Helsinki – prime minister Juha Sipilä’s government collapsed earlier this month – there is some good news for Finland. According to the UN’s 2019 World Happiness report, due to be unveiled in Vatican City today, the country has retained its status as the cheeriest place in the world. Or, rather, it’s where residents perceive themselves to be the happiest. The report is based upon analysis of Gallup surveys from 2016 to 2018; whether the methodology is to be taken seriously or not (some Finnish columnists were the first to refute the results last year), the country’s initiatives to increase residents’ quality of life are to be applauded. Meanwhile, a much sadder state of affairs: the US finds itself in the “could do better” category, having dropped from 18 to 19 in the rankings.

Politics / Taiwan

Let battle commence

With Taiwan’s presidential election looming, everyone is wondering who will lead the opposition pro-China KMT party against Tsai Ing-wen’s DPP government. The hot favourite is Kaohsiung’s charismatic new mayor Han Kuo-yo, who caused a major upset in November by taking control of the southern port city (and former DPP stronghold) with promises to bring more mainland visitors to the city and increase exports across the Taiwan Strait. Han will tour Hong Kong and southern China this week at the invitation of Beijing. But the incumbent isn’t standing idly by: President Tsai will this week embark on a Pacific trip in a bid to keep hold of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies. “We’re making efforts to show that we are very worthy partners and in doing so we’ve actually stabilised the situation,” she told us during an exclusive interview in the April issue (on newsstands this Thursday). An expected stop-off in the US territories of Hawaii or Guam would be a poke in the eye for Beijing as diplomats there host their preferred candidate.

Design / Finland

Inner circle

Masterplanned by modernist Alvar Aalto – in the shape of a reindeer’s antler, no less – Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland is a design gem. But the remote outpost is also proving to be a popular mustering point for the industry. This week it’s hosting the 11th Arctic Design Week: a fair exhibiting the work of 150 artists, designers and businesses, with 4,500 guests expected to attend. “If things last in the Arctic, the chances are that they’re designed well, resilient and strong,” says the show’s producer, Ana Filppa. Attractions include reindeer races, business workshops and interactive design-minded events for children. “We wanted it to become more international but today it’s actually more and more about local people and families, adds Filppa. “It’s about getting people to realise that design is for them, not just designers.” And what about next year? Plans are afoot to stage a fashion show on a catwalk made from ice; sounds like a slippery slope.

M24 / Made in France

Down to business

We take the temperature of France’s luxury sector with writer Dana Thomas, ‘Financial Times’ Paris correspondent Harriet Agnew and UBS equity strategist Claudia Panseri. Plus: why a toy giraffe is the must-have French object for one Monocle producer.

Film / Canada

Reading the tea leaves

Vancouver Island might not be famous for growing tea but its lush soil has proved perfect for starting an idyllic farm.

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