Thursday. 1/8/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Singing your praises

August is upon us and, while major political quarrels blow across Europe, we’re honing in on a quieter – but equally tough – tussle taking place in the Netherlands. It’s Rotterdam versus Maastricht: two second-tier Dutch cities battling it out to host the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest.

Young, diverse, somewhat exciting and well connected to Amsterdam’s airport, Rotterdam appears to be the frontrunner to host the jamboree, which attracts an international crowd. But Maastricht, which borders Belgium, has a venue with double the capacity of Rotterdam’s – and is holding nothing back in its bid. Maastricht mayor Annemarie Penn-te Strake has branded her medieval city “the most European in the Netherlands” – it being the place where the EU-establishing Maastricht Treaty was signed.

Monocle 24’s Eurovision correspondent Fernando Augusto Pacheco – who’s travelled to contests in Tel Aviv, Kiev, Vienna, Copenhagen and Malmö – thinks it’s a tough call. He says the best host cities are those that “live” the event, noting that while Maastricht may be pretty, Rotterdammers know how to party. For Eurovision, we’ll go for atmosphere over aesthetics and we’ll be watching closely until a winner emerges later this month.

Diplomacy / Syria

Talking in circles

Today Turkey, Iran and Russia are sending officials to the 13th meeting of the Astana Syria peace talks. Fighting in Syria has escalated in recent months as Idlib – the last remaining rebel stronghold – has suffered intense bombardment from Russian and government forces. The partners assembled in Kazakhstan appear to have a callous lack of urgency. “These talks are a process that continues because no one in them wants to see communication collapse,” says Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow specialising in the Middle East for Rusi. “If you look at who’s involved in the meetings, it would seem they are nations looking to protect their interests in the region rather than looking to reach a resolution.”

Politics / Puerto Rico

Revolving door

Bowing to public pressure over leaked defamatory and derogatory text messages, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló will step down tomorrow – but not before he’s nominated his successor. On Wednesday, Rosselló tapped Pedro Pierluisi, who formerly represented Puerto Rico in Congress, as the island’s secretary of state. He will be the subject of a highly contentious confirmation hearing today, the outcome of which is far from certain. If Pierluisi does take up the position he will become acting governor when Rosselló bows out. This is unlikely to be a quick fix for the island’s struggling economy and many Puerto Ricans will be unhappy that the outgoing leader has had a say in the nation’s future. The repercussions of Rosselló’s mistake are likely to endure.

Environment / Berlin

Breathing space

Residents of Berlin should be able to breathe a little easier as a ban on diesel cars comes into effect in the city centre from today. The initiative comes after a legal case last autumn in which environmental group DUH lobbied the city to introduce restrictions on all cars except those that produce minimal amounts of CO2 – categorised as Euro 6 in the EU’s vehicle emissions grading system (Euro 1 being the biggest polluters). While some detractors have claimed that the ban will cause congestion in other areas of the city and will hurt business in the centre, the decision is a good one: sensible Berliners will opt for two wheels or public transport instead.

Arts / Japan

Shock to the system

As the number of biennales and triennales around the world multiplies, it’s difficult for an arts festival to stand out from its international counterparts. Japan’s Aichi Triennale, opening today in the prefecture and running through to October, has decided to bank on a provocative and politically outspoken programme to do so. Some pieces that have been taken off display in Japan in the past, for fear of angering visitors, will be deliberately shown to “jolt” the public. Photos and statues of “comfort women” (women and girls from occupied areas who were forced into sex with Japanese soldiers during the Second World War) by South Korean artists are among them; such harrowing work will inspire debate, even if it does little to improve relations between Tokyo and Seoul.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Dishoom

Cousins Kavi and Shamil Thakrar are the co-founders of Dishoom. Their seven restaurants across the UK are a love letter to the old Irani cafés of Bombay (now Mumbai): perfect meeting places in a bustling diverse city. The cultural mash-up bears a resemblance to modern London where Kavi and Shamil opened their first location 10 years ago in Covent Garden. The clever affordable menus are full of comfort food and interpretations of classic dishes.

Monocle Films / Canada

Why start-ups thrive in Canada

To celebrate this year's soft power survey winner, we visit an emerging roster of budding businesses in Montreal. Canada's innovations minister Navdeep Bains reveals how the country is capitalising on the US's restrictive visa policies.

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