Wednesday. 21/8/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Melkon Charchoglyan

Playing it by ear

Finland has always been a sobering influence on the Russian bear across the border, its attitude marked by the cordial “active neutrality” it has more or less pursued since the Second World War. In that vein, when Finnish president Sauli Niinistö announced last week that Vladimir Putin would visit Helsinki today, he said that no subject would be off the table during bilateral talks.

This sounds vague but the notion is sincere: Finland is always happy to lend an ear, disagree though it might, and it’s this political pragmatism that has allowed the country to successfully jockey Russia. Indeed, it has improved relations. The idea of a Finnish businessman hopping on the high-speed link to St Petersburg for lunch seemed unfathomable even 20 years ago; now it’s a reality thanks to Finland’s level-headed practicality.

The approach has also earned Putin’s respect: Finland takes him seriously – which is what every strongman wants – without making him look weak. There’s a lesson here for other world leaders: it’s not about making nice or riling Russia but taking a firm yet diplomatic stance.

Brexit / Europe

Here we go again

As much as things change, they stay the same. Just a few weeks ago, Number 10 made it categorically clear that Boris Johnson, the UK’s new prime minister, would not be meeting EU leaders until they agreed to change their position on the Irish backstop. But Johnson is in Berlin today to meet Angela Merkel before heading to Paris tomorrow to meet Emmanuel Macron. Johnson is expected to ask both leaders to consider reopening talks about the Brexit withdrawal agreement that his predecessor, Theresa May, negotiated – and was then unable to renegotiate. Will Johnson, who has sold himself as a fearless leader who will deliver Brexit no matter what, have more luck than May? European leaders have already said that they’re not willing to reconsider the agreement. Expect some EU deja vu.

F&B / The US

Nourishing numbers

There is much hand-wringing for the supposed demise of retail in the US as more shopfronts close across its major cities. But while Americans might be less inclined to hit the shops to buy clothes these days, there is good news for those in the F&B industry: data from the US Census Bureau and National Restaurant Association shows an uptick in spending at drinking and dining establishments in 2019. Sales in this sector are expected to reach a record US$863bn (€778bn) by the end of the year, which would be a 4 per cent increase on 2018. Analysts eyeing a potential economic slowdown in the US believe that the sector will continue to thrive even if the country tips into recession.

Security / Germany

Eye on the sky

Germany’s transport ministry is moving fast to counter a rising threat to air traffic: drones. A new plan, set to be submitted before the end of September by German Air Traffic Control, will expand the legislation around operating unmanned remote-controlled vehicles near to airports and propose further measures. That said, banning drones near airports won’t be enough to stop those intent on using them for harm. Despite an estimated 500,000 devices being in private and commercial use in Germany, this initiative is the first to propose a unified system of defence; there’s currently no process for monitoring or stopping suspicious drones. Airport authorities around the world will be keeping Germany’s next moves on their radars.

Culture / Japan & Taiwan

Perfect harmony

Japan’s love affair with Taiwan is in full bloom. Several influential Japanese magazines, including Brutus, Popeye and Pen, have all featured Taiwan on their covers in the past year, while tourists are flocking to the former colony. Keen to capitalise on this interest, Taipei is staging a festival in Tokyo at the end of next month. Taiwan Plus 2019 will have a line-up featuring the island’s top brands, bands and bubble tea. Taiwanese Chang Tieh-chih is the deputy secretary-general of the General Association of Chinese Culture, which is organising the event. “Japan has a small case of Taiwan fever right now,” he says. “We hope to showcase the new face of contemporary Taiwan culture.” Given the amount of bad blood in east Asia right now, rosy relations between two regional neighbours is worth banging the drum for.

M24 / The Menu: Food Neighbourhoods

Denver, Colorado

Denver is home to an underrated music, culture and food scene but it’s gradually beginning to make more noise across the US, and for good reason.

Film / Global

Designing the news

How do you unpack stories in the most engaging way while building a credible and comprehensive brand? Monocle Films showcases best design for paper and screen too.

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