Friday. 10/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Dumbing down and out

Like a lot of people, you might have been a beneficiary of Erasmus, the programme that enables European Union-based students, especially poorer ones, to study in one of their fellow EU-member countries for a year. So it’s a shame that – by a large majority – the UK parliament has this week voted against a commitment to continue its membership of the scheme. The lack of interest from the UK government in the educational, social and pastoral opportunities that Erasmus brings is telling – an early kick in the nuts to EU structures based on caring and sharing – even though the government has said that it is leaving the EU, not Europe (remember?).

People have taken to social media in their droves to share stories of how they got their first job thanks to Erasmus, found their vocation, joined a band, became fluent in a foreign language or made friends for life; one of mine met his future wife when she came to the UK on an Erasmus trip from France. We don’t big up social media at Monocle but in this instance it proved its worth where the regular media failed: I couldn’t find a single mention of the Erasmus vote and its implications in yesterday’s UK newspapers, full as they were with the British royals and “Megxit”.

Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch philosopher who travelled through 16th-century Europe, working in Rotterdam, Cambridge and Basel. His time in each city helped form a world-view that remains the basis of much humanism and modern thought today. Erasmus couldn’t have done it without a little help from his friends; in other words, something like Erasmus.

Elections / Taiwan

Balancing act

Voters in Taiwan head to the polls tomorrow to elect a president and appoint national lawmakers. The incumbent, Tsai Ing-wen, is a shoo-in for a second term, so the only question is whether her Democratic Progressive party (DPP) can hold on to its commanding majority in parliament. Many young liberal Taiwanese will be hoping that the DPP repeats the success of the 2016 election but there is some reason to cheer on the opposition Kuomintang: if the DPP sweeps parliament and the presidency for a second consecutive time, it might convince party bigwigs to push for a referendum on declaring independence from China – an absolute no-no for Beijing. Tsai (pictured) is a moderating force known for reigning in party hardliners but in an interview with Monocle last year, she refused to rule out a post-election referendum. Her response can be summed up as follows: democracy will decide. But referendums are a dangerous game – especially when one of the outcomes could lead to war with the mainland.

Diplomacy / Croatia

Misplaced priorities

The presidency of the European Union changes every six months; since the start of this year, it has been placed in the hands of the bloc’s newest member, Croatia. The Balkan nation, which joined the EU seven years ago, appears to be using the opportunity to promote itself as a tourism destination rather than influence decision-makers in the corridors of power. In recent days, billboards and buses across Brussels have been plastered with posters displaying the message that it’s “time for EU to set sail in beautiful Croatia”.

Yet the country is not short of visitors. It’s estimated that 220,000 Belgians alone travelled to Croatia last year and that tourism makes up almost 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. Perhaps leaders in Zagreb would do well to use the EU presidency to diversify their economy rather than fall into the same old tourist trap.

Media / USA

Last stop

Whither the commuter newspaper? Some good news and bad news this week: Metro Boston, the city’s free commuter paper, is shuttering after 19 years, while New York-based Schneps Media has acquired its sister publications Metro New York and Metro Philadelphia. The deal is part of Schneps’s strategy to consolidate community print media and position itself as a leading voice in local news (it’s already merged Metro New York with another daily newspaper to form amNewYork Metro). The fact that Schneps couldn’t save Metro Boston too is a sign of the challenge it faces. “In the digital age, there’s not much of a place for free weekly newspapers anymore,” says Craig Huber, a media research analyst at Connecticut-based Huber Research Partners. Still, consolidation done right – keeping staff and preserving integrity – might be the only answer. The goal should be to scale local newspapers, not kill them off.

Urbanism / Berlin

Smart ideas

Anybody who has been to a street party in Berlin’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district will know that it’s not the cleanest area in town; for some the grunginess is part of the charm. But now the borough is trying to change its image: this week it unveiled a radical zero-waste concept that’s been in development over the past five months. It’s part of the German capital’s wider Clean City initiative, in which every district has received funding to develop and trial anti-waste concepts. Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s plan borrows ideas – such as permanent grilling stations in parks and new bins for empty bottles and cigarette butts – from other cities. Most notable, perhaps, is the adoption of Paris’s zero-waste “laboratories”: stations placed in the dirtiest parts of town to encourage the community to come up with their own ideas on cutting waste. This might be helpful in Berlin, where involving the community could mollify those worried about gentrification, a familiar theme in the German capital. After all, not everyone loves that “clean” city look.

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Moscow, Depo market

We visit one of the Russian capital’s top culinary destinations – a market that claims to be the biggest food hall in Europe.

Monocle Films / Finland

Icebreakers: rescue know-how

Finland has obvious natural advantages that have helped it become an icebreaking powerhouse but the country’s dominance in the field is startling. We travel to the Bay of Bothnia to bear witness to the beginning of the icebreaking season.

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