Thursday. 20/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Lay of the land

Why does Austria matter? It’s a question that I’ve wrestled with over the past few months as we planned an entire issue dedicated to the tiny alpine country that my father hails from. And I didn’t just have to wrestle with the question in private, either; I was tasked with answering it. You’ll find an entire essay dedicated to the subject of “Why Austria matters” in the Affairs section of Monocle’s special March issue (on newsstands today).

Finding the answer has involved something of a self-discovery mission. I might be part Austrian but I only lived there during my pre-teens, so researching the country for this issue has also involved exploring my own heritage. That meant looking at everything from the enduring relevance of its imperial Habsburg past to the way that Austria wields its cultural heritage on the global soft-power stage today. And most importantly (at least for politics junkies like me), it meant exploring the surprising lessons that Austria holds for today’s puzzling political moment.

Austria is surprisingly experimental for a country that seems so conservative and traditional to the outside observer: in politics, its new conservative-Green government might help to redefine the types of coalitions needed to answer today’s biggest political challenges; in diplomacy, its attempts at reaching out to central Europe could help bring a divided continent together; in culture, it’s exploring ways to give classical music and theatre a modern touch. It could be that all or none of these experiments bear fruit (its new government could collapse, its mediation role fail and its classical music remain stuck in the past) but its attempts demand watching nevertheless. Why does Austria matter? Perhaps because it’s daring to mess with tradition – that’s more than many countries around the world can say.

Politics / Italy

Stirring the pot

Even by the standards of turbulent Italian coalitions, Matteo Renzi’s challenge to the stability of the current government is baffling. Late last year the former prime minister left the main centre-left Democratic party (which is in a coalition with the more populist M5S) to create his own party, Italia Viva. Now Renzi (pictured) is threatening to withdraw his new party’s backing for prime minister Giuseppe Conte after disagreements over judicial reforms. Doing so could deprive the government of enough votes to stay in power, manufacturing a crisis just six months after the coalition was formed. The move only makes sense from Renzi’s personal perspective: it gives him visibility after years on the political sidelines. But if Renzi’s personal vanity forces yet more instability or, in the worst-case scenario, another toppled government, it will have a huge impact on his credibility.

Defence / India

Equal ranking

Earlier this week, India’s Supreme Court ordered the government to grant permanent military-service commissions and command positions to female officers. Women can currently only serve for 10 to 14 years in the Indian army but this ruling allows them longer tenures and the same benefits as their male counterparts, including rank, promotions and a pension. The ruling itself is unlikely to be resisted by Indian society, says Ayesha Siddiqa, research associate at the South Asia Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. But, she says, when it comes to attracting more women to the army (currently only 4 per cent of troops are female), the impact might not be so profound. “I don’t believe that the balance will be disturbed,” she says. “In India, men are still very much looked upon as the main providers.” The real impact, according to Siddiqa, will be improved morale for women who are already in the army. “You can’t fight [a war] with a demotivated military,” she says.

Design / Global

Thankless task

What is a chief design officer or CDO? If you are scratching your head, don’t worry too much because even in companies that have one they get little recognition. New research by US consultants McKinsey & Company suggests that only one in 10 of all CEOs (now, we all know that acronym) believes that the senior design leader they’ve employed actually plays a meaningful role in supporting their organisation’s development strategy. This means that although evidence suggests that using problem-solving principles from the design industry can benefit a business, those at the top aren’t in agreement on how this can be integrated into company structures. The survey also states that about half of all CDOs don’t believe that their peers understand their role. We think that a good first step towards rectifying this is to drop the acronyms and redefine the purpose of the position. After all, form should always follow function.

Culture / USA

Fresh takes

It’s around this time of year that the major US broadcast networks determine which of the many pitches they receive from writers and producers will be commissioned as pilots or full series. And while the rise of streaming might be upending the television industry, pilot season still holds some interesting clues on trends for the year ahead. Although the number of newly commissioned series is down for the second consecutive year across the five broadcast networks (NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC and The CW), there are reports of an uptick in straight-to-series orders, which skips the pilot model and greenlights a full season of episodes upfront. This suggests that networks are still willing to take risks and give promising new series time to find an audience. The overall result might be fewer new shows – but could that mean better television? Stay tuned.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

The Drug Store

Clemens Böninger co-founded The Drug Store, an upscale London retailer of CBD products. Böninger started in the medical marijuana market but shifted his focus in response to the demand for CBD-based natural remedies. His first permanent location is just round the corner from our Midori House headquarters

Monocle Films / 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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