Monday. 2/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Germany opens up

At a time when many countries are closing their borders, Germany has taken a significant step in the other direction. Yesterday the Skilled Immigration Act came into effect after more than a year of legislative drafts and sometimes contentious debate. The law’s aim is to encourage more non-EU immigration into the country – but it’s worth noting as much for its symbolic power as for any practical impact.

Effectively, the law for the first time declares Germany a nation open to immigrants: it ends a requirement for companies to prove that a German or EU citizen can’t do the job before hiring someone from outside the continent. Beyond that it offers foreign students the opportunity to spend six months looking for a job in the country and, unlike a similar recent proposal in the UK, it doesn’t apply merely to those industries that have worker shortages.

Despite the rising support for anti-immigration parties, it’s worth remembering that the economic rationale for such a law is clear. Germany needs immigration now more than ever. Unemployment is at a near record low. More than half of all companies say their expansion is hampered by the fact that they can’t find workers to fill the jobs they need. Its population is set to decline and get older. So, economically, there’s a simple case to allow more immigrants. But let’s also take a moment to applaud a politically courageous step that represents a practical and necessary opening in our increasingly nationalistic western society.

Trade / UK & EU

Bluff hand

Trade talks between the UK and the EU begin properly this week and the EU faces the same challenge as anyone who has dealt with UK prime minister Boris Johnson (pictured): uncertainty over his seriousness. But might Johnson’s lack of conviction actually be key to a deal? “I think the EU 27 will be assuming that Johnson doesn’t want to face the consequences of a no-deal exit from the European Union, with all the chaos and damage to the UK economy that would involve,” said Lance Price, who served as director of communications for one of Johnson’s predecessors, Tony Blair. “They think he’ll be willing when the time comes – and with a lot of spin to pretend it isn’t a U-turn – to make big concessions,” Price told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Johnson has travelled a long way on his signature mix of bluff and bluster. He might be about to discover the EU’s 27 members are a tougher crowd to impress.

Business / Japan

Salvage mission

Today will see Japanese deputy justice minister Hiroyuki Yoshiie meet his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut to try to convince her to hand back fugitive ex-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn (pictured). Japan is desperate for Ghosn – who fled to his native Lebanon while on bail in Tokyo last December – to face trial in Japan. But Lebanon’s justice minister Marie-Claude Najm has so far not responded to an Interpol request for his return. The shift to diplomacy is a sign of how much salvaging this fiasco means to Shinzo Abe’s government. Aside from the embarrassment of Ghosn’s escape, national car-maker Nissan has been in crisis since his exit and recently reported its first quarterly loss in a decade. It is now seeking JPY10bn (€84m) in damages from the former car tsar – hardly an invitation for the former CEO to return. It might take more than a flying visit by Japan’s deputy justice minister to fix this one.

Urbanism / San Francisco

Vacant possession

Empty shopfronts continue to plague San Francisco but residents are set to vote tomorrow on Proposition D which, if passed, would fine landlords whose properties have been sitting vacant for more than 182 days. The fine amounts to $250 (€227) per linear foot (0.3m) of street frontage in year one and $1,000 (€900) after three years. Expected to raise as much as $5m (€4.5m) annually to be reinvested in small business, the primary purpose is to discourage landlords from sitting on vacant properties in search of higher rents. San Francisco might be among the first North American cities to take such steps but it’s not alone: last week Toronto’s city council passed a motion to study the impact of a vacancy tax, while Vancouver and New York are mulling similar measures. Such taxes will hopefully breathe new life into struggling commercial streets but cities should be careful with how they impose them: not all vacancies are the product of speculation.

Transport / Australia

On track

Infrastructure Australia – the country’s independent transport advisory body – has announced that state and federal governments should be working at full speed on enhancing the existing Sydney to Canberra rail link. In a plan released last week, track and signalling improvements were earmarked as priority upgrades for the route, in the hopes that “improving rail services in [the] corridor would provide more transport options for travellers, improve travel-time reliability for rail passengers and reduce pressure on the air corridor”. That might not seem like much but the report suggests that the upgrades could help build momentum for its transformation into a high-speed rail link – an idea that has been toyed with by national governments for some 40 years. An increase in travellers using the line, which currently only carries one per cent of people travelling between the cities, could be an important step in proving to the government that there is demand – and a need – for high-speed rail Down Under.

M24 / The Monocle Weekly

Leïla Slimani, Jason Blum and Hannah Lew

French-Moroccan author Leïla Slimani on her book Sex and Lies and Jason Blum on Blumhouse Productions’ latest film, The Invisible Man. Plus: Oakland-based musician Hannah Lew.

Monocle Films / London

All around the table: deli dipping in London

Hanna Geller and Jeremy Coleman of Building Feasts take us on a tour around their favourite London food shops and pick up supplies on the way to put their effortless hosting skills into practice.

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