Defensive block - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 20/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

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Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Pay as EU go

Back when I reported from Germany in the years of Europe’s debt crisis, I couldn’t help but feel that its economists were a bit, well, misunderstood. There was this idea from abroad that Germans were being tough on Europe for the sake of it – that they couldn’t be flexible in a crisis, didn’t care about the suffering of southern European nations and simply refused to shoulder the burden. The feeling I got from German economists was often at odds with that. There was a genuine belief that somebody had to play the bad cop to keep Europe together; a conviction that too much help now would cause further problems for the eurozone down the road.

And so, while many observers have seemed eager to cast Germany in the bad-cop role again during the coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t been surprised to see something a little different. The outbreak is nobody’s fault; there are no economic lessons to be learnt. That’s why Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel (both pictured) this week proposed that the European Commission be allowed to take out a one-time bond of €500bn – essentially issuing common debt for the EU. Not only that but the proposal was backed by some prominent conservative economic groups, such as the Munich-based Ifo Institute.

Germany’s government might not always move as far and as fast as other countries would like. But judging it as self-absorbed or miserly, as some critics would have it, is off the mark (just as unhelpful stereotypes of “lazy Greeks” are being disproved by the country’s competent handling of this pandemic). When push comes to shove, the German government tends to show its practical side to keep the boat afloat. After all, Germany has no more interest in the potential break-up of the euro than anyone else.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / New Zealand

On the right track

As governments rush to develop sophisticated contact-tracing apps, New Zealand’s low-tech version could provide an acceptable middle ground for privacy advocates. Rather than turning smartphones into electronic tracking devices, the simple app, which is released today, enables users to record their own movements and keep hold of the data. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) called it a “digital diary” when unveiling the app on Monday. “In case you find yourself with Covid-19, you’ve got an easy reference to tell where you’ve been over a period of time,” she said. Although Ardern is also exploring other methods, the Kiwi government’s first effort strikes a balance between the state-led monitoring being trialled in Europe and the arduous paper forms that have been adopted by restaurants and other private businesses in parts of Asia. Coming out of lockdown requires citizens to start taking responsibility for their own actions – and that includes being honest about where we’ve been.

Image: Kyrre Lien

Design / Oslo

Defensive block

There’s been a positive development this week in the battle to preserve one of Oslo’s art and design wonders. The Y-Block building, a 1969 modernist gem featuring a massive Picasso mural on its exterior, is due for demolition. But major international arts bodies, led by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, are now stepping in and pleading with the Norwegian government to halt its action. The former government building has been empty since 2011, when it was damaged in the car-bombing that formed part of a right-wing terrorist attack that claimed 77 lives.

But residents of Oslo still see great value in Y-Block (pictured), which is named after its distinctive shape. The grassroots protest against its destruction and replacement with a new government building has now been reinforced with global support. With the world watching – and the Norwegian government eyeing its coffers more closely in the wake of the pandemic – perhaps a more practical solution that preserves this marvel can finally take shape.

Image: Jesse Chehak

Music / Global

Gone for a song?

Outdoor dining options are allowing many hospitality businesses to start reopening but spare a thought for the live-music venues whose offerings don’t readily transfer to city pavements. A report released last week by the UK’s Night Time Industries Association revealed that more than half of such establishments don’t expect to be financially viable once the lockdown is lifted. It’s a trend that’s playing out across the globe, prompting cities including Austin and Toronto to explore tax breaks for their entertainment venues. “If live music is central to the soul and dynamism of the city, the possibility of losing dozens of venues is simply not palatable,” said Toronto city councillor Joe Cressy, after introducing a proposal to lower commercial property taxes for music venues by 50 per cent. Such ideas offer live-music spaces an immediate lifeline and could also ensure their longevity, safeguarding a city’s cultural fabric in the process.

Business / Global

Office hearty

Is a stilted video call, populated with colleagues in pyjamas, really the future of work? The past few months have prompted many of us to consider whether we can, in fact, do our jobs from our living rooms. But don’t expect offices to be gone for good. “I actually think what’s going to happen is [the lockdown] will make the office more important than ever,” says Rahaf Harfoush, a Paris-based digital anthropologist who studies the impact of emerging technologies on society. “Being separated from each other has highlighted the specific values that physical proximity has on office culture, relationships and wellbeing – there’s a certain thing you get from it that is very hard to replicate digitally.” But even if most offices aren’t going virtual, they will change – in the name of hygiene and increasing productivity. For more on our reshaped work environments, pick up a copy of our June issue, which will be on newsstands from tomorrow.

M24 / The Big Interview

The Chiefs Edition: Sergio Ermotti

Monocle’s editor in chief, Tyler Brûlé, is joined by Sergio Ermotti, the CEO of Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services giant UBS, to discuss how to help small and medium-sized business through the crisis, the resilience of the Swiss economy and what next for global leadership and cooperation in a post-coronavirus world.

Monocle Films / Belgium

Urban growth: Solitair tree nursery

Cities are often seen as the flipside of nature: synthetic, sleek and sometimes impersonal. For places that pine after being greener, the Solitair tree nursery provides a blueprint. Monocle travels to Belgium to visit it and discover the value of investing in the future.


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