Tuesday. 21/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Paying for the pandemic

Beware the slippery slope. It’s a more common term in US politics than in European circles but the concept behind the “slippery slope” is always the same. To offer just one of countless examples: gun owners who won’t accept even common-sense restrictions, such as background checks for purchases or gun licences, for fear that they will lead to guns being abolished altogether. And we’re all susceptible to it on the issues that we are most passionate and unwavering about: give an inch and we fear that the other side will take a mile.

In an era of nationalism, such slippery-slope arguments seem to be everywhere, which perhaps explains why the latest EU summit in Brussels stretched over a nearly unprecedented four days and has featured some of the most rancorous debate that the 27-member bloc has seen to date. At the time of going to press, the summit looked likely to end, as they (almost) always do, with a watered-down compromise. In an era of “nation first” that would be nothing to sniff at: 27 EU nations have been negotiating an unprecedented rescue package, one that sees member states agree to issue hundreds of billions in common debt for the first time in its history.

Does such an agreement open the door to the EU issuing common debt – with frugal northern nations subsidising seemingly profligate southern ones? That’s the slippery-slope question that nearly torpedoed the entire weekend summit. The answer should really be “not necessarily” – but that shouldn’t have stopped common debt from being issued in this instance. The coronavirus pandemic is a unique crisis that calls for one-time emergency measures. Once it is over, the EU will have plenty of time for more long-winded summits to decide exactly how much of a “union” it really wants to be.

Elections / Syria

Opportunity lost?

The results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Syria were expected to be released today. The key concern for voters: international sanctions have crippled the economy and 90 per cent of the population is living in poverty as inflation spirals out of control. While a free and fair election might have been an opportunity to bring real change to the war-torn country, a lack of meaningful opposition candidates makes that unlikely: 167 of the 250 seats in the People’s Assembly are reserved for Bashar al-Assad’s ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath party. “These are elections in name only,” Deeba Shadnia, intelligence analyst at Protection Group International, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “They’re an opportunity for the government to reconfigure the parliament based on political ties and shifting alliances. The government is expected to uplift various allied militias and warlords into positions of power, while sidelining those who have not been viewed as aiding Damascus.

Trade / USA & Canada

Stop at nothing

The Canada-US border is set to remain shut until at least 21 August. While both countries agreed to the measure last week, it’s a move that is particularly reflective of Canadian concerns: a recent poll by Ipsos found that 80 per cent of Canadians think that the border should remain sealed until at least the end of 2020. The agreement still allows for cross-border trade and also allows Americans returning to the US state of Alaska to drive through British Columbia. While the number of Americans abusing the loophole remains low, Canadians are concerned that, as the US witnesses a record surge in coronavirus infections, its Alaskan border could compromise Canada’s containment of the virus. Earlier this month, British Columbia’s premier John Horgan expressed concern over reports of Americans using the so-called “Alaska loophole” to go sightseeing in Canada. His message to US travellers: “Do not pass go. Go directly to Alaska.”

Hospitality / Japan

Tourist trap

From tomorrow, Japan’s government hopes to encourage “staycations” by covering up to half the cost of travel and accommodation for Japanese residents, as part of a ¥1.35trn (€11bn) “Go To Travel” campaign. Although the intentions (and scale) are positive, the timing is awkward and reactions have been mixed as regional economies, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, seek to balance health risks with the much-needed business that travellers could bring. Following a spike in infections in Tokyo, the government unexpectedly revised the offer last week to exclude travel to and from the capital. In Osaka (pictured), the governor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, is eager for visitors from elsewhere in Japan to return as soon as possible while Ryuta Ibaragi, the governor of scenic Okayama, is all for excluding residents of Tokyo and its neighbouring prefectures. Meanwhile, officials in the rural prefecture of Iwate, which is yet to record a single case of coronavirus, are not happy about the campaign at all, saying, “now is not the time”. With international travel still limited, reviving domestic tourism clearly remains a tricky balance.

Cinema / South Korea

Screen better days

Cinema box office numbers are finally rising again in some countries. That is especially the case in South Korea, where Peninsula (pictured), a sequel to Train to Busan, surpassed expectations with a $13.2m (€11.5m) debut this weekend. Yeon Sang-Ho’s film, which is set four years after the zombie apocalypse of the 2016 hit, was one of the most anticipated films in South Korea this year. In Taiwan, Peninsula eclipsed its predecessor in weekend sales and in Singapore it enjoyed the highest-grossing opening day for a South Korean film; it also enjoyed strong openings in Malaysia and Vietnam. Peninsula will be released globally in the coming months and the appetite for the zombie sequel suggests that, where cinema reopenings are possible, the public is craving new titles on the big screen.

M24 / The Stack

Escape

This week on The Stack, it’s time to escape. We speak with Enric Pastor, editor-in-chief of AD Spain. Plus: Dreamscapes & Artificial Architecture from Gestalten and we meet the founder of travel publisher Wildsam.

Monocle Films / Armenia

Yerevan’s open doors

We shine a spotlight on entrepreneurship in Armenia. Yerevan’s boulevards are lined with magnificent Soviet architecture but venture beyond the imperious façades and you’ll find a busy start-up scene and well-funded art centres. Armenia shows how a small nation can benefit from building strong ties to its powerful diaspora.

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