Monday. 1/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Man in the middle

The role of the president of the republic in Italy is often described as a ceremonial function. But while much of the talk in Italy’s political crisis in the past week was concentrated on the bitter wrangling between the current prime minister, a former prime minister and potential future prime ministers, it is worth remembering that the president is, in fact, one of the most crucial players when it comes to resolving impasses and forming a new government.

Sergio Mattarella was elected to the post in 2015. He was initially considered a non-partisan, moderate politician and an expert in constitutional law. But when he vetoed the appointment of a eurosceptic finance minister by the far-right Lega party in 2018, people realised that he wasn’t the type to just sit back and let things slide.

Now, for the third time in less than three years, Mattarella has found himself presiding over painstaking, gruelling talks between the country’s hopelessly divided politicians in a bid to cobble together a new coalition government. Just as he has in past talks, Mattarella has resorted to assigning an “exploratory mandate”, this time to Roberto Fico, a Five Star Movement politician who has been given until tomorrow to negotiate a deal between parties in a less formal way. But even that strategy won’t work if the parties aren’t willing participants.

What is clear is that Mattarella has little patience for vainglorious politicians. Over the past few months he’s said that triggering a crisis for political gain is to be condemned – a not-so-subtle swipe at former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who engineered the current crisis by pulling his party out of the governing coalition. This time, Mattarella is hoping that Fico can pick up the pieces and succeed where even the popular former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who last week was forced to resign by Renzi’s actions, could not. If Fico fails, the ball might once again land in the president’s court.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Malaysia

Mystery jet

It has been almost eight years since Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing, only to disappear off radar screens in mid-air, never to be seen again. Is that possible? Not according to veteran French journalist Florence de Chagny, who is convinced that official accounts of the still-unexplained disappearance are not credible. Her book, The Disappearing Act, which is published this week, details a seven-year investigation that has attempted to untangle the web of misinformation surrounding one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history. Chagny freely admits that she mixes fact with conjecture and her allegations will sound fanciful to many – but insists that she’s no conspiracy theorist. Rather, she took “an anti-conspiracy theory approach” at the outset. Problems arose when a “cluster of corroborating conclusions” pointed to a cover-up scenario that seemed far more plausible than the official accounts. “It’s for the readers to vet it and approve or not,” she says.

Florence de Chagny reads from and discusses her new book in a series of interviews on Monocle 24’s ‘The Globalist’ this week.

Politics / Mexico

My enemy’s enemy...

Mexican political parties don’t traditionally get on. On the right, the Institutional Revolutionary Party and National Action Party have historically battled for power. So it’s surprising that they’ve formed an alliance, Va por México, ahead of legislative elections on 6 June. Odder still, the bloc includes the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution.

The one thing that unites all three is their discontent with the governing Morena party led by president Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, which currently enjoys a majority in both legislative chambers. The coalition’s policies are vague for now; among them is “opportunities for all”. One major gripe is the billion-dollar cost of constructing a Maya tourist train on the Yucatán peninsula. Clearly the three parties hope to win back control and wield influence over the country’s budget. Whether this disparate coalition could ever agree on how to exercise that power is anyone’s guess.

Image: Joos & Mathys Architekten

Design / Zürich

Don’t raze the roof

Anyone using Zürich’s main train station will inevitably pass the Bahnhofquai, one the city’s busiest transit hubs for trams, which handles some 44,000 commuters and tourists on normal days. Built in the 1950s by the Pfister brothers, it’s best known for its listed platform roof and the open-plan design that allows the eye to wander to Lake Zürich and beyond while you wait. But given its age and heavy use, not to mention the lack of barrier-free disabled access, the station is in sore need of renovation. Architects Joos & Mathys were handed the job last week; they promise to replace much of the existing building with a simple, elegant and energy-efficient design that maintains the open feel of the station and even keeps the original roof by building a rounded glass construction around it. It’s a fresh design that pays homage to the station’s history and, hopefully, will continue to make the station worth a (short) wait.

For a closer look at Zürich’s smart trams, pick up a copy of Monocle’s February issue today.

Image: Alamy

Society / UK

House rules

Several county councils in Wales have been threatening to tighten restrictions on second homes this year – with some calling for a 200 per cent premium on council tax. The goal is to cool interest from would-be homeowners lured to the country’s picturesque rural areas. The soaring demand has priced many existing residents out of their own communities and renewed debate about the knock-on effects of second homes in predominantly Welsh-speaking parts of the country. For decades, activists have argued that they contribute to the erosion of the language as their owners tend to be English speakers who only inhabit their properties for a part of the year. The Welsh government this weekend announced a review into how holiday homes are managed; a registry, as exists in rural parts of Scotland, could offer a template. Another safe bet is to invest in affordable housing in rural economies to ensure that the language – and those who speak it – can co-exist with those who own second homes.

M24 / Eureka

Planetcare

Doing laundry is an everyday activity but one of the big problems is the shedding of microfibres from synthetic clothing, which pollutes waterways. Guy De Launey meets Mojca Zupan, founder of Slovenian start-up Planetcare, which has developed a filter to stop microfibre pollution.

Monocle Films / Zürich

My life as a tram

Loved by its loyal passengers, Zürich’s trams are not only punctual but also contribute to the city’s identity. Hop on board as we introduce you to the fleet that makes this Swiss city tick.

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