Thursday 5 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 5/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

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Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Crunch time

The final six months of the mandate of the Italian president are known as the semestre bianco (“white semester”), a time when the head of state no longer has the power to dissolve the legislative chambers. You would think that such a stretch, in which it is constitutionally impossible for the government to collapse, would usher in some peace and quiet – but you would be mistaken.

Current president Sergio Mattarella entered the semestre bianco this week but for the country’s politicians this is no time to take a breather. Instead, most parties will use the coming months to rally their supporters with extreme positions, while others might try to rock the boat by shifting party alliances, knowing that they won’t face any immediate voter repercussions. Punters also speculate that the time will be used as a campaigning window ahead of a potential governmental collapse and early elections after a new president is elected in January.

Ever since Mario Draghi was appointed to lead a technocratic government last February, backed by a melée of perennially disagreeing parties, Italians knew that this would be another short-lived chapter in the nation’s fragmented political history. But if this coalition has taught citizens anything, it’s that commonalities are no longer a prerequisite for running the country. Fights among the various players in government are so common that it has been hard to take even the most significant of confrontations seriously. The rhetoric is sure to become even more extreme in the next six months; the question is whether any party will dare to pull the plug on this government at the end of it.

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / Iran & USA

Cutting ties

Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi (pictured) is being sworn in to office today and while his primary goal will be to improve the country’s flailing economy, that effort is inextricably linked with foreign policy. In a speech this week he vowed to end “tyrannical” US sanctions, including both financial sanctions on Iran and those imposed on him personally, and said that he would not allow the country’s economy to be controlled by foreign powers. It’s unclear how he will square those promises with his simultaneous desire to take a tougher stance in talks over the resumption of the Iran nuclear deal, which could help to lift US sanctions. The treaty was agreed in 2015 by Raisi’s more moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, and scuppered under the Trump administration. “The good news is that he wants a deal,” says Vali Nasr, professor of international affairs at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). “The bad news is that he’s going to ask for more concessions from the United States than his predecessor.”

For more from Nasr, who has also served as a senior advisor to multiple US governments, tune in to today's edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Business / Japan

Moving targets

The Japanese government yesterday announced plans for all new public vehicles to be powered by renewable energy (electric, fuel cell or hybrid), starting in April 2022. The move is in line with a nationwide goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 46 per cent of its 2013 levels by 2030. It should also provide a boost to the nation’s mobility players, which are keen to bring cleaner vehicles to market.

Toyota, which reported record quarterly profits of ¥897.8bn (€6.9bn) yesterday, aims to sell eight million electric and fuel-cell cars globally in 2030, while Honda hopes to make all of its vehicles electric or fuel-cell models by 2040. As part of this move, Honda has also announced plans to discontinue production of its NSX sports car, which debuted in 1990. Car companies have clearly seen the green writing on the wall.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Brazil

Left hanging

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may have cosied up with Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega in the past but this week he warned Nicaragua's authoritarian leader (pictured in 2007, on left, with Lula) not to “give up on democracy”. It’s a rare move against an erstwhile ally in the region’s leftist political landscape but does it mark a watershed moment? “We probably won’t see that from many Latin American leaders but it’s very gratifying to see it coming from someone with Lula’s pedigree,” Richard Lapper, associate fellow at Chatham House and author of Beef, Bible and Bullets: Brazil in the Age of Bolsonaro, tells The Monocle Minute. There are also domestic calculations at play for Lula and his Workers’ Party ahead of next year’s presidential elections. “His fundamental concern at the moment is being the voice of defending democracy in Brazil,” says Lapper. “It’s very difficult to do that if he doesn’t criticise left-wing authoritarianism elsewhere in the region.” Hypocrisy is never a good look when facing an electorate.

Image: Alamy

Society / Switzerland

Out with a bang

In many countries, firework displays must be approved or organised by a public body. But the Swiss love an uncontrolled private celebration, especially around New Year’s Eve or on the Swiss National Day, which was celebrated on Sunday. Still, there remain concerns over noise and safety. Dog trainer and former journalist Roman Huber has launched a national referendum initiative seeking to limit fireworks to organised events. “People simply don’t know how bad fireworks really are,” he tells The Monocle Minute, adding that it affects animals as well as people: dogs can be traumatised by the cacophony of noise. The next step involves collecting 100,000 signatures to force a vote and Huber has been buoyed by recent restrictions at a municipal level in Davos and Bern. While limits on fireworks seem appropriate, it ultimately depends on the referendum’s wording: banning anything in full can be a slippery slope. We’d celebrate a vote for common sense.

Image: Naaro

M24 / Monocle on Design


We head to Venice to visit the world’s first 3D-printed concrete bridge and to London for an exhibition showcasing the life and work of French architect and designer Charlotte Perriand. Plus: the newly redeveloped Museum of the Home.

Monocle Films / Entertaining

Tokyo 2021: on top of their games

This year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are unlike any that have come before. In the run up to the event, we met the designers, planners and people behind the scenes.


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