Wednesday. 11/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Poll positions

If German citizens voted for people rather than parties, Angela Merkel probably would never have become chancellor. In the 2005 election, which first brought her to office as the leader of the Christian Democrats, she was hardly the most popular candidate. Polls showed that if Germans could have voted directly for a chancellor they would have picked her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. Even the leader of the Greens at the time – the veteran foreign minister Joschka Fischer – was more popular.

Fast-forward 16 years and Merkel is by far the country’s most trusted politician. Her approval rating last week stood at 66 per cent; three quarters of Germans say that she has been a successful chancellor. What about her successor as CDU leader, Armin Laschet? Let’s just say that the German public hasn’t warmed to him yet – while his politics aren’t very different to Merkel’s, his approval rating has sunk to 24 per cent. If Germans voted for people over parties today, they would vote for Olaf Scholz (pictured, on left, with Merkel), leader of the Social Democrats.

So do personalities matter in German politics? Not necessarily. The Social Democrats are languishing in third place in the polls despite their leader’s popularity, while Laschet’s CDU is in first place. Scholz will be trotted out on the campaign trail this week in an attempt to close that gap – and he has recently had some success in this respect. But policies matter too. It’s arguably why the Greens, despite an unproven leader in Annalena Baerbock, are currently ahead of the SPD. That suggests the benefits of a parliamentary system are twofold: voters are forced to think more about policy and unproven leaders (such as Merkel in 2005) have time to prove that they’re up to the task.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Canada and China

Long arm of the law

Relations between Beijing and Ottawa reached their nadir this week after a Chinese court upheld the death sentence of a Canadian citizen. Robert Schellenberg, convicted on drug smuggling charges in 2018, was handed the sentence during a one-day retrial in 2019, a month after the Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou (pictured, centre) was detained while changing planes in Vancouver. Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, referred to Schellenberg’s conviction as “arbitrary”; others outside the diplomatic arena have gone further, accusing China of “hostage diplomacy”. The case could have far-reaching implications. “If China can do this to the citizens of a country with which it has a dispute, then, frankly, nobody is safe in China,” Isabel Hilton, the founder of China Dialogue, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. While Meng fights extradition to the US in a Canadian courtroom, two others – businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig – have been tried after being arrested in China within days of Meng’s detention.

Image: Shutterstock

Geopolitics / Israel & Morocco

Budding friendship

Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid touches down in Rabat today for two days of bilateral talks. The visit is Israel’s first major diplomatic trip to Morocco since relations between the two countries were re-established last December as part of a US-brokered deal. A major factor in that deal was Donald Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara. The pact promised to boost co-operation on trade, investment and security, as well as re-establish direct flights, the first of which, between Tel Aviv and Marrakech, took off in June.

Although the December deal was significant, Morocco – wary of a subsequent retraction of Washington’s recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara – resisted committing to opening an embassy in Israel. Yet comments made by Lapid (pictured) at the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels last month about Israel’s plans to open an embassy in Rabat – and the fact that the Biden administration hasn’t reversed Trump’s decision – suggests that this week’s trip will further cement ties between the two nations.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Singapore

Open and shut case

Singapore is gradually reopening for business after bringing its latest coronavirus outbreak under control – but not all restrictions will be eased. The government is planning to make it harder for companies to hire foreign workers in the city-state, where almost 30 per cent of the population consists of non-residents. “We have to adjust our policies to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners in Singapore,” said prime minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day message earlier this week, citing anxieties about social friction and competition for jobs. The tightening of employment visa rules is becoming something of an annual tradition here – the government made a similar move last August after opposition parties campaigned on the issue of foreign workers during the general election. This latest turn inwards comes amid ongoing uncertainty in its rival international finance centre Hong Kong, which is causing many overseas companies to reassess where to base their regional headquarters. Singapore is expected to be the biggest beneficiary – provided that a reluctant population can remember where to put the welcome mat.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Global

Float path

Virgin Atlantic’s fortunes could take off this autumn as rumours swirl of an initial public offering (IPO) in London. As recently as April the company was anticipating losses of more than £1bn (€1.18bn) as a result of pandemic-related travel disruption and has already conducted several rounds of refinancing and sold two long-haul aircraft. But the potential flotation might represent a change of course. It is also the first chance for the public to buy into the airline since it was founded in 1984. Murdo Morrison, head of strategic content at Flightglobal, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist that the mooted IPO would show some much-needed confidence in the return of air travel for both leisure and business, particularly in the transatlantic market. “There’s a long way to go,” he says. “But if it does come back quickly, that rebound could be really, really strong.”

M24 / Monocle on Culture

‘The Witches of the Orient’

Robert Bound chats to French film director Julien Faraut about his new documentary ‘The Witches of the Orient’, about Japan’s 1964 Olympic women’s volleyball team.

Monocle Films / Japan

Japanese architecture: Toukouen hotel

We travel to Japan’s least-populous prefecture, Tottori, where we explore one of its most-famous hotels.

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