Tuesday. 28/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

All in the balance

You really have to take a moment to appreciate the ambition. Following Sunday’s election in Germany, three political parties – the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats – are poised to start exploring whether they can set aside their many differences and enter into government together. What’s striking about this isn’t just that they hope to form a partnership; after all, lots of countries cobble together volatile multi-party coalitions (think Belgium) or governments of national unity (Italy), or else unite to topple an allegedly autocratic or corrupt leader (Israel). What sets Germany’s effort apart is the level of cohesion that these three parties are seeking.

Olaf Scholz, leader of the Social Democrats and – if he can pull this off – the country’s probable next chancellor, said in a press conference yesterday that he wants to form a coalition based on mutual trust; a coalition where the three parties actually want to work with each other; a coalition that wouldn’t just hold for the next four years but would actually hope to get re-elected. On the other end? Christian Lindner (pictured, on left, with Scholz and the Greens’ leader, Annalena Baerbock), head of the pro-business Free Democrats, made a point on Sunday night of acknowledging that the next government would have to be “a more ecological one” – a nod to the higher vote share won by the Greens. Such outreach after an election is rarely seen elsewhere, yet here in Germany there’s an expectation: the voters have spoken and the parties have a sense of obligation to carry out their will.

Make no mistake: Germany’s political model is being put to the test. Rarely before have three parties formed a federal coalition. Four years ago, coalition talks between the Christian Democrats, Free Democrats and the Greens collapsed in acrimony. But such three-way coalitions do already exist in all manner of constellations at state level, which bodes well for this experiment to succeed. If it does, then Germany will be showing the world that righteousness – of the left and right variety – can be set aside in favour of the common good; that compromise in an increasingly divided world is still possible. If they fail? Well, then it was just a little too ambitious for politicians in our time. Either way it’s going to be a wild ride over the coming weeks and months, and political observers around the world should pay close attention.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Japan

Lifting the mood

Japan is anxiously awaiting the outcome of a meeting today to determine whether the coronavirus-related state of emergency, currently in place in Tokyo and 18 other prefectures, can be lifted completely on Thursday. Health minister Norihisa Tamura dropped positive hints at the weekend, and infection numbers have now dipped following a surge last month. Tamura said that restrictions on businesses will be peeled away gradually but people will have to be on their guard against another outbreak in winter. Businesses will be relieved as, if restrictions are lifted, it will be the first time since April that nowhere in the country is under some level of emergency. After a slow start, vaccination numbers in Japan have now surpassed those in other countries, including the US and Germany. Japan’s borders remain closed to inbound visitors but quarantine rules for fully vaccinated returning residents are expected to be relaxed from next month. The trend is finally moving in a positive direction.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Italy

Landmark decisions

As debates about tearing down statues of problematic figures from the past rage on, Milan is pondering how to deal with its fascist-era architecture. Even though many of the city’s key buildings – including the central railway station (pictured), stock exchange and palace of justice – were erected during Mussolini’s rule, their past is not often explicitly signposted.

Some conservationists, in believing that difficult legacies should be faced head-on, accuse authorities of sweeping the issue under the carpet. But others see the buildings as many Italians do: monuments from the past, similar to the nation’s Roman or Renaissance architecture, often designed by people whose views we find unpalatable today. But which approach is best? It’s hard to say. In an essay on the subject in Monocle’s new October issue, Lucy Maulsby, author and associate professor of architectural history at Northeastern University in Boston, writes, “Though many Mussolini-era buildings and spaces have been quietly reabsorbed into the fabric of the city, the fascist project still holds a political charge that can fascinate and trouble us.”

Image: Getty Images

Health / USA

Wrong side of the vax

From yesterday, all hospital and care staff in New York state are required to be vaccinated against coronavirus to continue working. Those who fail to comply with this directive – a reported 16 per cent of hospital staff – will be placed on unpaid leave. In anticipation of staff shortages, the Empire State’s new governor, Kathy Hochul, is considering bringing in the National Guard as well as vaccinated workers from other states to pick up the slack.

The law comes amid a nationwide battle between state and federal leaders, who are pushing for vaccine mandates, and workers who object to such requirements, often on religious grounds. Under US anti-discrimination law, companies must “reasonably accommodate” employees with “sincerely held” beliefs unless it would cause “undue hardship” to the business. As vaccine mandates proliferate, it will be up to state court judges to decide what counts as reasonable.

Image: Nicola Dove

Culture / UK

Cometh the hour

No Time to Die, the 25th instalment of the James Bond franchise, will finally open in cinemas this week after many delays due to the pandemic. The fact that the film series has managed to stay on top after so many decades is in part thanks to its caretakers – producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson. “It’s a family business and that made a huge difference to this franchise; people feel that is something meaningful,” Broccoli tells Monocle 24’s Monocle On Culture. Another key to 007’s longevity has been how he has moved with the times. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the secret agent has “really reinvented Bond for the 21st century”, says Broccoli. “He’s brought a lot of humanity to the character; a deeper emotional inner life.” No Time to Die’s director, Cary Fukunaga, tells Monocle On Culture how he was conscious of the fact that this was Craig’s last film. “You want to wrap a very fine arc of stories to make it land,” he says. “It’s an honour and also a challenge.”

Listen to senior correspondent Fernando Augusto Pacheco’s interviews with Cary Fukunaga, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson on this week’s edition of ‘Monocle On Culture’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

When diplomatic relations turn sour

France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia as a response to the new AUKUS deal and Australia’s cancellation of a French submarine contract. But what do such gestures really mean? Do some countries just want to make a scene? How does a diplomatic spat actually work? Andrew Mueller speaks to Agnès Poirier, Quentin Peel and John Everard.

Monocle films / Porto

Making it in Porto

Portugal’s second city is close to the country’s manufacturing heart and that’s why so many designers have made it their home. We meet some of the bright minds in town.

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