Thursday. 30/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Ed Stocker

New direction

Although she was never one to make a scene – and her poker face often didn’t give much away – Angela Merkel was the undisputed leader of Europe. Now that she’s gone? Emmanuel Macron was once touted as Mr Europe, though he’s a statesman who has been consistently more admired on the international stage than at home. His inability to pass pension reform, coupled with what will be a contentious presidential election in April (one he seems likely to win in a runoff against the right) have dented his mandate. So who’s star will rise above the rest in 2022?

The truth is that there probably won’t be an obvious leader – at least not for a while. Italy’s Mario Draghi has an opportunity to raise his country’s profile but only if he can decide whether he wants to be prime minister or president (Italy doesn’t seem to mind as long as he stays). Merkel’s successor Olaf Scholz is the obvious choice and the early signs are that Germany’s new chancellor is keen to get stuck into European business; his promotion of Jörg Kukies to a dual economic and European affairs role is an important signal that the fate of the country’s and Europe’s economies are intertwined. But the question is also whether Europe wants change and what it could look like. Scholz, a former finance minister in Merkel’s government, is hardly a major departure from the status quo at which many are now grumbling.

Germany, France and Italy are the bloc’s leading economies after all but that shouldn’t mean that their leadership is a given. Europe needs fresh thinking to meet its many challenges, which include rule of law within its borders, fluctuating US and Russia relations, migration and the pandemic. Leaders of other, smaller European nations will hope that this means an opportunity for them as the bloc looks to deal with its mounting crises in a more multilateral way. Perhaps 2022 is the year for the likes of Finland’s Sanna Marin (pictured) and Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis to take a leading role.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Europe

Making tracks

As the green credentials of travel become ever harder to ignore, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing improvements to global rail networks. Across Europe, that has included not only expanded routes and night-train options, but also electrification, a quieter and more environmentally friendly alternative to diesel. The past month alone has seen the approval of 56km of electrification in the Algarve and a new rail link between Sweden and northern Finland. The latter is particularly noteworthy, as it will operate on the only rail line between these two Nordic nations. The line is currently only used for freight and crosses the River Tornio, which divides the countries. Once electrified it will begin to transport passengers for the first time. It holds strategic importance, too, providing Finland with an alternative land route in the event that tensions with its eastern neighbour should boil over. Perhaps most importantly, it finally links Finland to the trans-European network known as Ten-T and serves as a solid example of the big year ahead for rail travel.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Switzerland

Conflict resolution

Switzerland hopes to join the UN Security Council for the first time in its history for the 2023 to 2024 period and though a vote won’t take place until June 2022, the champagne is already on ice. Malta is the only other contestant for the two vacant European seats, leaving the Swiss plenty of time to prepare for one of the world’s biggest political stages. Though it has long acted as a global conflict mediator, joining the council would mark a shift in ambition for Switzerland, which only joined the UN in 2002. So how can smaller countries best use their time on the council? According to a recent study by the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zürich, they should focus on areas in which they can stand out, based on their own strengths; it also helps to be a strong mediator and focus on piecemeal change to offer continuity. Expect conflict prevention, humanitarian aid and reforming the council’s own workings to be among the Swiss priorities.

Image: PA Images

Urbanism / Portugal

Changing gear

Lisbon might have been reluctant to embrace the cycling revolution at first but campaigns to keep a major bike lane on one of the city’s main arteries have shown that this is no longer the car-centric city it once was. A proposal to gut the cycle path on Almirante Reis avenue (pictured) was one of the campaign promises of newly elected mayor Carlos Moedas, who said that it disturbs access for the emergency services at a nearby hospital. But in a sign of its popularity, almost 3,000 people signed a petition to city hall and organised a demonstration in October calling for the lane to be kept in place.

Investments over the past couple of years in protected lanes and cycle-hire schemes have helped to change habits; more Portuguese than ever are now on two wheels. At a time where much of the world is pushing policies to reduce emissions and be more carbon-efficient, Lisboetas have shown that the training wheels are truly off.

Image: iStock

Society / UK

Out with a bang

Even in normal times, the prospect of a New Year’s Eve spent in central London can leave the most optimistic reveller into a state of ambivalence. The city’s great size and infinite opportunity for fun can be both blessing and curse: when there’s always another party around the corner, you might never feel settled. The centre of the action is usually a massive fireworks display, with rockets launched from barges on the Thames and the London Eye. Though undeniably the tourist’s choice, the display is also genuinely impressive and has become something of a tradition. This year, due to the pandemic, it has been replaced by a “broadcast spectacular” – a phrase unlikely to increase too many pulses – that is to be aired on BBC One. Mayor Sadiq Khan promises that the live event “will showcase our great city to the rest of the world” and says that it is best watched from the comfort of home. Perhaps Londoners might finally feel content with the event they’re at.

M24 / The Chiefs

Thomas Ahrenkiel

Monocle’s editorial director Tyler Brûlé joins the former head of the Danish intelligence service and head of Macro Advisory Partners, Thomas Ahrenkiel. From cyber security to Russia, terrorism and beyond we analyse the risks that face Europe as we head into 2022.

Monocle Films / Global

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