Monday. 4/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / David Hodari

Delivering the goods

It wasn’t always glamorous being a commodities reporter. I spent my early years in journalism covering soya beans, zinc and many more of the arcane worlds that deal with physical goods traded on financial markets (regrettably, lean hogs and orange juice concentrate were not in my purview). While my peers landed podcasts and book deals, I would joke that the public wouldn’t care about my beat until there was a major war or apocalypse. Fast-forward to today and we now have one of those – and still might get the other.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended commodities. Oil and gas hikes may already have hit the front pages and consumers’ wallets but with Russia under sanctions and Ukraine unable to export as normal, the rest of the world will soon feel more pain from the war. Russia is the world’s biggest wheat exporter and Ukraine is number five. SEB Markets analyst Bjarne Schieldrop tells me that he expects a crop half the normal size from the latter this year. With droughts in the US and Canada also affecting the harvest, it’ll be poor parts of the world that import lots of grain – such as Gaza (pictured) and Lebanon – that suffer.

Ukraine is also a huge producer of fertilisers and corn, which goes into far more of our food than just salads and sandwiches, and feeds livestock. Then there are those less-than-exciting but all-important metals markets. Russia supplies about a fifth of the world’s nickel, which is needed to make steel and the batteries for those electric cars we’re all being encouraged to buy.

Commodities may run smoothly in the background in normal times but this conflict has brought them to the fore: the building blocks of a functioning society are about to get much more expensive for farmers, manufacturers and consumers. It may get worse before it gets better.

Image: Reuters

Elections / Serbia & Hungary

Losing count

Serbians and Hungarians took to polls this weekend in presidential elections with one concern in common: will the count be fair? Both countries’ leaders – Aleksandar Vucic (pictured) and Viktor Orbán, respectively – have faced accusations of eroding democratic values and undermining opposition forces. As a result, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) sent more than 250 observers to polling stations throughout Serbia and a full-scale election-observation mission to Hungary. There’s a good reason for that, according to the organisation. In 2014 the OSCE called Hungary’s parliamentary mission “free but not fair”, citing the “overlap between state and ruling party resources” as a pervasive issue. This year, surveys suggesting an unusually close election in Hungary made the stakes feel even higher. When even a few misplaced ballots can alter the outcome, it’s clear that every vote needs to count – and that the verdict of outside observers is all the more crucial.

For more on the results of both elections, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / France

False friends

Emmanuel Macron’s insurgent campaign for the French presidency in 2017, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election and the Brexit referendum, took place at a time of European solidarity. His open embrace of the EU was welcomed by the French public and other continental leaders. Four years on and with under a week to go until the first round of France’s election, the EU is arguably more united than ever – but some of Macron’s efforts to foster that unity during his term now look outdated.

For a long time, in his eagerness to pivot away from the US, Macron’s vision also included Russia. As late as 2019, he was envisioning a European security architecture that ran from Lisbon to Vladivostok, while Nato was “braindead” by contrast. Expect a course-correction if Macron wins a second term. Meanwhile, he can count himself lucky that his chief competitors for the presidency were even more Russia-friendly than he was.

For an in-depth look at France’s role in Europe, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Environment / Australia

Way to grow

In a bid to mitigate rising urban temperatures and provide some much-needed shade, many governments across the globe are making efforts to plant more trees on city streets. But private property owners don’t always keep pace or contribute to the cause without some encouragement. It’s a disparity that the New South Wales state government has attempted to rectify by offering free saplings to some 13,000 households across Sydney. As part of the Australian state’s annual “free tree giveaway”, it offered 25,000 trees to residents, which were snapped up in days. More will be made available to the public in the coming months. It will bring the total number of trees planted in Sydney back gardens, since the initiative launched in 2020, to 70,000. It’s an admirable initiative that will in time make the metropolis more liveable and homes more inviting (though it will be years before these trees bear fruit and offer shade). Other states and nations would do well to take a leaf out of New South Wales’s book.

Image: Alejandro Ardilla

Culture / Spain & UK

Apart together

Even when a place pushes for independence, cultural exchanges with others remain important. With the UK having exited the EU, perhaps it now feels that independent-minded regions need to stick together. The UK’s biggest festival of Catalan arts, culture and literature, Spotlight on Catalan Culture, kicks off tomorrow. Organised by the Institut Ramon Llull, the nationwide festival will showcase the very best of Catalan’s cultural offerings. The programme includes 25 events in universities and venues across the country, featuring circus performances (pictured), poetry readings, jazz concerts and translation workshops. “Catalan culture has always been a compelling body in its own right,” Marc Dueñas, head of the London office of the Institut Ramon Llull, tells The Monocle Minute. “Now is a particularly exciting time because an exceptional tradition of artists has met the innovative trends of contemporary artists, who are always open for a dialogue with other cultures.”

To hear more from Marc Dueñas, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

M24 / The Global Countdown

Top five music markets

Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco looks at the number one songs in the world’s top five music markets.

Monocle Films / Lithuania

Kaunas: Lithuania’s modernist city

As Lithuania’s second city, it’s not often Kaunas gets much international attention. This, however, could be about to change. Kaunas has been named one of Europe's Capitals of Culture for 2022; a title it’s taking seriously. Monocle visited the city to take a tour of its modernist marvels. Read more on the story in our December/January issue.

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