Monday. 1/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Playing their cards right

August is when Italians head for the beach with nothing on their minds except for where their next Aperol spritz is coming from... well, not quite. As if climate change, war and the rising cost of living weren’t enough to put them off the spiaggia, they face the unprecedented prospect of an autumn general election.

Politicians are cancelling their holiday plans. Lega leader Matteo Salvini is heading to his favourite haunt, Lampedusa, later this week to home in on his hot-button topic of migration, and a variation of the “ports closed” slogan he adopted when he was interior minister. But Salvini’s Lega is no longer the far-right party du jour; that baton has been passed to the Brothers of Italy party led by Giorgia Meloni (pictured), currently leading the polls at about 25 per cent – nearly double that of Lega.

While the left struggles to cobble together an alliance, it is the right flank of Brothers of Italy, Lega and Forza Italia that suddenly seems united. There are squabbles over who would be prime minister and Forza Italia has been haemorrhaging members thanks to its involvement in the collapse of the last government. But if it can just hold together a little longer, it has this election in the bag.

One hiccup? Whether voters will be put off by the ever-lurking shadow of Russia. La Repubblica reports that Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi recently spoke to Russia’s ambassador to Italy and voiced some sympathy with the country’s "reasoning" for its war with Ukraine; the party denies that the conversation took place. Salvini, who scrapped a Kremlin-paid trip to Russia early last month (he says he has reimbursed the money), is now under the hammer for apparent contacts between Russia and Lega at the end of May. The right, sniffing victory on 25 September, will hope that people really are too concerned with that spritz to pay the news much heed.

Image: Lesha Berezovskiy

Society / Switzerland

Crossed wires

Switzerland’s national day celebrations today will be a muted affair after an extreme heatwave prompted multiple regions to ban fireworks and bonfires, and encourage a cooling dip in the country’s many lakes instead. But the fireworks are about to go off in the political sphere as the country prepares to debate its cherished neutrality laws in the autumn. Those laws prevent it from sending weapons into conflict zones, such as Ukraine, but Switzerland’s ambassador in Kyiv, Claude Wild, says that it hasn’t stopped the nation offering humanitarian aid and reconstruction help.

“There is no neutrality here,” he tells Monocle. “We are clearly behind Ukraine and the respect for international law.” Still, confusion reigned earlier this month when the Swiss refused a request to tend wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. Wild says that the problem was that the request initially came from Nato; it was reversed after Wild intervened and spoke directly to Ukrainians on the ground instead. Still, the episode highlights Switzerland’s challenge in this new era; neutrality in its current form might be outdated.

For more on the concept of neutrality, listen to the latest episode of ‘The ‘Foreign Desk’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / India

Getting up to speed

A planned bullet train between Mumbai and the industrial hub of Ahmedabad, which would be the first high-speed rail line anywhere in India, is back on track after slow progress in recent years. Eknath Shinde, who heads the regional government in Maharashtra, greenlit the project and granted all clearances for the corridor in his state.

That has helped add an additional INR60m (€740,600) to an existing INR180m (€2.2m) commitment from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and seen the central government invite bids for the design and construction of a dedicated underground station for the new train in Mumbai. Both moves will help to deliver the project by 2027. It’s a positive development in a country that’s crying out for faster intercity services.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Colombia and Venezuela

Friends reunited

For the first time in years, Colombia and Venezuela will appoint new ambassadors to Caracas and Bogotá, re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. In 2019, a breakdown in political relations led the nations to close their conflict-torn 2,219km border. But incoming president Gustavo Petro – Colombia’s first leftist leader – plans to fully reopen the stretch of land from early August.

“For a lot of practical reasons, this needs to be done,” Christopher Sabatini, senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. Even in Washington a more pragmatic, less binary, policy approach is taking shape, despite the fact that two leaders continue to claim to speak for Venezuela. “It’s no longer about recognising either [Nicolás] Maduro or [Juan] Guaidó,” says Sabatini, pointing to a recent meeting between Maduro and US officials in Caracas. “If this approach improves the country’s humanitarian situation, I think it’s a positive move.”

Image: Víctor Garrido

Design / Spain

History in the making

Ferran Tiñena and his cousin Arnau, two of the three founders of Tarragona-based architecture studio Nua Arquitectures, are fusing the Catalan heritage of the region with a view to the future. The port city is home to a pristinely preserved Roman circus and amphitheatre as well as city walls dating back to the 2nd century BC. Founded in 2013, Nua is restoring buildings in the city and surrounding areas with a focus on history and sustainability by using local materials and giving new life to already-existing structures.

“In all our projects, we pay attention to the place,” says Arnau. “Not only for the historical context but also the climate.” One of their projects, a 19th-century church of La Trinitat, was a restoration of the façade that highlighted details such as stonework around the windows. “All we did was emphasise the simplicity,” says Arnau. “Buildings should adapt to people,” says Ferran. “Not the other way around.”

Read more about the remaking of Tarragona in the Mediterraneo summer newspaper, out now.

Monocle 24 / On Design Extra

Federica Biasi on timelessness

Emerging designer Federica Biasi tells us how to strike the balance between trendy and timeless.

Monocle Films / France

Escape to la campagne: Côte d’Azur

Nestled in the hills above Nice, Casa Sallusti is a permaculture farm and hotel that was created to show how you can still enjoy the good things in life while taking care of the planet. We visit its founder, Isabella Sallusti, and meet the young folk who are working at the farm, having decided to swap the city for slow-paced living.

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