Friday. 16/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Alexis Self

Fallen idol

For decades, power in Sweden has bounced back and forth between centre-left and centre-right coalitions. On the face of it, this week’s election results are no different: the formal resignation of prime minister Magdalena Andersson yesterday was followed by a declaration from opposition leader Ulf Kristersson that he intended to form a coalition government. However, this election has been reported differently to others. This is because of the success of the Sweden Democrats (SD), a party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement.

Like all European countries, Sweden is suffering from high inflation turbo-charged by energy costs. It is also contending with rising levels of violent crime. In August the shooting of a woman in Malmö brought the number of gun deaths this year to 44, meaning that 2022 is on course to be the most violent in the nation’s recent history. A country famed for its social cohesion has also struggled to integrate the 150,000 asylum seekers whom it took in during the 2015 refugee crisis.

While the world has continued to hold Sweden up as a paragon of progressivism, it seems that this reputation might be crumbling. But this week’s results do not represent a country in disarray. Since violent crime was the number-one issue on voters’ minds, it is unsurprising that the party that focused most heavily on it won 20 per cent of the vote. Though the minatory statements of some SD leaders are undoubtedly disturbing, the moderating influence of coalition government will hopefully temper its extremity. The truth is that Sweden is neither a crime-ridden hellhole nor in the midst of a turn to fascism; nor is it a utopia. It is a European country like any other, one not immune to turbulence.

Alexis Self is Monocle’s associate editor.

Image: Jason Larkin

Housing / Greece

Home front

It has been an outstanding year for the Hellenic Republic, with a bumper 2022 tourism season in which revenues exceeded pre-pandemic levels. However, this news has been met with consternation by many people who are struggling with surging prices. The country’s stubbornly high inflation rate fell from 11.6 per cent to 11.4 per cent last month but housing costs soared by more than 30 per cent year-on-year in August. This week the Greek government launched a plan to help. The €1.7bn bundle will reach 100,000 beneficiaries and help buyers under 39 years of age to access near-zero-interest home loans. Labour and social affairs minister Kostis Hatzidakis confirmed to Greek daily Kathimerini that three quarters of the funding will come from the government with the rest from banks. Demand for short-term rentals rocketed by more than 25 per cent this summer as tourists flocked to Greece but ensuring that young residents have the chance to get on the ladder will be more important to the long-term health of the nation.

Image: Getty Images

Security / Uzbekistan

Eastern promises

Central Asia’s great powers have descended on Samarkand for a Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) summit, which began yesterday with Iran signing a memorandum of obligations to become a permanent member. The SCO, which includes India, Pakistan and former-Soviet nations, is led by China and Russia. Despite the bloc’s superficial similarities with Nato, Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at Soas University of London, tells The Monocle Minute that it is less an answer to the Western military alliance than “a coalition for autocracies that want to remain autocracies”.

On security co-operation, it’s unlikely that any group combining India with Pakistan or China will produce more than superficial displays of fraternity; India has been involved in bloody skirmishes with both at its borders in recent years. All eyes were on a meeting between Xi Jinping (pictured) and Vladimir Putin, in which the latter noted the Chinese president’s “questions and concerns” about the war in Ukraine. Xi’s desire to avoid secondary sanctions, says Tsang, will be “the limit of their ‘unlimited’ friendship”.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Qatar & Egypt

Mutual benefit

Despite being a nation of deserts and dunes, Qatar knows what it’s like to be left out in the cold. Between 2017 and early last year, one-time allies Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all cut diplomatic ties with Doha, accusing the country of supporting terrorist organisations and being too close to Iran. Yesterday relations felt cosier as Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (pictured, with Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani) wrapped up a watershed two-day tour of Qatar. Reportedly on the agenda were discussions about collaboration on transport, ports, energy and agriculture. Another reason for closing the rift? Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, is struggling to stay afloat economically after the damage caused by the pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

As well as angling for a loan from the IMF, Cairo is negotiating a planned €5bn investment from Qatar. Meanwhile, it’s selling off exploration rights near Egypt’s Mediterranean coast and releasing an Al Jazeera journalist from jail. Doha is unlikely to mind too much whether it was friendship or finance that brought Egypt back to the table: a diplomatic embrace is always better news than a cold shoulder.

Image: Reuters

Fashion / France

Action pact

The luxury fashion world is highly competitive and when it comes to boosting profits, there can be the occasional equivalent of a sharp elbow in the ribs. On the subject of tackling sustainability, however, there is now a remarkable degree of collaboration. In the October issue of Monocle, on sale now, we meet Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering, owner of brands including Gucci (the brand’s latest autumn/winter runway show, pictured), Saint Laurent and Boucheron. She explains the role of The Fashion Pact, an alliance of some 250 brands that is attempting to deliver change and share ideas without focusing on gaining competitive advantage.

“We’re looking at regenerative agriculture, hoping to purchase renewable energy together and trying solutions to ban single-use plastics,” says Daveu. And Kering will be using energy only from renewable sources by the close of 2022, she adds. But Daveu has more intriguing ideas up her sleeve. To discover what’s next for luxury, take out a subscription to Monocle now.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

‘Lèse-majesté’

Monarchies can last only for as long as their citizens believe in them. Andrew Mueller examines what happens when the public doesn’t have a choice.

Monocle Films / Athens

Meet Europe’s first chief heat officer

Athens is the hottest capital city in mainland Europe and temperatures continue to rise. That’s why Eleni Myrivili was appointed as the city’s – and continent’s – first chief heat officer last summer. We meet her on Philoppapou hill to hear about how urban design can help to build resilience against rising temperatures. Read more in the July/August issue of Monocle.

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