Monday. 5/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Mary Fitzgerald

Med in the game

Italy likes to think of itself as crucial to setting Europe’s agenda on the Mediterranean. In recent years, Russia’s presence in Syria and Libya – not to mention China’s eyeing of ports around the Med – has made the body of water shared by Europe, Africa and the Middle East an increasingly significant space in geopolitics. These realities underpinned the annual Rome Med conference, which took place from 1 to 3 December – as did Italy’s long-standing belief that more co-operation between Europe and its wider Mediterranean neighbourhood is necessary to address their common challenges. The gathering brought together heads of state, foreign ministers, parliamentarians, business leaders, civil society figures, policy wonks and think-tankers from across the Mediterranean region. More than 1,000 participants from at least 50 countries attended this year.

The conference has long been the kind of event at which you might see Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, conferring in the corridors with a European foreign minister; or where you might catch a heated debate on migration or climate action. There was no Russian delegation present this year: the Ukraine war informed many of the discussions, with subjects ranging from energy transition to looming food insecurity.

In the opening session, Italy’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani (pictured), argued that Russian aggression had made Europe’s southern neighbourhood even more important. The theme of this year’s Rome Med, “Weathering the Storms: Interdependence, Resilience and Co-operation”, nodded to the wider regional fallout from both the coronavirus pandemic and the Ukraine war. Many attendees from elsewhere in the region were keen to get a sense of how Italy’s approach to the Middle East and North Africa might shift under its new right-wing prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. Is Meloni fully on board with the idea that shared challenges around the Mediterranean require shared solutions? The jury is still out.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / UK

Sinking feeling

The UK’s Conservative party is braced for further departures, with MPs told to declare whether they will contest their seat at the next general election by today. Senior Tories such as former chancellor Sajid Javid have already announced their intention to step down, while rising star Dehenna Davison recently shocked the party leadership by stating that she wouldn’t stand in her hard-won “Red Wall” seat of Bishop Auckland. With recent polls suggesting that the Conservatives could lose as many as 200 seats, several MPs are pondering their next move. Reforms proposed by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, might well be fuelling thoughts of life after parliament: he has said that he would ban all second jobs for MPs and abolish the House of Lords if he becomes prime minister. While suggestions that around 80 Tories could stand down might prove wide of the mark, the sense of uncertainty is hardly a vote of confidence in Rishi Sunak. It seems that the next election is one that his party expects to lose – and lose badly.

Image: DARPA

Aviation / US

Heavy lifting

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has awarded an $8m (€7.7m) contract to California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to design a new seaplane (pictured). Darpa often invests in emerging technologies that have potential military uses, such as commercial drones or pilotless helicopters. The latest contract is part of the agency’s “Liberty Lifter” programme, which seeks to build aircraft capable of carrying heavy equipment taking off from the water, regardless of the conditions. While the US military’s current seaplanes efficiently transport payloads, they’re vulnerable to threats.

Traditional airlift methods are fast but their utility is limited when it comes to supporting maritime operations. “This first phase of the Liberty Lifter programme will define the unique seaplane’s range, payloads and other parameters,” says Alexander Walan, programme manager in Darpa’s Tactical Technology Office. With numerous geopolitical challenges facing the US, including tensions with China and Russia, being able to land heavy loads in rough seas could make a key defensive difference.

Image: Alamy

Economy / Venezuela

Season of plenty

The recent boost to Venezuela’s economy, generated in part by an increased use of the dollar, has given small businesses a new lease of life. Having struggled to produce goods for two years as a result of a variety of shortages, many family-owned shops are now in a far better financial situation. For the first time in years, bakery shelves are well-stocked with baguettes, loaves and fruit cakes. Meanwhile, shopping centres in Caracas, such as Centro Comercial Propatria, are anticipating an uptick in holiday retail, as are small business owners from hairdressers to clothes shops.

As the US relaxes its curbs on Venezuela’s oil following the signing of a broad “social accord” between Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, and the opposition, the South American country is also widely expected to soon re-enter the global oil markets. Christmas, it seems, has come early for Venezuelans.

Image: Fosters+Partners

Architecture / Saudi Arabia

Flying high

British architectural practice Fosters + Partners has won its biggest bid to date in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. King Salman International Airport (pictured) will expand the existing Riyadh airport to include six parallel runways and 12 sq km of recreational space. The so-called “aerotropolis” is expected to accommodate as many as 120 million travellers by 2030, as well as several million tonnes of cargo. The mega-airport will be powered by renewable energy.

The design is part of a raft of international architectural projects located in the Gulf state. They include the Jeddah Tower, designed by Chicago-based firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, which will be the world’s first 1km-tall building, overtaking Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. The Urban Heritage Administration Centre, a cultural space designed by UK firm Zaha Hadid Architects, is also part of the kingdom’s drive to use architecture as a way to export a less controversial image of itself to the world.

Image: Wien / Tim Dornaus

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

‘Meanwhile City’

We discuss temporary urban interventions with Petra Marko, author of ‘Meanwhile City’, and visit one of the pop-up projects that it describes.

Monocle Films / France

Escape to la campagne: Normandy

Pierre-Edouard Robine traded city life to rediscover his farming roots in 2016. Since then, he has built a sparkling wine business and forages for Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, alongside tending to his small herd of cattle. We travelled to his farm in La Courbe, Normandy, to lend a hand with tending the land and hear about the benefits of rural living.

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