Thursday. 29/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Fight club

Could 2023 be the year that Europe finally develops a continent-wide defence strategy? French president Emmanuel Macron (pictured) – in many ways more of a successful internationalist than a domestic politician – has long called for a European defence force. There have been some moves at an EU level since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine including, in November, the announcement of a snappily titled “Action Plan on Military Mobility 2.0”, which we’re told will allow national forces to react more rapidly to external threats and support other member states. But it hardly amounts to a cohesive, powerful unit fighting as one.

Macron is nothing if not pragmatic about all of this and his vision for France’s role is evolving. A common European defence force may be a way off (and whether that includes Brexit Britain remains to be seen) but Paris thinks it can lead the continent as a strong independent nation, armed with a nuclear deterrent in the form of Suffren attack submarines. It would require building coalitions of the willing with individual nations while keeping the likes of Nato sweet.

The French president is even extending a brotherly hand across the Channel to the UK. In fact, a defence meeting has been organised for early next year – a recovery from the low point in bilateral relations under Liz Truss who, as UK foreign secretary, had said that the “jury’s out” on whether Macron was a friend or a foe. The French president has said that European success relies on a “balance of… partnerships”; Macron the internationalist marches on.

Ed Stocker is Monocle’s Europe editor at large.

Economy / Global

Taking stock

China’s rapid lifting of lockdowns – and the subsequent steep rise in cases of coronavirus – has taken the world by surprise. It is now playing havoc with US tech companies that have manufacturing facilities on the Chinese mainland. Already facing disruption to supply chains, Apple and Tesla (pictured) have seen their share prices drop dramatically; Apple’s stock hit its lowest point since June 2021 and Tesla’s has fallen 73 per cent from a record high in November 2021. “This is a difficult time for China, an economy that was poised to overtake the US,” Victoria Scholar, head of investment at Interactive Investor, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “With many companies now moving out of China to avoid these supply-chain issues, it looks like the country’s draconian zero-Covid measures have damaged its economy beyond repair.” Despite these shockwaves now also hitting the US, the strength of its economy will be enough to shoulder the impact.

Politics / Serbia

Echoes of conflict

A European country with a history of belligerent hubris menacing a former province might be a familiar proposition in 2022 – but Serbia appears intent on ending this year as it began. Troops along the country’s border with Kosovo have been placed in a “full state of combat readiness”. Serbia’s line is that it wants to protect ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo – and if that also echoes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there might be reasons. Russia has been stirring this pot for some time and renewed chaos in the Balkans would certainly serve Moscow’s interests.

Lest anybody miss the point, Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, a Putin ally, has dismissed Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, as “a little Zelenskyy”. However contrived the tension might be, Europe cannot ignore it. On Monocle 24’s The Briefing, our Balkans correspondent, Guy De Launey, said Europe “needs to work a lot harder to get parties around the table and get them to back down from the positions that they are taking.”

Image: Peter Rigaud

Business / Sweden

Sitting pretty

For many consumers around the world, Ikea is one of Sweden’s most recognisable brands, so any stance that the retail giant takes carries greater resonance than the average company. During times of geopolitical and economic calm, that might be a mere quirk of corporate branding but in times of flux, the clout that global companies wield in the public imagination can turn them into soft-power embassies for their home countries. “Ikea’s Swedishness is something quite fun,” says Jesper Brodin, the CEO of Ingka Group, which runs nine out of every 10 Ikeas worldwide. “It stands out but it’s also deeply value-based.”

The company’s alignment with its mother country is intentional. The conspicuously blue-and-yellow logo was originally red-and-white. “It was a conscious decision to build the brand with an understanding of the culture of Sweden: the aspects of togetherness, simplicity and cost-consciousness,” he adds. Despite 2022 being a tricky year for many retailers, Ikea posted record sales in its most recent full-year results in October thanks to decisions such as absorbing the cost of raw material rather than passing it on to customers. There may still be uncertainty ahead but the business plans to remain agile and responsible.

Read the full interview with Jesper Brodin in Monocle’s December/January issue, out now

Image: Getty Images

Art / Asia

Festival fever

Next year is set to be a banner year for Asian art and culture festivals, starting with the highly anticipated ART SG. The inaugural event, billed as Southeast Asia’s largest-ever art fair, will kick off on 12 January in Singapore and showcase the work of more than 1,000 artists from more than 30 countries. Culture hounds can also look forward to Art Basel Hong Kong (pictured) in March; it’s the first edition since Hong Kong relaxed pandemic travel restrictions so international collectors will be there in force.

Later in the spring, the Gwangju Biennale, Asia’s oldest contemporary art biennial, will open in South Korea with the Daoist-inspired theme “soft and weak like water”, while Art Jakarta, Indonesia’s biggest art fair, will take place in August. After a couple of years of online events and a slower return to in-person fairs, 2023 is set to be a season of comebacks for Asia’s art scene.

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Best of Monocle On Design – Part 2

Our favourite design stories from our global contributors including a Hungarian music museum, a Bosnian coppersmith and a Japanese woodworking exhibition.

Monocle Films / Lisbon

Meet the Photographers: John Balsom

The Jogos da Lusofonia are an Olympics-style sporting event for people from the world’s Portuguese-speaking nations. We dispatched John Balsom – a photographer known for his powerful portraits – to the 2009 games in Lisbon. In our latest film, Balsom shares his memories of the assignment and how he captured such a fast-paced sports story on vintage film cameras. Discover more with The Monocle Book of Photography, which is available to buy now.

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