Thursday 2 February 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 2/2/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Blake Evans-Pritchard

Vote for unity

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez (pictured), has an election to win this year. The last thing that he wants is Catalonia’s troublesome independence movement derailing things, particularly when his main rivals, the right-wing Partido Popular (PP), will be taking an even tougher stance on the region. But a ruling on Tuesday by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has handed the independence movement a big advantage.

Following Belgium’s refusal to extradite seven politicians involved in the illegal 2017 referendum on Catalan independence, Spanish judge Pablo Llarena asked the ECJ to weigh in. But rather than side with Madrid, the court stated that an extradition order could be refused if a specific group of people is being persecuted. This means that any future extradition request would result in the close scrutiny of how pro-independence politicians and their supporters are being treated under the Spanish legal system.

It puts Sánchez in a difficult position. With current polls suggesting that December’s general election will be tight and the PP unwilling to give the independence movement even the smallest concession, the prime minister is under huge pressure to show that he is serious about Spanish unity. But if further extradition requests are made, the Catalan independence movement will get another chance to show the world why they want to be separated from the rest of the country – and that could prove costly for Sánchez come December.

Blake Evans-Pritchard is a Barcelona-based journalist covering Spanish politics and financial markets.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Japan

As the saying goes

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg is on a tour of Asia aimed at drumming up support for Ukraine. Stoltenberg, who met Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida (pictured, on right, with Stoltenberg), and visited an Air Self-Defence Force base on Tuesday, spoke at Keio University in Tokyo yesterday. Nato might seem remote to many Japanese people, so Stoltenberg deployed a proverb, taigan no kaji (“fire on the other side of the river”), to help his audience relate to the situation. “The war in Ukraine demonstrates how security is interconnected,” said Stoltenberg. “It shows that what happens in Europe has a consequence for East Asia and what happens in East Asia matters to Europe”. He added that, “the idea that China doesn’t matter for Nato doesn’t work”, showing an empathy towards the unstable security environment in East Asia. Stoltenberg will be hoping that Japanese assistance will help Ukraine to triumph against Russia and send a clear signal to China that expansionist war in the 21st century is not the answer.

Image: GBCE

Aviation / Thailand

Ready for takeoff

Thailand is set to begin construction of an “aviation city” – a massive infrastructure project that will cost THB296bn (€8.25bn). Provisionally called the U-Tapao Eastern Aviation City, the project will renovate the U-Tapao Airport, which was built by the US Air Force during the Vietnam War in the country’s eastern Rayong province. A massive investment from the Thai government will see the expanded airport occupy 10.4 million sq m of land made up of a terminal building, a flight training centre and an aircraft-maintenance centre.

Bangkok hopes that U-Tapao Eastern Aviation City will give a massive boost to the Thai aviation industry, which has suffered in recent years: national flag carrier Thai Airways International reported a loss of THB141bn (€3.92bn) in 2020, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Thailand’s tourism industry, a vital part of the country’s economy, is sure to profit as U-Tapao Airport’s passenger capacity increases from 1.5 million passengers per year to five million.

Image: Alamy

Retail / Denmark

Shutting up shop

Denmark’s oldest supermarket chain, Irma, managed to achieve what most businesses strive for: a strong brand identity and a loyal customer base. With scores of shops across Denmark, Irma’s iconic tote bag is ubiquitous among the Danish capital’s fashion-conscious crowds. So it came as a surprise when the chain’s closure was announced on Tuesday by owners Coop, citing a steady consumer shift towards discount supermarkets.

The announcement was met with disappointment from the city’s food scene and widespread criticism aimed at the perceived mishandling of a business that had built a well-respected brand over the past 137 years. “People really love Irma,” Copenhagen-based business and branding expert Anthony Aconis tells The Monocle Minute. “It managed to create a loyal customer base that shops beyond price and location. They shop for the brand, one that understands its target audience.” After the news, former director Alfred Josefsen said that he would try to save Irma; there will be many people hoping for his success.

Image: Carmen Campos

Retail / Brazil

Turning the page

In more positive retail news, Brazil’s National Association of Bookstores revealed that 100 new bookshops had opened across the country between April 2021 and November 2022. Though some big chains, such as Saraiva and Livraria Cultura, suffered losses in recent years, independent retailers such as São Paulo’s Livraria Travessa (pictured) have flourished. And what are Brazilians reading? Looking at the 2022 bestseller lists, it’s an interesting mix. In the non-fiction category, veteran US writer Clarissa Pinkola Estés topped the list for the third year in a row with Women Who Run with the Wolves, her 1989 book, and there remains a fascination with British author George Orwell, whose 1984 was the sixth best-selling work of fiction last year. Some Brazilian writers did well too, including Itamar Vieira Júnior with his magical realist masterpiece Torto Arado and Laurentino Gomes’s in-depth look at the history of slavery in Brazil, Escravidão – Volume 3. Both prove that Brazilian literature is starting an exciting new chapter.

Image: Getty Images

Monocle 24 / The Curator

Highlights from Monocle 24

We cover Disney’s centenary celebrations, the top songs in India and speak with renowned performance artist Marina Abramović.

Global / Monocle Films

Monocle preview: February issue

Monocle’s February issue is all about celebrating places that work, whether that’s a parliament, home or metro carriage. From a floating office to a school teaching children the rules of the road, we profile the locations that look good and work well for those who use them. Plus: Charleston’s hospitality boom and why you should learn Russian. Order your copy today.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00