Friday 7 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 7/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Petri Burtsoff

Fallen idol

In politics, image is everything. The way things appear and who the main protagonists are can often be as important as the content and quality of policies. Less than two weeks ago, Finland was seen as the “happiest country in the world”, led by five women, with low levels of inequality, a generous welfare system, free education and free healthcare, a robust military and an ambitious climate policy. All of a sudden, it is regarded as the kind of nation that would appoint as a minister a politician who would appear at a far-right event and make Hitler jokes – as former economy minister Vilhelm Junnila once did. (Junnila was forced to resign after just 10 days in office.) The new right–wing government of Petteri Orpo (pictured, centre) is bursting at the seams as a result of internal schisms. You have to search far and wide to find a better example of how to squander a country’s brand and international standing in such a short time.

And it looks like there is no end in sight for this spectacular fall from grace. On Wednesday the Finns Party named Wille Rydman as minister for economic affairs. Rydman was kicked out of Orpo’s party last year after being accused of harassment and having improper relationships with teenage girls. (He was later cleared of misconduct.)

All of this overshadows the steep challenges now facing Finland, such as its stagnating economy, which the government’s ambitious National Reform Programme, praised by many economists, hopes to address. Meanwhile, Sanna Marin’s global superstar status generated so much good press for the country during her premiership that her government’s sloppy economic policies and excessive borrowing were ignored. Narratives and representation have so much power in modern-day politics that leaders ignore them at their peril. Finland is learning this the hard way.

Petri Burtsoff is Monocle’s Helsinki correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Technology / Shanghai

Dividing lines

The annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference begins this week in Shanghai, showcasing China’s technological ambitions as the country’s rivalry with the US intensifies. This year’s event has attracted more than 400 enterprises, including Beijing’s top AI companies and institutions. In stark contrast to the conference’s previous iterations, however, US technology corporations have refused to sponsor the event (with the exception of mobile chip giant Qualcomm).

Though Apple, Amazon, Tesla and Microsoft have sent delegates to the event, Microsoft-backed OpenAI, ChatGPT’s developer, has chosen not to take part. According to Ramsay Brown, CEO of AI company Mission Control, this is a result of stringent US sanctions that aim to curb China’s development of advanced semiconductors and 5G technology. “The economic and strategic implications of being the AI leader have become exceedingly clear in the past six months,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “The US and China are now in a fundamental battle of values across the economy and technology.”

Image: Getty Images

Society / Italy

Share of the spoils

The Berlusconi family has long fascinated Italy. Since the death of its patriarch, the scandal-ridden business tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, there has been much speculation about succession battles and the ample assets that he left behind. What role will 33-year-old Marta Fascina (pictured, on far right), his girlfriend at the time of his death, play in the proceedings? And will AC Monza, the football club that he owned, still benefit from his largesse?

Yesterday it emerged that Berlusconi’s two eldest children, Marina and Pier Silvio (pictured, second from right and second from left), will jointly hold a 53 per cent stake in the family holding company, Fininvest. The remaining shares will be split between the children from Berlusconi’s second marriage. He also left €100m to Fascina, which has raised a few eyebrows. While the Berlusconi clan looks set to keep his business empire going for now, there’s a reluctance to fill papà’s tainted political shoes.

Image: Austal


Boat of confidence

The US Navy has announced plans to deploy a new hospital ship in the Pacific. The 110-metre-long catamaran, named USNS Bethesda (pictured, as rendering), is currently under construction at Austal shipyard in Alabama. It will be distinguished from warships by its all-white livery and a giant red cross.

Both of the US Navy’s current hospital ships, USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy, were originally built as oil tankers; Bethesda will be a clear upgrade, fitted with three operating theatres and facilities such as mental health services and obstetrics. “It can operate in shallower waters than previous vessels and is much faster,” Sidharth Kaushal, research fellow in sea power at the Royal United Services Institute, tells Monocle. “There is an emphasis on speed and the ability to operate in austere conditions.” A conflict requiring its services is not a certainty. The ship, however, will be a significant soft-power asset and will also be able to help victims of natural disasters in the region.

For more on the US Navy’s new ship and the country’s presence in the Pacific, pick up a copy of Monocle’s July/August issue, which is out now.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / South Korea

Bridging the gap

As part of a wider effort to revive the Han river and its surrounding area, Seoul announced an international competition this week to transform the Jamsu Bridge (pictured) into a pedestrian-only hub for leisure and culture. Completed in 1976, the submersible crossing has been periodically used as a pedestrian-only route since last year; in April, it became a giant runway for a Louis Vuitton pre-autumn fashion show.

The latest initiative has been met with concerns over the risks of flooding and increased congestion on the Banpo Bridge, which is directly above the Jamsu. The metropolitan government, however, insists that measures to optimise safety and traffic will be integrated into the new plans. The project, which is expected to be completed by 2026, promises to enhance the area’s cultural vibrancy. Let’s hope that all doubts will soon be water under the bridge.

Image: Marc Sethi

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Challenging fast fashion

We highlight the platforms that are challenging fast-paced fashion consumption. Plus: we look at ways to revamp your wardrobe through rental, repair and sustainable clothing.

Monocle films / Transport

Tokyo’s colourful community bus

An electric bus service has injected a new playfulness into a borough of Tokyo in need of a revamp. We hop aboard and meet Eiji Mitooka, its creator and Japan’s foremost train designer, who explains why he puts fun at the top of his list when designing public transport. All aboard!


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