Thursday 17 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 17/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Ivan Carvalho

Turning the tide

Flocking to a local bagno to hire loungers, passing the time wading in the sea and taking time to bask in the sun are annual August rituals for many Italians. Most of the nation’s beach-club establishments are family-run affairs and have customers who are on a first-name basis with proprietors and return every year. As a result of EU regulations, however, this tradition is now having sand kicked in its face. Long stretches of the country’s coastline are dotted by private clubs that charge beachgoers a fee for accessing their sandy real estate. The clubs’ operators generate more than €2bn in annual revenues. A portion of their concessions are handed over to the local authorities but this only provides the government with an extra €115m of yearly income.

The EU has harboured concerns about privately run establishments’ monopoly over Italian beaches and has advocated for reforms to ensure fair competition. Unsurprisingly, however, politicians in Rome have been delaying the measures for years and have attempted to postpone a law that could lead to the end of Italian-owned coastal clubs. The reform, which was originally set to take effect in December 2023, would have forced businesses to vacate their beach properties and instead compete with multinational corporations for licensing rights. But after Giorgia Meloni’s Milleproroghe decree, which was approved in February, private owners have been granted an extension on existing concessions until the beginning of next year, giving them extra time to secure their lots.

As a native of California, where the public is free to roam the coastline, Italy’s bagni culture has always rubbed me the wrong way. While some Italians fear that opening up the concessions will allow for big, impersonal hospitality groups from abroad to creep in, external competition might help to drive down costs so that more families can enjoy a summer by the beach.

Ivan Carvalho is Monocle’s Milan correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Affairs / West Africa

Driving force

Military chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) will convene in Ghana today and Friday to discuss solutions to the political crisis in Niger. The delegation will include General Mohamed Toumba (pictured), one of the soldiers who ousted Niger’s president last month. The African Union (AU) has rejected military intervention but Ecowas is keeping the option firmly on the table and will consider it in Accra.

The fear of instability in the region has heightened the bloc’s reaction, which has seen Niger follow the pattern of its Sahel neighbours, Mali and Burkina Faso, in falling to military rule. “No armed intervention can take place without support from Nigeria, a key member of Ecowas,” Tara O’Connor, founder and executive director of Africa Risk Consulting, tells The Monocle Minute. “Nigeria’s economy and security are most affected by continuing sanctions and use of armed forces. The AU and Ecowas’s differing perspectives demonstrate the effect of competing global influences. But any military intervention would need to be short and effective; if not, it risks destabilising the entire region.”

Geopolitics / Mongolia

Pushing the boundary

Mongolia, one of the world’s least-populated nations, is rapidly urbanising as a result of its growing economy. But to support the country’s growth, its leaders have to navigate a tricky geopolitical terrain. While the Mongolian economy relies greatly on trade with its two neighbours – the majority of the country’s exports go to China and Russia is its sole energy supplier – its leaders are also trying to cosy up to Western nations by selling themselves as a democracy in need of support.

Image: Christoffer Rudquist
Image: Christoffer Rudquist

Moscow’s ejection from international payment systems made it difficult for Ulaanbaatar to pay for its energy and Mongolia’s treasury has missed out on “navigation fees” from airlines now banned from Russian airspace. But despite the sting of its reliance on Russia and a growing global polarisation between East and West, the country is poised to remain on middle ground. As the nation’s prime minister, Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene (pictured, bottom left), told Monocle on a recent visit, “Mongolia’s goal is to be a transit country that acts as a corridor between Europe and Asia.”

For our full report on Mongolia’s geopolitical affairs, pick up a copy of the September issue of Monocle, which is out now.

Image: Alamy

Transport / USA

Full speed ahead

Members of Washington State’s congressional delegation have submitted a letter to transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg requesting $198m (€181m) – as part of the $2trn (€1.8trn) infrastructure law championed by Joe Biden – for a final feasibility study on Cascadia High-Speed Rail. First pitched in 2016, the proposed 550km route would connect Vancouver, Seattle and Portland on one line. While attempts at US high-speed rail have a chequered past, there are signs that the country is ready to catch up with its peers.

Florida’s privately run Brightline (pictured) is set to expand next month into a Miami-Orlando route, topping out at about 209km/h. “The Biden administration has budgeted eight times more than the last investment under Barack Obama, which will enable high-speed rail to truly gain a national foothold,” Jonathan Hopkins, co-founder of advocacy group Cascadia Rail and former Brightline vice-president, tells The Monocle Minute. “Washington State’s request for funding represents one of the most advanced efforts in the country. When the study is complete, the state will likely have enough information to decide how to proceed in order to enable construction.”

Image: Hugo Boss

Fashion / Germany

Connective threads

Fashion label Boss is aiming high: according to its CEO, Daniel Grieder, the company is well under way to surpass the €5bn target that it had set for 2025. But this summer, the Metzingen-headquartered label has also taken some time to reconnect with its German roots by debuting a new Trachten collection, which is available online and across its boutiques worldwide.

The women’s range, featuring elegant velvet dirndls and fitted woollen jackets, has been designed in collaboration with costume specialist Kinga Mathe, best known for the high-quality lederhosen produced from her studio in Kitzbühel, Austria. The men’s line features embroidered lederhosen and sharp, high-collar jackets that can be worn long after Volksfests in Munich and Stuttgart are over. The unexpected tie-in is a good example of how a fast-growing, global business can hold on to its original values and continue investing in its home markets.

Image: Ruy Teixeira

Monocle Radio / On Design

Aberto and Please Wait to Be Seated

We discuss an art exhibition taking place in São Paulo and pull up a chair with Danish furniture brand, Please Wait to Be Seated, whose latest perch is made from flax.

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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