If EU member states in the Mediterranean were worried that Brussels was paying less attention to them because of the war in Ukraine, this week’s appointment of an EU special envoy for the region must have come as a relief. As geopolitical tensions around the shared sea have increased during recent years, not least as a result of the current conflict in Gaza, the decision by the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, to create the role was timely.
On Monday, Patrick Simonnet, a French diplomat who most recently served as the head of the EU delegation to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, announced on social media that he had accepted the post. “Looking forward to building bridges between our two shores in a spirit of co-operation towards shared prosperity,” wrote Simonnet, while sharing artwork by French artist Sabine Réthoré that reimagines a Mediterranean map without national borders.
European Union Special Representatives (or EUSRs) are EU emissaries whose job is to engage with specific regions, conflict areas or issues. Other EUSRs include special envoys for the Sahel, the Gulf, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East peace process. There is also an EUSR for human rights, a position currently held by former Irish foreign minister Eamon Gilmore.
So many of the region’s challenges transcend borders, as Josep Borrell, a Spaniard, knows all too well. The question of how to manage irregular migration across the Mediterranean not only weighs on Rome and Madrid but also on Tripoli, Tunis and Rabat. That the region is one of the world’s fastest-warming places has also focused minds, highlighting the reality that challenges such as climate change must be jointly tackled. Here’s hoping that the new EUSR will help the Mediterranean to safeguard its collective future.
Mary Fitzgerald is Monocle’s North Africa correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
With Italy’s decision to pull out of China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) this week, Beijing has lost the only major Western supporter of its global infrastructure scheme. After investments in Asia and Europe, the BRI launched in 2013 as a means to enhance Chinese influence and soft power. In a bid to increase its market access to China, Italy joined the initiative in 2019, placing it at odds with many of its allies. Though the withdrawal announcement might be embarrassing for Beijing (it coincides with this week’s EU-China summit), it is not expected to cause significant damage. “One of the reasons why Italy left is that its expected gains from exports did not materialise,” Trisha Craig, senior lecturer in sociology and political science at Yale-NUS in Singapore, tells The Monocle Minute. “While China no longer has support from a G7 country, many nations across the world will continue to welcome the large-scale infrastructure projects that the BRI is famous for, even as they become more conscious of the debt that they’re taking on.”
For more on Italy’s exit from the Belt and Road Initiative, tune in to Thursday’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.
The third edition of the Kuala Lumpur Art Book Fair (KLABF) opens in the Malaysian capital today and runs until Sunday. With 112 exhibitors taking part, it is the biggest iteration of the event since its launch in 2021. Sixty of the exhibitors are from Malaysia; the rest are from more than a dozen other countries including China, Japan, Indonesia, the US and the Netherlands.
KLABF is part of a growing number of Southeast Asian book fairs, with counterparts in places such as Jakarta and Singapore. This reflects the region’s flourishing arts scenes and the deepening international connections between its communities. Exhibitors at this year’s fair include independent publishers and magazines, artists, design studios and vintage-sticker collectors.
Looking for the perfect present this holiday season? Then let us inspire you with our Advent gift guide. Every day until Christmas, we are showcasing one item featured in our Alpino newspaper, which is out now in kiosks and on our online shop.
Workout set by Tracksmith
US sportswear brand Tracksmith will add a touch of New England prep to workouts. A breathable merino-mesh long-sleeved top and perfectly cushioned trainers will help to see anyone through a cold-weather run.
“Chimelong Penguin Hotel, Zhuhai, China” is an image by photographer Zed Nelson. Over a period of six years, Nelson travelled to 14 countries across four continents to explore the taming of nature in national parks, zoos and even shopping centres. The body of work and an accompanying essay in Monocle’s 2024 edition of The Forecast asks why this happened and whether humans can let go and allow nature to take control again.
For an exclusive gallery of images by Zed Nelson, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’, which is available on newsstands and online now.
In 2015, Sophie Garnier and her husband moved to Myanmar in search of adventure. There they found talented artisans who were crafting exquisite goods but had limited access to wider markets. This inspired Garnier to establish homeware brand Kalinko. She tells us about some of the hurdles that she has faced in navigating Myanmar’s political instability. Plus: Pernille Lind, co-founder of Lind + Almond design studio, discusses her collaboration with her business partner, Richy Almond, and how her design philosophy blends the familiar and the exotic.