Thursday 14 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 14/12/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Rocking the boat: Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán

Image: Getty Images

POLITICS / Ed Stocker

Long division

For a while, two countries were seen as bogeymen within the EU, upsetting the idea that the bloc could be one big happy family. In recent years, Poland and Hungary have ruffled feathers over everything from the rule of law to freedom of expression. That’s why the replacement of the right-wing, nationalist Law and Justice Party in government by Donald Tusk and his coalition of opposition parties has been met with a sigh of relief. The former president of the European Council is the most institutional of institutionalists – but he might not represent the direction in which the continent is heading.

Indeed, anyone who thinks that the flip in Poland means the end of the headache would be wrong. Hungary’s long-term prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who has recently returned from the inauguration of Argentina’s new ultra-libertarian president, Javier Milei, is doing what he does best: refusing to play ball. The showdown at the two-day EU summit that begins today will be over Ukraine and whether the bloc can reach a consensus on Kyiv’s EU accession bid. Orbán, who has been vocal about his close relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, has said that he won’t be cowed into greenlighting Ukraine’s accession. It’s not the first time that Orbán has acted up. He has also made a fuss over Russian sanctions and has dragged his feet over ratifying Sweden’s Nato bid.

It’s possible that Orbán might relent (probably with concessions), allowing the EU to reach an agreement. Ukraine badly needs a show of solidarity at a time when its other big backer, the US, has stalled a supplemental funding bill that would provide it with additional financial assistance. But even if the EU can paper over its cracks, it won’t last for long. The far-right is convinced that 2024 will be its year. The European Parliament elections in June, at which it will probably make gains, will be a mighty test.

Ed Stocker is Monocle’s Europe editor at large. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Diplomacy / China & Vietnam

Stuck in the middle

Xi Jinping has wrapped up a successful two-day visit to Vietnam that yielded an agreement to step up security co-operation. Though both sides are still at odds over the South China Sea, the new strategic partnership and the warming of relations represent a significant diplomatic milestone for Vietnam, a country that has long walked a fine line between Beijing and Washington. In September, Hanoi elevated the US to the highest tier of its diplomatic ranking, putting it in direct competition with China. “It’s not in Vietnam’s interests to go fully into one camp or the other,” says Neil Thomas, a fellow for Chinese politics at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis. “This competition between the US and China continues to intensify. Vietnam wants extra security assistance in the South China Sea from the US but it also needs to maintain its political and economic relationship with China.”

Flying high: a Korean kite by Kitai Rhee

Image: Bottega Veneta

Fashion / Global

Crafted to perfection

Milan-based Bottega Veneta, one of the world’s most celebrated fashion houses, is committed to championing artisans and supporting small-batch production. That’s why the brand has launched Bottega for Bottegas, a creative project that puts the spotlight on workshops around the world. This year, the brand handpicked four companies from as far afield as Taiwan, South Korea and Italy that specialise in unique crafts and are helping protect their respective countries’ cultural heritage.

Among them is third-generation kite artisan Kitai Rhee, who makes Korean kites with bamboo sticks and hanji paper, preserving a tradition that dates back to the 19th century. There’s also Modiano, an Italian bottega founded in 1868 that specialises in paper products such as tarot and playing cards. To mark the tie-in, the company worked with Bottega Veneta to create a limited-edition set of cards and leather envelopes – an elegant gift idea for the festive season.

Illustration: Karin Kellner

Advent gift guide / Global

Warm front

Looking for the perfect present this holiday season? Then let us inspire you with our Advent gift guide. Every day until Christmas, we will be showcasing one item featured in our Alpino newspaper, which is out now in kiosks and available from our online shop.

Cashmere throw by Begg x Co
As the winter sun sets, a spot of orange is a welcome addition to brighten any living space. This 100 per cent cashmere throw is woven in Scotland and has a cosy, textured knit.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: New Balance

Q&A / Massimo Bottura

Slow and steady

Italian chef Massimo Bottura and restaurateur Lara Gilmore are the owners of Casa Maria Luigia, a guesthouse in Emilia-Romagna that champions family values and locally sourced ingredients. The couple have applied the same philosophy to their new book, Slow Food, Fast Cars. Here, Bottura sits down with Monocle to discuss his love for his native region, sports cars and his reimagining of Italian cooking traditions.

What’s the story behind the term ‘slow food’?
It reflects the unhurried ageing of food in Emilia-Romagna and the processes that make this region’s products unique. It has more PDO-protected products than any other state in Europe. We can wait 36 months for prosciutto or culatello – and 25 years for balsamic vinegar. It’s crazy if you think about it because the modern world moves so quickly. But for us, this tradition is still alive. We should respect this kind of slow ageing.

In Italy, a modern breakfast typically consists of a coffee and a pastry on the go. How have you switched that idea around?
In the countryside, farmers used to leave their house to go out to the field at 05.00 and come back at about 11.00 for colazione (breakfast). So breakfast was a celebration. There would typically have been sausage, eggs and fried dough, as well as mortadella, salami and ricotta made from the milk of the Parmigiano Reggiano cows. So that’s the identity of our breakfast: the idea that you should start your day with deliciousness and rich flavours.

Tell us about your love of fast cars.
I grew up in a very large family. My father and my elder brothers were really into cars. In Emilia-Romagna, you’re surrounded by Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani and DeTomaso cars and there’s the circuit in downtown Modena, so it’s all in your DNA. You can hear the sound from a distance and say, “Oh, that’s an eight-cylinder Maserati.” In my veins, there’s balsamic vinegar and the engine of a 12-cylinder Ferrari.

For our full interview with Massimo Bottura, tune in to episode 603 of ‘The Menu’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Luke Dyson

Monocle Radio / The Entrepreneurs

Lapland UK

The Entrepreneurs Christmas special: We meet Mike and Alison Battle, the founders of one of the nation’s biggest Christmas attractions, Lapland UK, who talk about their commitment to creating a magical festive experience for the whole family. Plus: we hear from the big man himself: Santa Claus shares how he makes his global business work.


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