Wednesday 24 January 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 24/1/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

In the hot seat: Alexander Stubb (on left) is interviewed in Helsinki

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Petri Burtsoff

Calm before the storm

Finns will go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president at a pivotal time for their country. The immensely popular current president, Sauli Niinistö, who is stepping down after 12 years in office, is widely credited with having played an instrumental part in guiding Finland to Nato membership as relations with Russia turned sour. Two of the leading candidates, former prime minister Alexander Stubb and one-time foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, are being challenged by Jussi Halla-aho, who was the leader of the far-right, populist Finns Party until 2021. According to the latest polls, the trio is neck and neck.

Despite Finland being a parliamentary democracy, the president wields a great degree of power, leading the country’s foreign policy and acting as the commander-in-chief of its armed forces. A wider confrontation with Russia is looming and Finland is looking to become a defender of Nato’s eastern flank, so these roles come with immense responsibility. As someone who is above the nitty gritty of day-to-day politics, the president is often considered a moral leader too – another crucial role in testing times. Stubb and Haavisto are both liberal (the latter would be Finland’s first openly gay president) and have formidable foreign-policy credentials, including close relations with key global leaders. Compared with them, Halla-aho is relatively inexperienced in foreign affairs, though he has served as a member of the European Parliament and earned plaudits for his astute analysis of Russia’s foreign policy.

Whoever wins, Finland’s next president will need to showcase master statecraft and diplomacy in navigating relations with an increasingly hostile Russia. Having recently struck a long-reaching defence agreement with the US, the country’s new leader might well be faced with a Trump presidency and the havoc that it could wreak on America’s commitments to its partners. Finland’s interests would be best served if it elected a president who can keep a cool head under duress, forge strong alliances and unite the nation – instead of sowing further divisions.

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


Urbanism / Paris

Block and keys

As Paris gears up to host the Olympic Games in six months’ time, accommodation options are dwindling and rates are continuing to rise. According to newspaper Le Parisien, hospitality prices have increased sixfold in some cases, including with places offered by Olympic sponsor Airbnb. Yet strain on the city could get even worse. Next month the Council of Paris will vote on a proposal to allow authorities to forcibly remove key boxes from public property, starting in February. The boxes, which allow access to short-term rentals without tying owners to their property’s location, are technically banned in Paris’s public spaces already, due to their appearance and potential security threat, but authorities cannot act when the ban is ignored. The city hopes that tougher restrictions can also help with a wider clampdown on illegal lettings. Tourists, though, might find themselves with even fewer options – and the Olympic Games with a rather irked sponsor.

Making waves: One of Navier’s electric boats

Image: Navier

Mobility / San Francisco

Testing the waters

The commute to the office is often seen as a waste of time and energy, adding hours and unnecessary stress to the working day. In San Francisco, Stripe is hoping to change that. The financial-services firm has just partnered with electric-boat start-up Navier to provide some of its workforce with seamless transit via water taxi from Larkspur in Marin County to Oyster Point, near the company’s headquarters.

The pilot programme will not only reduce the commute time – negating the need to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge – but it’s environmentally friendly too. The journey will be made using one of Navier’s high-speed electric hydrofoil boats, reducing fossil-fuel consumption. If the trial is successful, an expanded service could take drivers in coastal communities off the roads and help to reduce pollution in the region.

Art / Hong Kong

Blank canvas

Hauser & Wirth’s new Hong Kong gallery opened today with an exhibition by Chinese artist Zhang Enli. The Swiss gallery, which has had a presence in the city since 2018, has moved into a two-storey, street-level retail space in Central previously occupied by Longchamp. The relocation of its only Asia outpost to larger premises is good news for Hong Kong’s main shopping street. Queen’s Road Central has suffered a high turnover in recent years, with a number of brash tenants making the most of lower rents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Big draw: Hauser & Wirth’s Zhang Enli exhibition

Image: Hauser & Wirth

Portrait of an artist: The Chinese painter

Image: Hauser & Wirth

The move also represents a show of faith in the city by the international art world, keeping up the momentum of Hong Kong’s major auction houses, which are in the process of unveiling their own larger spaces. Art Basel’s Hong Kong fair in March is expected to be a bumper edition – that’s good news for a city seeking to reinforce its credentials as the region’s top arts hub.

Beyond the Headlines

On the right track: Austria's public transport

Image: Getty Images

The List / Sustainability in Europe

Green and pleasant lands

Swedish solar company Hemsol, which aims to increase the potential of solar energy as a renewable source of electricity, has crunched the data to find out which European country is cleaning up its act most successfully. Here are the three countries that came out on top.

1. Norway
The Nordic nation has invested heavily in its green spaces, while incentives for electric bikes and cars in Oslo have been the driving force behind the city being named the “EV capital of the world”.

2. Austria
Austrians are firmly committed to utilising the 162 public transport lines already in place in Vienna. An abundance of mountains and rivers also means that hydroelectric power really comes into its own.

3. Finland
Finland has a higher proportion of forest than any other European country – so Finns can breathe easy. The Nordic nation’s commitment to carbon-free energy sources, including nuclear and biomass, means that Finland is already well on the way to its target of becoming 90 per cent carbon neutral by 2050.

Action! Christopher Nolan (on right) directing Cillian Murphy in ‘Oppenheimer’

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Culture

Christopher Nolan on ‘Oppenheimer’

Acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan is known for his spectacular and layered storytelling, and preference for analogue cinematic methods. Robert Bound sits down with the filmmaker to discuss Oppenheimer, which received 13 Academy Award nominations yesterday.


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