Tuesday 20 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 20/2/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

The right direction: Alexander De Croo is positive about EU unity

Image: Alamy

Affairs / Alexander De Croo

United we stand

Alexei Navalny’s death makes it clearer than ever that we need to take a stand against Russia – that it really is ruthless and does not hesitate to use any atrocity against its own population and Ukraine. The conflict with Ukraine started at least 10 years ago and since then Europe has become less safe. Our response as European leaders has been our unity. Russia has tried to dismantle that unity but it has failed to do so.

The commitment of every Nato country to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence is an agreement that we need to respect. Federal elections in Belgium will take place in June and while the government cannot take decisions on this before the vote ends, I am convinced that Belgium needs to drastically speed up its path towards the 2 per cent contribution. This means that we will have to prioritise. Everything is a trade-off. The world has changed – and not in a way that we Europeans expected it to change. We can complain about the fact that our world has become one of great powers who will use any tactic to destabilise others but we also need to deal with that reality.

I’m a trans-Atlanticist at heart. I believe that if the US, Canada and Europe are pulling in the same direction, no one can beat us. But we don’t need the recent declarations of Donald Trump to know that Europe has to stand on its own legs. Frankly, European countries have become complacent about this. The most urgent thing is our defence industrial base; it really needs to be built up. Historically in Europe, all our armies would buy on a national level, which led to a lot of fragmentation. We’re seeing the negative consequences of that now. There are bottlenecks in production capacity and scaling up will take time as it will demand intervention from EU governments.

Defence is the last remaining element of sovereignty. What Russia always asked us was, “Why are you handing over so much of your sovereignty to the EU?” My answer was always that it’s easier to bully a country of 11 million people than a bloc of 27 nations.

Alexander De Croo is Belgium’s prime minister. As told to Andrew Mueller, the host of Monocle Radio’s ‘The Foreign Desk’, at the Munich Security Conference. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Trying times: Cyril Ramaphosa

Image: Getty Images

Politics / South Africa

Shaky ground

Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to announce the date of South Africa’s general election this week. The country’s president has struggled to rekindle economic growth since he took over from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, in 2018. The vote is expected to be the country’s most competitive since the end of apartheid in 1994.

While Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC) is still widely expected to win the largest share of votes, several polls suggest that it could lose its majority and be forced to enter a coalition to remain in government. With an unemployment rate of more than 30 per cent – the world’s highest – and nationwide blackouts proving detrimental for businesses, the popularity of the ANC, which was once led by Nelson Mandela, could continue to dwindle if these issues are not addressed.

No small wonder: The Taj Mahal is a big draw for tourists

Image: Shutterstock

Tourism / India

Trading places

As New Delhi prepares to host this year’s Travel for Life Summit next month, tourism in India looks set to continue its upward trajectory. The country is projected to be the fastest-growing inbound market for many southeast Asian nations this year. Indian citizens will be able to travel smoothly in the other direction too: both Thailand and Malaysia dropped short-stay visa requirements late last year, while others, including Vietnam and Indonesia, are considering a similar waiver.

While there is still some way to go to match the numbers that arrived from China before the pandemic, southeast Asian destinations are already beginning to introduce new direct flights to and from major Indian hubs, such as Bangalore and Mumbai. At the heart of India’s tourism boom is the simple factor of ease. “Decisions are based on visas, frequency of flights and seamless connectivity, plus the choice of hotels and price-point per night,” Paul Charles, CEO of luxury global-travel consultancy the PC Agency, tells Monocle.

For more on India’s tourism boom and other agenda-setting stories from the world of affairs, business and travel, pick up a copy of Monocle’s February issue, which is out now.

Design / Qatar

Form and substance

With the inaugural Design Doha biennial, which opens this weekend, Qatar is aiming to establish itself as a major international hub for creative innovation. The festival’s opening week will feature a series of exhibitions exploring the region’s heritage, crafts and contemporary art, alongside a coaching programme for designers. This year’s highlight is Arab Design Now, a landmark show that celebrates the influence of the Levant, the Gulf and North Africa on furniture, textiles and accessories, while offering up new approaches to sustainability. Other top picks include 100/100: Hundred Best Arabic Posters, which puts the spotlight on the Arab world’s contemporary visual culture, and Forgotten Spaces, a series of artistic carpet installations that interrogate the mystique of overlooked places. Design Doha, which runs until August, signals Qatar’s growing creative confidence.

Beyond the Headlines

Q&A / Rafaela Kaćunić

Regional speciality

Rafaela Kaćunić is the co-founder of annual print publication This is Badland, which is dedicated to art, design and culture from the Balkans. Here she tells Monocle about the magazine’s focus and how it targets international audiences.

Tell us about the publication’s focus on the Balkans. Why did you decide to co-found such a title?
The point of the publication is to take our Balkan roots as a starting point and then have conversations and create content with people from all over the world. Even though I grew up in Germany, my parents are Croatians who emigrated there. The idea of the project is to connect with like-minded people from the region.

The title is also aimed at an international audience?
Yes, the publication is in English. I wanted to give creators from the Balkans an international voice. The publication plays around that theme. The Balkans region is very interesting as it has always been a tunnel from the West to the East but also a proxy battlefield of world powers. We wanted to cover that space, build something creative and fun out of it, and open it up to the world.

Tell us about the latest issue
This issue has a different approach to the others. It is perhaps a little more mature and quite hefty at 256 pages. We decided to focus our issue on really profound stories that take time to produce well. If I pick up a book or magazine, I only want to read something that has opened my eyes, my mind or challenges my views. It takes time to work around this angle. We were originally afraid of falling into a seasonal cycle and have the pressure to publish content at a specific time. But we decided to take our time to create by having no pressure and publish only when we have enough material. Ours is a very free approach to creating and selling things.

For our full interview with Rafeala Kaćunić, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Stack’, on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Films / Affairs

Davos: where are we going?

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos brought together political leaders, CEOs and scholars to discuss about how to tackle the world’s most pressing issues and move forward. Monocle Films travelled to the Swiss Alpine town to see what was on the agenda at this year's summit.


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