Best columns: Europe
Sued for calling out homophobia
You’re no longer allowed to call gay marriage opponents homophobic, said Alexandre Hervaud. But what if that’s exactly what they are? The Court of Appeal has ruled that Laure Pora, the former head of the AIDS advocacy group Act Up–Paris must pay $2,300 in damages and legal fees to the anti–gay marriage group Appeal for All. Pora and Act Up supposedly insulted the organization by calling its members homophobes, a ruling that has outraged gay rights activists. “We cannot accept that the Court of Appeal is denying us a way to describe and denounce the political speeches of our opponents,” Act Up said in a statement. Civil rights lawyers are equally dismayed. Attorney Caroline Mécary says the court was treating Appeal for All as a private citizen rather than as a political organization. She points out that when a French politician called far-right leader Marine Le Pen a fascist, he was not convicted of slander, because “the court said the term was not an insult when used between political opponents on a political issue.” The same logic should apply in this case, because marriage equality is a civil rights issue. If this ruling stands, the “emblematic figures of the struggle for equal rights” could be targeted and silenced with an avalanche of defamation lawsuits.
Sicily, one giant landfill
What will it take for Sicilian authorities to solve the trash crisis? asked Antonio Fraschilla. This newspaper recently concluded a six-part investigative series into “the largest industry in Sicily—that of waste.” We’ve traced how more than $1 billion a year in contracts goes to “the usual companies.” We’ve documented “threats and pressure” against mayors who try to reform waste collection and disposal. We’ve exposed the mafia’s infiltration of the industry and even “named names” of the Cosa Nostra bosses who control hiring and contracts. And we’ve published photos of the massive piles of stinking trash that blot the beautiful island. For lack of recycling facilities, “the waste always ends up in landfills.” Even worse, we’ve found toxic waste illegally dumped in secret sites across the eastern Sicilian city of Catania, at least 1.5 million tons of it. This “uncontrolled river” of contaminated trash includes “hazardous waste from building demolitions, expired food, and sludge containing arsenic, antimony, and copper” as well as asbestos. It is poisoning the land and polluting the air. “The stench is invading the beaches,” and soon it will start affecting Sicily’s crucial tourism industry. How long can we exist in this “constant state of emergency”? We’ve shown you, the readers, all these facts, and now you must demand action. “Something has to change.”
United Kingdom: Fury over court’s Brexit decision
Unelected judges want “to overthrow the will of the British people,” said Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. This nation voted 52 percent to 48 percent to exit the European Union in a June referendum. But last week, three High Court judges ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May couldn’t trigger Article 50—the mechanism that starts negotiations with the EU over Britain’s exit from the bloc—without a vote by Parliament. This will inevitably delay May’s plan to begin Brexit talks in March. Why did the judges weigh in on this issue? Because of a lawsuit filed by wealthy businesswoman Gina Miller, who is backed by “hedge fund fat cats and disgruntled expats.” Frustrated that the Remain campaign was defeated at the ballot box, these “sore losers” want to use Parliament to reverse the democratic will of the people. Don’t let them, said the Daily Express in an editorial. If the government loses an appeal at the Supreme Court and new legislation is required to start Brexit, Remainers in Parliament will push for amendments that will tie us permanently to the EU. Opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn has already pledged to block Article 50 if the prime minister refuses to keep Britain in the single European market. We must stop the Remainers. “Your country needs you to fight for its freedom.”
Brexit supporters have launched a “blatant attack on judicial independence,” said NewStatesman.com. Following the High Court decision, the three judges were branded “enemies of the people” on the front page of the pro-Brexit Daily Mail tabloid. Nigel Farage, the former head of the U.K. Independence Party, has pledged to lead a march of 100,000 Brexiteers on the Supreme Court. Such language and threats are designed “to demean, undermine, unnerve, terrify, and intimidate independent judges.” That is a blow to the rule of law. It’s also hypocritical, said The Independent. Brexit supporters claim they want to leave the EU “to restore the sovereignty of this country’s Parliament.” Yet they object to the very same Parliament having any say on Article 50. They say Prime Minister May alone should be able to trigger it—even though her leadership has never been put to the electorate at all, since she inherited the post after David Cameron abruptly resigned following the defeat of his Remain campaign.
That’s why May will likely call an election early next year, said The Times. Her Conservative Party has a narrow majority of 15 seats in the House of Commons, and with May currently trouncing Corbyn in the polls, a national election would almost certainly expand that margin. Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, could still lay big “stumbling blocks on Britain’s path to the exit.” But if May presents her vision of what Brexit would look like to the British people and secures a blowout victory, the Lords “would hesitate before interfering with a new and directly acquired mandate.” The Brexit vote upended British politics; another vote is now needed to stabilize it.