Best columns: Europe
A boost for Le Pen’s chances
Le Nouvel Observateur
France’s presidential race has been hit with its first scandal—and it could be a game changer, said Paul Quinio. With the public fed up with the ruling Socialist Party, François Fillon, the candidate for the center-right Republicans, was widely expected to win this spring’s vote. But last week, a muckraking tabloid accused Fillon of paying his wife some $540,000 in public money for a no-show job. The “revelations are devastating.” It’s not illegal for French politicians to hire relatives, but Le Canard Enchainé says it can find no evidence that Penelope Fillon did any work during her eight years on the payroll. State prosecutors are now probing the pos-sible misuse of public funds, as well as a separate claim that Penelope was given a fictitious magazine job by a billionaire friend of her husband’s. For another candidate, such a story might be survivable. But Fillon has built his political career around his image as “a righteous man, clean, upright, honest,” and his fall from on high could prove fatal. Fillon was expected to defeat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen—who wants to pull France from the EU— in the second round of the election in May. Now he says that if a criminal investigation is opened, he will drop out. “Penelope-gate” could well change the course of French, and European, history.
Standing up to Turkey for justice
Greece, the birthplace of democracy, is once again showing the world how to live by the rule of law, said Nikos Konstandaras. Last week, our Supreme Court ruled against an extradition request for eight Turkish military officers who Ankara claims were involved in July’s coup attempt in Turkey. The soldiers flew by helicopter to Greece the day after the failed coup and requested asylum. The officers may well be guilty—we take no stand on that issue. But there’s no doubt that they couldn’t possibly get a fair trial in increasingly authoritarian Turkey. Since the coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has purged thousands of judges, lawyers, teachers, soldiers, and civil servants, leaving only those he believes will slavishly follow his wishes. Extraditing the officers to such a system “would have damaged not only the standing of Greece’s judiciary but the very idea of justice.” The law is under attack throughout the West: British judges who recently ruled against a quick Brexit were called treasonous by critics, and “we can only imagine” how U.S. President Donald Trump will react to judicial rulings that go against him. Judges will “be on the front line in the battle between justice and chaos.” Greek judges have shown the way, by displaying “the independence and courage needed to fortify democracy.”
U.S. embassy relocation looms
President Trump is playing a dangerous game in the Middle East, said Alex Fishman. For nearly 70 years, the U.S. has held off recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, because the Palestinians also claim it as their capital, and any two-state solution will have to involve shared or international custody. But during the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to move the U.S.’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if elected—effectively recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s alone. His allies now say he intends to honor that pledge, no matter what the consequences. Hamas and fundamentalist Muslims among Israel’s Arabs are “looking for any chance to inflame the street,” and they would portray the embassy move as “the return of the Crusaders.” Jordan, which is in charge of the disputed Temple Mount area holy to both Jews and Muslims, would have no choice but to protest. And given that 10 percent of Jordan’s people support radical Islamist movements, its very regime could be threatened. The unrest could “stimulate the street in Egypt as well.” There is no peaceful outcome here. Yet the Israeli government, rather than discouraging Trump, “is doing everything in its power to make the embassy affair ignite a big fire.” With Trump’s help, we are “shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Are we for sale to the ultrarich?
The Dominion Post
New Zealand has given its most precious gift to the billionaire Peter Thiel, said The Dominion Post in an editorial. The PayPal co-founder and Trump supporter apparently became a citizen here in 2011, although most of us just found that out last week. How did he qualify? Our green and pleasant land attracts throngs of would-be immigrants, and New Zealand tends to be particularly selective. We require potential New Zealanders not only to possess particular skills but also “to show a real commitment to this country” by living here for five years. But the German-American Thiel, while he does own a mansion here, didn’t do that. Instead, he was admitted “under a special clause” that lets the immigration minister bestow citizenship on “any exceptional person.” The argument was that “as a rich investor and charitable donor, he would bring special benefits” to this land. So far, though, all he seems to have done with his status is buy up prime real estate on Lake Wanaka. That’s particularly troubling, since New Zealand’s main resource is its beautiful land. “This is a small country, and the billionaires of the world could buy and sell it many times over” were we to allow them unfettered access to our real estate market. “Our citizenship should not be simply for sale to the highest bidder.”