International Papers

Free Willy

The Financial Times of London, which never tires of publishing judicious editorials about Flytrap, drew its conclusions about the impeachment trial Wednesday. While the trial was “technically legal,” it had failed the crucial test set by the founding fathers that such a process must inspire public confidence. This is because the vehemence with which Kenneth Starr pursued the president is now “seen by many as an unacceptable constraint on executive power.” The obvious lesson was that the independent counsel law should be “redesigned” when it comes up for review by Congress at the end of June so that the choice of counsel “be made in a way both independent of party politics and yet seen to be democratic.” The FT said, “Selection by a panel appointed by the judiciary would be an option.”

Another lesson of the impeachment was that the “limit to partisanship” implied by the U.S. Constitution was breached in this case when “the House of Representatives sent Mr. Clinton to trial in the Senate at the same time as some of its members suggested that censure, rather than impeachment, was the aim. … It is incumbent on the House to recognise that an impeachment trial should be a way of protecting the office of president, not punishing the man.” The paper added, “Mr. Clinton has certainly been shamed by the process. But the ultimate victims could be the pursuers, not the pursued. That surely was not the founding fathers’ aim.” An op-ed article in the Times of London by its Washington correspondent Bronwen Maddox said Wednesday that the waste and misery generated by Flytrap left “a sour taste,” but it may have prompted “a neat political reversal, helping to put Democrats back in control of the House of Representatives–and a Republican in the White House.”

In the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the most determined anti-Clinton journalist in Britain, said in an op-ed that it was “time to admit defeat.” He blamed the Republicans for letting the president “off the hook” by the “bêtise” of indicting him on Monica Lewinsky charges instead of on “the politicisation of the Justice Department and the FBI that forms the core scandal pervading the abuses of this administration.” He concluded, “So the man caught red-handed in perjury, obstruction of justice and ungallantly smearing his lover as a demented stalker is hailed as the winner. The world knows that he is guilty, but he is the one enjoying a victory cigar. What a way to end the 20th century.”

The stories dominating the European press Wednesday were: in France, the opening of the manslaughter trial of three prominent French politicians for the state’s distribution of HIV-tainted blood; in Germany, the Christian Democrat Party’s sweep to power in the state of Hesse using an anti-immigrant election strategy; in Italy, the government’s decision to regularize some 250,000 illegal immigrants from outside the European Union; and in Britain, no particular story, though the Daily Telegraph led its front page with the opening of the country’s first ever war crimes trial–that of Anthony Sawoniuk, a 77-year-old former Belorussian accused of leading “search and kill” squads to hunt down Jews who had escaped a massacre during the Nazi wartime occupation of Belarus.

In France, the Paris daily Libération broke ranks by splashing the Italian concession to immigrants on its front page under the headline “Italian Daring.” It pointed out that the French government, over a period of 18 months, had given permission for only 80,000 illegal immigrants to stay in the country. Corriere della Sera of Milan, in a front-page editorial, compared favorably the German government’s well-prepared and well-argued proposal (although rejected by the voters of Hesse) to grant German citizenship to more than half its 7 million resident foreigners with the Italian government’s sudden immigration decree which, it said, could generate xenophobia and racism. “Such a crucial problem as immigration can only be confronted in a spirit of bipartisanship, in which the government and the opposition undertake not to treat it as an ideological question or to use it as a political weapon,” Corriere said. But La Repubblica of Rome, a paper of center-left persuasion like Italy’s coalition government, praised the “open-door policy” as being beneficial to a country with a declining birth rate and an aging population.

La Repubblica also prominently reported that, following the collapse of negotiations for a joint venture with Italian Telecom, Rupert Murdoch has decided to pull out of Italy, which he had intended to be the base for his planned expansion into digital television across Europe. Instead, he made a “Yalta Agreement” with the French company Canal Plus to divide European pay-television between them. In an editorial, La Repubblica said Murdoch blamed Italian antitrust legislation for his departure, but in reality he was alarmed by Canal Plus’ acquisition of a 17 percent stake in his highly profitable British TV company, Sky.

The position of British poet laureate, made vacant last year by the death of Ted Hughes, has still not been filled but, as the Daily Telegraph of London reported Wednesday, Tony Harrison, one of the leading contenders, excluded himself as a candidate with a poem published this week:

I’d sooner be a free man with no butts.
Free not to have to puff some prince’s wedding,
Free to say up yours to Tony Blair,
To write an ode on Charles I’s beheading
And regret the restoration of his heir.