by MONITOR

IF we did not know it before, we certainly know it now – that France is a law unto itself. The individualistic line it takes in international affairs is sometimes valuable at a time that the world divides only too easily into hostile blocs; in the case of its initiatives on Iraq, France has ensured that the world has an alternative to the dogmatic approach of Britain and the United States. Sometimes, however, this determined individualism leads to questionable actions, for instance the invitation to President Mugabe of Zimbabwe to attend the recent African Summit in Paris. The reverse side of the coin of independence of mind is beginning to show rather too often, especially in respect of France's relations to the European Union. This week France has acknowledged that its budget deficit for 2002 exceeded the EU's stability and growth pact limit of three per cent of gross domestic product and is likely to do so again in 2003. The Prime Minister, Jean–Pierre Raffarin, made no apology when announcing this breach of one of the foundations of EU economic policy; indeed, he defiantly said that France would not pursue a policy of austerity. If other EU members take a similar line in such circumstances the edifice of the Union's economic discipline will collapse. The Commission in Brussels will be obliged to take action against France – but will Paris care?