G7 Meeting in Munich: A former Cartesian discourses on method

GOETHE wrote on his deathbed: 'Uber allen Gipfeln ist Ruhe.' When the poet made his assertion that 'over all summits is peace', he could not have dreamt of the kind of Gipfel that would one day be held in his native Germany - he was referring to the mountaintops he could see from his bedroom window.

But the phrase did spring to mind yesterday when a very serene President Mitterrand gave his end-of-summit press conference. The 75-year-old president, the doyen of this and most other summits, used the occasion to savour his new role as the grand champion of the Bosnian people. As he continued to goad Britain over its go-slow attitude on the Yugoslav crisis, he defended for the first time his decision to make a lightning visit to Sarajevo last month without consulting his European partners.

'There may have been one or two in the European Community who complained. And I say to them: 'What about the principle of subsidiarity?' ' said the President, tongue firmly in cheek.

'I had no intention of negotiating when I went there. So I went to spend a Sunday in Sarajevo. I don't see why I should seek permission from the Twelve, the Commission, the European Parliament or anyone else as to where I spend the weekend.'

Mr Mitterrand defied snipers and shells when he flew on a symbolic visit to Sarajevo immediately after the EC summit in Lisbon last month. He was privately criticised for breaking EC ranks by launching a solo initiative.

The following week, Britain assumed the EC presidency. Its first act was to acclaim subsidiarity - the principle whereby national governments should, wherever possible, retain the right to make decisions without deferring to the Community.

The French leader, whose arrival at functions is always preceded by that of his Swiss physician armed with two black suitcases containing medical equipment, looks after his political health no less assiduously.

He has been surrounded by a host of female image-makers since his popularity started dropping in the ratings, and always manages to make his press conferences an event. When asked by a journalist from Haiti what France could do to improve the situation on the island, Mr Mitterrand quipped: 'Hang on a minute. I am not a maniac about military intervention, after all.'

The President, who yesterday completed his 12th successive G7 summit, went on defend his move to take Yugoslavia to the top of the G7 agenda.

He was asked if the topic really belonged in what was essentially an economic forum where some others, for instance Britain, would prefer to keep the question in the background. The response was well worthy of the Grand Old Man: 'It is surprising to see so many of my partners suddenly become so Cartesian, when I was just beginning to cease to be so.'