As all parents of rebellious teenagers know, when the house-rules are being seriously challenged, it is time either to enforce them firmly, or to change them - fast. The guardians of the EU stability pact are faced with a similar dilemma. And they are at risk of losing their grip.

This week has seen further evidence that member states are not keeping to the rules on balanced budgets. Deficits continued to worsen in 2003, the Commission's latest assessment reveals. And chief offenders include some of the older children - Germany and France, with Italy giving further cause for concern.

As if growing misbehaviour among the established family members was not enough, the new figures show that six of the ten newcomers are also running excessive deficits.

And even if the new boys are not yet subject to the same strict expectations as the EU15, they will be soon. Worse, the only well-behaved newcomers are among the smallest new members, so discipline is going to be needed with their bigger siblings.

So the EU is faced with rampant disobedience. And, clearly, its attempts so far to lay down the law have failed.

Prudently, the EU has therefore recognised that it cannot hold the line indefinitely with rules that are so disregarded...

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