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One has to feel rather sorry for ministers

Posted by Helen Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Their task is to keep telling everyone that the EU is a wonderful institution and the new Constitution is a simply wonderful document, though, of course, it is not really terribly important, since all it does is to tidy up a few outstanding points (in well over 130 pages) but, on the other hand, unimportant though it is, if the people of Britain vote against it, there will be the most terrible consequences. Clear so far?

It gets worse. For they have to do all that, while obviously having not the slightest idea of what is actually in that document.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton (the historian Hugh Thomas), not a eurosceptic, asked a perfectly helpful question in the House on Monday:

Whether they [the Government] will commission a revised version of the draft European constitution in plain English.
A very good question but the fact is that the Government can do no such thing as the agreed text of the Constitution has to be translated into all the languages, then compared and agreed on. Lord Thomas’s understandable disdain for what comes out of all that is irrelevant to the process that is going on and it is astonishing that a notable historian cannot understand this.

Baroness Symons replied that “a short and clear” guide to the Constitutional Treaty was being produced by the Foreign Office as promised by the Prime Minister. That is not quite the same thing, as the good baroness knows. Also, if previous “guides” are anything to go by, it may be short but it will not be particularly clear..

The Foreign Office is also, apparently going to publish a wide range of material that will include “a comprehensive analysis and comparison of the existing treaties and the new Constitutional Treaty.” Quite a good thing really, since then all our minister and politicians might understand what is in that treaty. Whether it is going to be as good as the one that will be published by the British Management Data Foundation, who have consistently produced clear, comprehensible and easy to read texts cum guides cum analysis for each treaty, remains to be seen.

Click here to read the full debate.

Elsewhere, Lord Pearson of Rannoch put down two written questions, asking for lists of countries with which the European Union has free trade agreements and those with whom these agreements are being negotiated. It seems there are quite a few of them, but the EU would not be the EU if it just had free trade agreements.

Instead, it signs so many different categories of agreements with so many different rules and regulations that it is a wonder anybody ever remembers whether they have a free trade agreement, an association agreement or a stabilizationa and association agreement.

Click here to read the full list.