Monday, December 06, 2004

And so to the constitution

In what was a busy day yesterday – day jobs know no frontiers – there was scare time to complete the usual review of the Booker column and especially the lead story about how the EU constitution has come to be published in the Cotswolds

It really is quite remarkable that, when Tony Blair and his fellow heads of government met in Rome on October 30 to sign the supposedly finished constitution, they cannot have been putting their names to the document itself. If it had have existed, we would have seen the fully finished version in print, by now – and we haven’t.

For sure, the electronic version can be downloaded, in segments, from the EU commission website, but this does not have the look of a finished, publishable document. Only today will that be available, set out in full in a single document. And that is thanks to an independent publishing venture run by an 89-year-old former brigadier from a small office in the Cotswolds.

The production is thanks to a remarkable feat of detailed research by the British Management Data Foundation, run by Brig Anthony Cowgill and his son Andrew, a 47-year-old tax expert.

Producing versions of EU treaties has become something of a family tradition for this team, ever since, twelve years ago, Brig Cowgill was shocked to learn that Parliament was being asked to approve the Maastricht Treaty before the full text of what John Major had agreed to was made available for MPs to read in any form they could understand.

The late Sir Keith Joseph circulated 1,500 copies of the BMDF's "consolidated" version of the treaty to politicians, showing the Maastricht amendments in context.

In coming months, as the constitution moves to the top of the political agenda, with a referendum likely early in 2006, the BMDF's definitive version of the constitution's text, with a wealth of explanatory material, is certain to be widely cited.

For politicians, the media and anyone concerned with the implications of the constitution for the future of Britain and Europe, it will become the single most authoritative, user-friendly version of a document at the centre of national debate.

The BMDF has consolidated the EU's 844 separate web-pages in just 270 printed ones, showing all 448 articles of the constitution (that of the USA contains only 26). It also adds supporting documents, invaluable analysis and a proper index (copies of The European Constitution in Perspective can be ordered on 01452 812837 at £27.50).

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