Christopher Booker's Notebook
When Tony Blair and his fellow heads of government met in Rome on October 30 to sign the new EU constitution, they were not putting their names to the document itself because it still didn't exist. Only tomorrow will anyone be able to read the text of the constitution set out in full in a single document – thanks to an independent publishing venture run by an 89-year-old former brigadier from a small office in the Cotswolds.
There have been so many amendments to the constitutional draft agreed last summer that the EU itself will not be publishing a complete text until early next year. At the moment it still consists of 844 pages scattered across its websites. But 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, it will be possible, at last, for members of the public to read precisely what the EU's politicians have agreed to in their name, to see what is new in it, and its wide-ranging implications.
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 is a tiny organisation, financed by more than 20 of Britain's leading companies, set up to liaise at top level between government and big business and to compile information necessary for understanding issues related to Britain's competitiveness.
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.
Since then the BMDF's updated versions of the Amsterdam and Nice treaties have won semi-official status and are looked on as indispensable by ministers, civil servants, lawyers and the business world. Baroness Thatcher once had to order a new copy of a BMDF edition of a treaty because she had given hers to Henry Kissinger.
Those who pay tribute to the BMDF's work on the cover of The European Constitution in Perspective range from Sir Stephen Wall, the committed Europhile who until recently was Mr Blair's chief adviser on EU affairs, to Lord Willoughby de Broke, one of the most respected Eurosceptics in the House of Lords.
A measure of the BMDF's achievement is that, in the months before the constitution was signed, no fewer than 87 new amendments and discussion papers were issued - in such bewildering succession that, when Mr Blair and his colleagues came to affix their names, there had been no time to assemble a complete text. 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).
Buried in the European Commission's 354-page annual report on "Competitiveness" last week was an astonishing admission. If the EU could reduce its "regulatory burden" to the American level, the report claimed, it could raise its gross domestic product by 12 per cent.
The combined GDP of the EU's 25 members is £5,000 billion, so what the Commission is saying is that the annual cost to business of all the EU's 101,812 directives and regulations is £600 billion - of which Britain's share equates to £100 billion.
It is 12 years since I began reporting regularly here on the impact on Britain's businesses of the explosion of regulation taking place at that time. I did so partly because I could see that this amounted to a mutation in the nature of our government, which we in the media were somehow not noticing; and partly because the costs and consequences of this new form of state intervention - allowing unaccountable officials to produce a deluge of new laws that were in effect outside political control - seemed unfathomable.
The way our politics are now covered by the media conjures up the image of a theatre. On the stage, hypnotically watched by the commentators, unfolds a kind of continually entertaining soap-opera, centred on the antics of Messrs Blair, Brown, Blunkett, Boris and Co. Just occasionally, someone like me pops his head through the door to ask: "Don't you realise that the real business of government these days is taking place outside the theatre, and none of you are noticing it?"
Now that even the European Commission is admitting that this is responsible in a negative fashion for no less than 12 per cent of the entire economic activity of our country and the EU as a whole, perhaps a few more of the audience will nip outside that brightly-lit theatre to see what is going on.
The Commons Transport Committee, chaired by Gwyneth Dunwoody, has just published a highly critical report on Galileo, the EU's planned rival system to the American GPS (global positioning satellite) system. The MPs could not see how Galileo could be cost-effective. This was because they had fallen for Government spin that Galileo is to be used only for civil purposes, such as running air traffic control and congestion charging on Europe's roads.
What they missed is that a large part of Galileo's purpose is to set up the EU as a rival military space power to the USA. Modern warfare is increasingly dependent on satellite technology, and
Galileo would enable its sponsors to sell defence equipment around the world. This is why China has already bought a 20 per cent share in the project, which would also make her independent of the American GPS in time of war. Other countries which have discussed participating include India, Russia and Israel.
None of this is a secret except, it seems, to Mrs Dunwoody and her MPs (who had clearly not read the EU's white paper on space published last summer). The Galileo story has been extensively documented by political analysts, such as Dr Richard North (on the web at www.eureferendum. blogspot.com).
Now, as EU transport ministers prepare to meet next Thursday to discuss the next steps in establishing the EU space programme (which technically they are not authorised to do until the constitution is ratified), there has been a last-minute twist to the tale. It was reported last week that the Indian government, wary of EU intentions, is discussing with Russia the possibility of reviving the decayed Soviet satellite system, Glonass.
If India, Russia and possibly also China decide to go with their own rival system, those MPs might be proved right after all. The finances of Galileo could suddenly start to look very shaky.
Two weeks ago, on November 22, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs finally managed to launch its National Fallen Stock Scheme.
Since May 2003, under the EU's Animal By-Products Regulation, it has been a criminal offence for farmers to bury dead livestock on their land. Until now it has been impossible for farmers to comply with the new law because Defra had no system in place whereby their dead cows, lambs and chickens could be taken away for disposal. Even now, Defra admits, the only way that its hopelessly ramshackle system can work at all is by relying on the full co-operation of all the premises registered to assist in disposing of dead stock.
Fifty per cent of these registered premises, as you may have guessed, are hunt kennels. If these are forced to close when hunting becomes illegal in February, Defra's system will collapse. This is what they call joined-up government.