EU cut and paste?
So the official English translation of the new draft EU treaty is now available for your perusal (PDF link). The weighty constitution died a death in 2005 when French and Dutch voters threw it out. The government says the new draft is inherently different from the old treaty. Therefore they don't, they say, as they promised for the consitution, need to hold a referendum to approve it. But the Conservatives contend much of it is the same - and that all that's happened is a cut and paste job.
Well much of the text is the same. For example, the old constitution (PDF link, again) in article 1-46 set out the principles of representative democracy. You'll find that word for word in the draft treaty in article 8a.
But what about some of the more contentious issues?
The former constitution would have created a European foreign minister. In the new document the name has been changed to the high representative - but in article 13a the job description appears exactly the same.
The Tories claim the text is so similar its substance is practically identical, and that 96% of the documents is a match.
William Hague tells me (for tonight's Ten O'Clock News) that he is determined not to let the government wriggle out offering a referendum on what he says is an almost identical document. It could be fertile political ground for the Conservatives - after all Gordon Brown said he wanted a more consultative government.
But is the substance of the two documents actually the same? The same sentence could have a very different meaning in a different book.
Ministers say all mention of a constitution, an anthem and a motto has been removed from the draft. They say what it does is update existing treaties so it can't considered the same. But it's hard to compare the two directly because the draft treaty is a work in progress, not a final complete document.
Europe Minister Jim Murphy tells us the Conservatives are completely wrong and that the entire constitutional approach has been abandoned. He says this is about reforming the EU to make it work better for the British population.
The old document may be gone but debate continues about whether its spirit lingers on in the draft. Negotiations aren't expected to produce a full final document until October at the earliest. Expect sceptics and europhiles to be battling it out until for months to come.