Reading the EU's official thoughts

BRITISH GAS is so concerned about European Union legislation that it has a whole department charged with monitoring developments out of Brussels. This group not only assesses the impact of European directives, but seeks to influence them ahead of implementation, writes Roger Trapp.

Helping it do so is Context, a company that produces databases on CD-ROM and on-line from the scores of press releases and other official material issued by the EU and the British Government daily.

The attractions of such a service to a large international company operating in a highly regulated industry are obvious. But directives and other initiatives arising in the Union can also have an important impact on much smaller companies. As the Context marketing director, Michelle Green, points out, even companies operating only in the UK have to comply. And with a quarterly updated CO-ROM available for as little as pounds 500 a year, the service could be regarded by all but the smallest organisations as good value when compared with the penalties for non-compliance.

Other potential users include trade associations, law firms and academics.

The greatest attraction is its immediacy. While traditional databases are often somewhat out of date, Context's Justis official press releases service is - as its name suggests - based on the latest press bulletins.

The user of the service can, through the background notes, find out all the details on such subjects as BSE or the trans-European gas network. It also directs users to sources of further information.

Context started about eight years ago as a supplier of on-line data. When it was taken over by a larger database company, Capscan, at the end of 1988, it started to grow. In addition to the on-line service, there are now 15 CD-ROM titles.

A key title is Justis, which combines two databases: Hermes, which contains the full text of most UK government department announcements; and Rapid, which covers documents from the EU, such as policy statements, speeches and summit communiques.

Users can move between online, which provides the latest information, and the more archival CD-ROM.

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