The Sketch: Sucked into the swirling vapours of the EU debate

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As we're on the lip of the vortex going round the European constitution I thought I'd bring you news from the swirling column of gas and water vapour at the centre of the whirlpool.

As we're on the lip of the vortex going round the European constitution I thought I'd bring you news from the swirling column of gas and water vapour at the centre of the whirlpool.

The place: Committee Room 14. The body: European Standing Committee B. The purpose: To discuss, to examine or otherwise to debate "the unnumbered explanatory memorandum dated 26th May 2004 submitted by the Ministry of Defence relating to establishing a European Defence Agency".

An unnumbered memorandum! What devilment was this! What a bureaucratic obscenity to spit in the face of our cultivated Eurocratic colleagues! The high language of this Brahminical caste of administrators is, as you would hope, more obscure than an early Etruscan dialect. It's so flat it makes Linear B look circular. Let's apply a simple test to see whether you're worth talking to about these things or whether I'm wasting my time.

Question: Is the speedy elaboration of the Helsinki headline goals, a) essential to the propagation of a transparent framework to combat the operational fragmentation of defence procurement by identifying shortfalls and defining targets on a capability focussed basis? Or b) vital to the fragmentation of a propagated framework which procures defencement by operating shortfalls and targets definitions on a basis capability focus? Or c) something to do with Wayne Rooney?

It's easy to mock you may think (and that's another mistake, incidentally) but those of us who attended in a spirit of mockery were disappointed. The meeting was spoilt by moments when it sank to being really quite interesting. Geoff Hoon was there, for instance (I haven't lost you already?). Nicholas Soames was there too. There was one other opposition spokesman too, whose name escapes me.

Two Tories constitute a record. The Opposition famously doesn't turn up to European Standing Committee B. There is only ever one, to make the meeting quorate. We can't get indignant because it's one more than the presence in the press box.

Mr Soames' view was that this European Defence Agency is the embryonic form of an EU defence ministry. Mr Hoon said this bore no connection with reality. That may be true but then suggesting that a European coal and steel agreement was an embryonic form of a 450-million-person political union would have borne no relation to reality either in 1956.

But what of the scrutiny? Cunning David Cairns noticed a change in language. Where before there had been provision for the agency members to veto proposals in their national interest, now such opposition would be referred up to the Council of Ministers, and guidelines would be issued downwards.

Tomorrow is debate on the terms and conditions for the EU Secretariat. We had better get a good night's sleep to cope with the excitement.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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