The Lib Dem Autumn Conference Agenda is unlikely to set many pulses racing but motion F35 caught our attention, as it concerns the party's EU policy. Assuming the motion put forward by the party's federal policy committee is approved by party delegates, as seems likely, it will become official party policy and will probably be included in the party's 2015 manifesto. This could prove significant in the event of another hung parliament and subsequent coalition talks with either the Tories or Labour.
The motion contains a number of detailed and specific points covering everything from the single market to the CAP and the EU budget, but two points are particularly significant:
"Guaranteeing full voice in the regulation and application of the four freedoms – of goods, capital, labour and services – of the single market for both euro and non-euro states in the next EU treaty."
"Requiring that when the EU Act triggers a referendum for the first time, there should be an ‘In or Out’ referendum in which citizens across the UK can have their say on the new Treaty settlement and our relationship with the EU as a whole."So we have a commitment to push for single market safeguards in any future Treaty negotiations, which is in itself a recognition that the EU is developing in such a way that necessitates different degrees of integration, and that the UK has to assert its interests in order to prevent the eurozone from writing the rules for the whole bloc (the double majority agreement on banking supervision could serve as a model here). For a party that until relatively recently supported the UK joining the euro this is a significant shift.
The referendum commitment is less of a surprise as Clegg and others have been hinting that an in/out referendum would be a matter of when, not if. The big difference between the two coalition parties when it comes to the referendum is therefore one of timing, with the Lib Dems rejecting the Tories' promise of a referendum by 2017 as arbitrary. However, the chance of there being an EU Treaty change transferring more powers from the UK during the lifetime of the next Parliament is very slim. There might be Treaty change but likely for Eurozone-specific measures (which still can have an impact on the UK by changing political dynamics in Europe but which would not trigger the EU Act).
On the face of it though, this would leave Labour as the only major party not explicitly committed to an in/out referendum at some point (although some would argue that the Lib Dems have promised a referendum before and not delivered).
Finally, it is also welcome to see the party explicitly call for "measures to enable national parliaments to contribute more directly to the development of EU policy and legislation", even if the policy document stops short of the 'red card' option outlined by Open Europe and endorsed recently by William Hague.