The diversity of Europe’s experience during COVID-19 set the agenda for discussions at the 2020 Europe Liberty Forum Online, as questions of authoritarian government, freedom of the press, and public health have created new context for action. More than 125 advocates of liberty signed on to Atlas Network’s Zoom platform to share ideas and talk about the ways they are responding to the challenges of the lockdown. With a digitally rendered pastoral scene behind her, Atlas Network Board Chair Linda Whetstone warmly welcomed attendees and reminded the group of the advances that technology and freedom have made possible.
Three Atlas Network partners spoke of the challenges and opportunities that the pandemic has presented in the respective countries. Zoltán Kész of Free Market Foundation in Hungary pointed out that in times of crisis, people tend to have more confidence in their leadership—a serious problem for limited government advocates, particularly when increased government intervention threatens critical freedoms. Kész also noted that since there has been no lockdown in Hungary, the private sector continues to operate, and some taxes have been lowered. Svetla Kostadinova of Bulgaria’s Institute for Market Economics was clear that the real challenge is overcoming the incompetence of government, but that there is hope in ensuring that local authorities can create new opportunities for digital education and increased deregulation. Finally, Alexander Skouras of KEFiM in Greece was pleased with the development of e-government, which facilitates the country’s antiquated bureaucracy, but with a complete stop to tourism, current projections show that Greece’s GDP will contract by at least 10 percent—on top of an ongoing recession that has sent GP plummeting more than 25 percent in the last ten years.
Alexander Skouras of KEFiM talks about the emergence of e-governance in Greece.
One of the benefits of the Zoom platform is the chance for participants to move into breakout sessions to continue the conversation and “engage and exchange” with each other in tandem with the conference theme. Following the initial presentation, breakout sessions were lively opportunities for friends to meet and share stories about the real-world consequences of the lockdown.
A new feature of the online conference was Powerful Pivots, which highlighted three organizations that are responding to the pandemic with outreach projects funded through Atlas Network’s new COVID-19 Partner Response Fund. Aneta Vainė of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute presented #Laissez-faire Lithuania, a multifaceted campaign to remove regulatory barriers that have prevented a flexible private-sector response to COVID-19 and to prevent the reinstitution of regulations that have been lifted during the pandemic. Free Market Foundation shared their plan for “Investigating Injustices,” which is designed to equip writers and aspiring writers in Hungary with the tools necessary conduct investigative journalism. Finally, Nataliya Melnyk of Bendukidze Free Market Center talked about their new video series, Liberty Matters, which makes the case that liberty is a facilitator, not an obstacle, to recovery from the crisis.
Foreign Editor of The Economist, Robert Guest outlines the global emergence of government abuses of power.
To close out the first day, Dr. Tom Palmer, Atlas Network’s executive vice president and George M. Yeager Chair for Advancing Liberty, introduced Robert Guest, foreign editor of The Economist, who outlined the global emergence of government abuses of power and urged advocates of liberty to act. “Let's not let the legacy of this pandemic not only be death but also an erosion of freedom,” he told the audience. A panel of partners, including Nataliya Macyra of the European Centre for International Political Economy, Adam Bartha of EPICENTER, Nikola Ilievski of North Macedonia’s LIBERTANIA: Center for Contemporary Politics, and two speakers from Turkey, İsrafil Özkan of Freedom Research Association and Nisa Bahçeli of 3H Movement & Tax Research Association, stepped in with predictions for the future and questions on supply chains, protectionism, and the rising threat of authoritarian leadership across Europe.
Nisa Bahçeli of Turkey delivers her predictions for the future of freedom in a post-pandemic world.
The final sessions of the 2020 Europe Liberty Forum Online, which include discussions on fundraising, populism, and the future of trade in Europe, will be held on Wednesday, May 13.