Europe Liberty Forum 2017 covers sophisticated messaging, authoritarian populism, land reform

ELF 2017

During Europe Liberty Forum 2017, 134 of Europe’s best and brightest – representing 34 countries – gathered to celebrate wins, share inspirational stories, and brainstorm how to continue to break down barriers to prosperity and opportunity in the region. Sponsored by Atlas Network with organizing host the Hungary-based Free Market Foundation the conference took place September 21-22 in Budapest. The setting of this year’s forum added heightened importance to the topics discussed because of Hungary’s historical and current struggle with protecting individual rights. Major sponsorship for the event was generously provided by the John Templeton Foundation, Smith Family Foundation, and Freda Utley Foundation.

Highlights of the event included the presentation of the Europe Liberty Award, the Europe Think Tank Shark Tank Competition, Crowdsource Liberty, a special address by MP Zoltán Kész, a keynote speech delivered by Leszek Balcerowicz, former chairman of the National Bank of Poland and deputy prime minister of Poland, and many opportunities to celebrate stories of impact and inspiration from around the region.

Europe Liberty Award
The winner of the 2017 Europe Liberty Award was Ukrainian Economic Freedoms Foundation (UEFF) for its work advancing land reform in Ukraine. The project’s aim is to repeal the national ban on selling agricultural land – affecting about 28 million hectares of arable land in Ukraine. It has made marked progress to achieve that aim as the Ukrainian Parliament has passed several UEFF-drafted laws relating to land reform, achieving what other, big-government programs could not.

Speaking of the importance of his organization’s work, Maryan Zablotskyy said, “UEFF will continue its fight to eliminate the ban to purchase and sell agricultural land, which is unjustly violating private property rights of 7 million people. We already made significant progress towards it by resolving key regulatory issues that are an obstacle for the land reform … A focus on concrete, albeit often relatively small reforms, is our chosen strategy for achieving large reforms. This has resulted in the adoption of 11 different law drafts that helped eliminate 29 different business permits, strengthen land property rights and improve tax administration. In all this, Atlas Network’s training and financial support have been instrumental.”

Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips presents UEFF Director Maryan Zablotskyy with the Europe Liberty Award for his organization’s success working toward land reform in Ukraine.

Europe Think Tank Shark Tank Competition
The much-anticipated Europe Think Tank Shark Tank competition took place on the final day of the conference. Petar Čekerevac of Libek won the competition for his pitch of the “Lighthouse Outlet” in Serbia project.

Petar Čekerevac of Serbia presents his winning Think Tank Shark Tank competition pitch of the “Lighthouse Outlet.”

“The Lighthouse Outlet will break through the status quo protecting media and show the way towards a society of prosperity, free of government controls of the economy and the dominance of the politicians,” said Čekerevac. “In the context of tabloid media, clickbait headlines, and poor journalism, the Lighthouse will serve a different view on politics, economy, and other topics of interest."

The runners-up were Ana Yerro (executive director, Institución Futuro, Spain) for her organization’s proposed educational video campaign aimed at teaching economics to young students in Spain, and Roxana Nicula (co-founder and chair of the board of trustees for Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad, Spain) for her organization’s proposed pension calculator app.

Open only to graduates of Atlas Network’s training program, Atlas Leadership Academy, three contestants were chosen for the Europe Think Tank Shark Tank competition in which they pitched their innovative projects before a panel of local and international judges for the chance to win $5,000 in project seed funding. The two runners-up will not be going home empty-handed, however. They will each be receiving $2,500 after an impromptu anonymous donation was given at the ceremony. A special thank you to our panel of expert judges: Linda Edwards, of the Institute of Economic Affairs; Terry Kibbe, of Free the People; Joanna Stefanska, of Rising Tide Foundation; and Linda Whetstone, of Atlas Network; and to Atlas Network's very own Brad Lips as moderator of the program. The Europe Think Tank Shark Tank Competition is generously sponsored by the Smith Family Foundation.

The three Europe Think Tank Shark Tank contestants (left to right): Roxana Nicula, Petar Čekerevac, and Ana Yerro.

Europe Think Tank Shark Tank Judges (left to right): Terry Kibbe, of Free the People; Linda Whetstone, of Atlas Network; Joanna Stefanska, of Rising Tide Foundation; and Linda Edwards, of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Major Speakers
Another conference highlight included a special address by Zoltán Kész, Member of Hungary’s Parliament, who spoke to Hungary’s apathetic past and present concerning its commitment to individual liberty, saying: “Welcome to Budapest, the beautiful European capital of European populism.” An Atlas Network TTMBA graduate, Kész examined the reasons behind populism’s success in Hungary, suggesting that the country’s “immune system” is not as sensitive to violations of individual liberties as other countries with historical legacies of totalitarian subjugation.

Co-Founder of the Free Market Foundation and Member of the Hungarian Parliament Zoltán Kész delivers an inspirational special address at Europe Liberty Forum.

“Populists can only be beaten locally,” continued Kész. “Populism’s opposite is responsibility. Populists are loud, and they never look for answers because they thrive on the problems.” Kész’s electoral victory in 2015 broke the Fidesz Party’s supermajority in the Hungarian Parliament, and his story brought inspiration to the forum’s proceedings. He concluded by noting the importance of international collaboration in advocating for freedom: “Globally we need cooperation in fighting populism … For the first time since the Cold War, we have [a] common cause.”

Leszek Balcerowicz, former chairman of the National Bank of Poland and deputy prime minister of Poland, delivered the keynote speech at the Europe Liberty Awards Dinner, speaking of the factors leading to and hindering economic liberalization. He also spoke of the importance of robust communication abilities to supplement hard policy, saying, “If you cannot be faster than [the other side], then don’t be surprised [when you lose].”

Leszek Balcerowicz delivers the keynote speech at the 2017 Europe Liberty Awards Dinner in Budapest.

Robust communication was a recurring theme throughout Europe Liberty Forum, and in another session titled: “Brain Science and the Economics of Emotion,” Daniel Anthony, Atlas Network, USA, and Glynn Brailsford, Institute of Economic Affairs, United Kingdom, shared five lessons from neuroscience and examples across several industries highlighting the need to tap into the emotions of think tank audiences, underscoring the importance of sophisticated messaging.

“It is nice to get your audiences to think,” said Anthony. “But what you really need to do is to get your audiences to feel something. You have to help them emotionally connect to your work.”

Daniel Anthony (left) of Atlas Network and Glynn Brailsford of the IEA in the United Kingdom after their session on Brain Science and the Economics of Emotion

Crowdsource Liberty
Ten recent graduates of Atlas Network’s regional think tank training were invited to present projects their organizations are working on to receive insight and feedback from attendees of Europe Liberty Forum.

Clemens Schneider of Germany presents his project,

Clemens Schneider, of Prometheus Institute, Germany, presented his organization’s initiative, which is an online platform seeking to correct misconceptions regarding free trade. Schneider was looking for feedback and potential partners to translate the site to other languages. “Free trade is one of the first issues classical liberalism approached,” said Schneider. “Richard Cobden and John Bright were among the first people to form a grass-roots movement. We should follow up on that legacy as libertarians. wants to give think tanks around the world an opportunity to advocate for this idea that fundamentally changed the world.”

Cécile Phillipe of France presents her project, the Tax Freedom Index.

Cécile Philippe, of Molinari Economic Institute (Institut Economique Molinari or IEM), France, spoke about her organization’s Tax Freedom Index: “With a renewed methodology making cross-border comparisons possible like an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison of tax rates, IEM’s index and report aims at pushing forward policy change. After successes both in Belgium and Austria, France might be next in the 2018 edition, as the current government is planning to decrease employee taxes. Our work encourages positive competition between countries so that we could see even more good outcomes in the top three: France, Belgium, and Austria.”

Tanja Porčnik, of the Visio Institute, Slovenia, workshopped her organization’s project, the Human Freedom Index. Speaking to the index’s importance, she said: “The Human Freedom Index presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom. The Human Freedom Index is a resource that can help to more objectively observe relationships between freedom and other social and economic phenomena, as well as the ways in which the various dimensions of freedom interact with one another.”

A Bright Horizon for European Liberty
"I have always been proud of this mission that we serve together, and I’m increasingly proud of the impact actually being had by our partners in Europe,” said Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips.

The end of Europe Liberty Forum 2017 provided much hope for the future with the surprise announcement that Universidad of Francisco Marroquín (UFM) will be opening up a second campus in Madrid in February 2018 and the official announcement that Europe Liberty Forum 2018 will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from May 29-30 and co-sponsored by Center for Political Studies (CEPOS).

UFM Rector Gabriel Calzada announces UFM’s expansion to Madrid.

“At a time when so many universities have abandoned their primary purpose, it's enormously encouraging that UFM is expanding like this,” said Lips. “European students will have their lives changed by UFM's rigorous entrepreneurial approach to learning.”

Announcing the 2018 Europe Liberty Forum, co-hosted with CEPOS in Copenhagen, Denmark, from May 29-30.

Check out the full album of conference and training photos on Facebook. And to see some of the social media conversation, check out hashtag #EuropeLF17 on Twitter and Instagram.