Europe Liberty Forum 2018 examines Scandinavian liberalism and European populism

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Europe Liberty Forum 2018, presented by Atlas Network with local co-host the Center for Political Studies (CEPOS) and held in Copenhagen, Denmark, brought more than 150 think tank professionals from 35 countries across the region to discuss recent successes they’ve had and current challenges facing the continent. The conference examined Scandinavian liberalism, the continued trend to populism on the political left and right on the continent, and how collaboration amongst think tanks in the United States and Europe has strengthened the work of organizations working to advance free societies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are some of the highlights:

Cornerstone Talks

A series of Cornerstone Talks followed the opening remarks by Atlas Network Board Chair Linda Whetstone and CEPOS Board Chair Bjørn Høi Jensen. The speakers were Martin Ågerup (CEPOS, Denmark) on “Inequality and Income Mobility;” Brad Lips (Atlas Network, USA) on “Doing Development Differently;” Natalia Macyra (ECIPE, Belgium) on “The Moral Imperative of Free Trade;” Flemming Rose (Cato Institute, Denmark) on “Freedom of Speech and its Illiberal Enemies;” Nils Karlson (The Ratio Institute, Sweden) on “Statecraft and Liberal Reform in Advanced Democracies.”

Transatlantic Exchange: European and U.S. CEOs Talk Shop

Following the Cornerstone Talks was a lunch program where Atlas Network COO Matt Warner interviewed a selection of think tank CEOs from both sides of the pond to get their insights on current events, think tank innovations, and the power of networking. A common thread of conversation that the CEOs touched on was the collaboration they’ve undergone as a result of Atlas Network connecting them.

Martin Ågerup (CEPOS, Denmark) speaks at the Transatlantic Exchange: European and U.S. CEOs Talk Shop session.

Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs, United Kingdom), spoke to how the IEA has become more flexible in its work in a fast-changing environment: "When you see this window of opportunity made open by chaos, seize it."

Crowdsource Liberty

Twelve participants of Atlas Network’s Leadership Academy presented projects their organizations are working on to receive insight and feedback from think tank leaders from across the region in the Crowdsource Liberty session.

Juan Pina, secretary-general of Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad (Spain), discusses his project during Crowdsource Liberty.

2018 Europe Liberty Award

Lipa - Croatian Taxpayers Association won the 2018 Europe Liberty Award for its successful campaign against the introduction of property taxes in Croatia. Lipa’s campaign against the introduction of property taxes in Croatia – which already has one of the highest tax burdens in the EU – gathered over 145,000 signatures on a petition against the proposed taxes.

"The training from Atlas Network sharpened our strategic thinking," said Davor Huić, president of Lipa. "Without this training we wouldn't have made such efficient use of our scarce resources ... We managed to stop the tax, but we also managed to change the way Croatians think about taxation."

Davor Huić accepts the 2018 Europe Liberty Award from Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips.

Lipa’s campaign successfully combined grassroots activism, research, and public education, and it considers the successful delay of the introduction of property taxes one of the most significant victories of Croatian civil society in the history of its democracy.

The other finalists for the 2018 Europe Liberty Award were Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad (Fundalib, Spain), for its Regional Tax Competitiveness Index; and Ukrainian Economics Freedom Foundation (UEFF, Ukraine), for its tax reform project.

From left to right: Roxana Nicula, of Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad; Davor Huić, of Lipa - Croatian Taxpayers Association; Brad Lips, of Atlas Network; and Maryan Zablotskyy, of Ukrainian Economic Freedoms Foundation.

Keynote Speaker: Robert Guest

The keynote speaker of the Europe Liberty Awards Dinner was Robert Guest, foreign editor of The Economist, whose speech, “Freedom, Besieged,” touched on authoritarian consolidations of power and the undermining of institutions in countries like Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela.

"Once you undermine all these institutions, you can go for 'the big bang' and go after the legislature, like what just happened in Venezuela," said Guest. “...Fear works, and the people who are using it know that.”

Robert Guest, foreign editor of The Economist, delivers the keynote speech at Europe Liberty Forum 2018.

Guest has reported from more than 80 countries and has won numerous awards. He is the author of The Shackled Continent, a book that explains how more liberty would help Africa prosper, and Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism, which argues in favor of the positive effects that migration brings.

“What can we do to resist the rising authoritarianism?” Guest continued. “It's very simple. Resist it - at every stage. Call them out and resist it. It is much easier to resist it in the early stages than the late ones."

Plenary Session: The State of European Liberalism

Dr. Tom Palmer, Atlas Network’s executive vice president of international programs and George M. Yeager chair to advance liberty, led a discussion on the opportunities and threats in different countries such as Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the Nordic countries, what think tanks are working to confront those threats, and areas where they must get better.

Zoltán Kész (Free Market Foundation, Hungary), Dr. Barbara Kolm (Austrian Economics Center, Austria), Hannes Gissurarson (University of Iceland, Iceland), and Clemens Schneider (Prometheus Institute, Germany) all spoke to illiberal trends on the continent.

“The political divide is increasingly not between left and right but between open and closed,” said Schneider. “...The left and the right are both feeding off of fear. It is their nutrition...It is amazing that the world is doing better than ever before and yet we are fearful of so many things."

Breakout Sessions

One major theme of the conference in Denmark was the Scandinavian region’s unique strand of liberalism. While the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are often pointed to as success stories of socialism, several think tank leaders from the region dispelled common misconceptions promulgated by advocates of social democracy who use the region as a sterling example.

"[Sweden may demonstrate that] socialism can work if it is embedded within a very liberal setting, but liberalism without socialism would be much better,” said Karin Svanborg-Sjövall (Timbro, Sweden), during her presentation titled “A ‘Hayekian Welfare State?’” during the Future of Scandinavian Liberalism panel.

Karin Svanborg-Sjövall (Timbro, Sweden) delivering her “A ‘Hayekian Welfare State?’” presentation during the Future of Scandinavian Liberalism panel at Europe Liberty Forum 2018.

Many speakers from Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland spoke to the factors that exist in their countries that have enabled the social democratic systems present in their countries, mentioning how culture, history, free markets, and more have set the foundation on which the welfare states of the region rest.

“Liberalism is so strong in the Nordic countries that it can survive even social democracy,” said Gissurarson, speaking to how deep the tradition of classical liberal ideas runs in the shared culture of the region.

Diego Sánchez de la Cruz (Foro Regulación Inteligente, Spain) and Maria Blanco (Universidad CEU-San Pablo, Spain) were featured in a panel on populism and separatism - moderated by Nils Karlson (The Ratio Institute, Sweden) - in which they discussed alternative viewpoints to the secessionist movement in Catalonia.

"There's been a big reaction against this top-down collectivist, socialist secession attempt [in Catalonia] … there were major demonstrations in the streets of Barcelona against this,” said de la Cruz.

"I think that the only thing the Catalan secessionists needed to succeed was official recognition from Europe, as happened with Kosovo," said Blanco.

"Populism affects even the Nordic countries, which are often [considered to be quite stable]." said Otto Brøns-Petersen (CEPOS, Denmark) on a separate panel.

Think Tank Shark Tank - Europe

The winner of the 2018 Think Tank Shark Tank - Europe competition was Ratko Nikolić – president of the Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies (CAAS, Serbia) – for his organization’s proposed Selfie Citizen Journalism project to train and develop 20 citizen journalists to report on corruption, cronyism, and civil liberties infringement. These journalists, trained in ethics and classical liberalism, will provide an alternative to the current distrust in the mainstream media in Serbia that has been further exacerbated by the tight government media control and crackdowns on independent journalists.

Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips, CAAS President Ratko Nikolić, Free the People CEO and master of ceremonies of Think Tank Shark Tank - Europe, Terry Kibbe.

“Harnessing the wave of democratization and decentralization of video content creation ability brought by the omnipresent smartphones, CAAS is aiming to provide a libertarian alternative to the censored and corrupt mainstream media in Serbia,” said Nikolić.

The other Europe Think Tank Shark Tank finalists were Admir Cavalić (founding director, Association “Multi”) for his “Libertarian Municipality” project to transform a community in Bosnia into an example that Libertarianism works by implementing specific reforms at the local level, and Maryan Zablotskyy (director, Ukranian Economic Freedoms Foundation) for his ‘De-Occupy Europe! Project’ to create an alliance of libertarian organizations in Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova through an online platform to coordinate a response to the issue of 7 million people living under Russian occupation.

From left to right: Admir Čavalić (Multi, Bosnia and Herzegovina), Ratko Nikolić (Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies, Serbia), and Maryan Zablotskyy (Ukrainian Economic Freedoms Foundation, Ukraine).

Europe Liberty Forum 2019

Europe Liberty Forum 2019 will be held in Athens, Greece from May 8-9, 2019, with local co-host KEFiM.