Free Societies

Gearing up for a post-covid world: Day 2 of Europe Liberty Forum Online!

Elena Leontjeva discusses the opportunities the crisis has brought in reaching out to new and prospective supporters of pro-market think tanks.

On the second day of Atlas Network’s 2020 Europe Liberty Forum Online, a full complement of speakers looked to the post-pandemic challenges of nationalism, growing government control, and building an audience of liberty champions who can attract new interest in prosperity and freedom. The four panels were capped by a keynote presentation featuring Johan Norberg, whose books and documentaries on entrepreneurship, markets, and economic history have been enjoyed by millions around the world; and the presentation of the 2020 Europe Liberty Award, which went to Spain’s Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad for their work to create economic reform at the municipal level.

In Spain, Roxana Nicula of Fundalib has found that listening to how donors are confronting their own issues can help as the Fundalib team looks for new opportunities to build support.

The current economic climate means that fundraising has become an even greater challenge for organizations, particularly in countries that do not have an established culture of philanthropy. Additionally, fundraisers around the world are finding conditions especially challenging as authoritarian governments prevent the free exchange of ideas. Atlas Network’s Dr. Tom Palmer, who has devoted his life to fighting oppressive government, pointed out that respecting the anonymity of supporters can be an important strategy in ensuring the safety of freedom fighters all over the world. Atlas Network’s Chad Goote emphasized that the freedom movement must plan for liberty in the long term, and that nurturing strong relationships is critical to ensuring the continued success of think tanks and other civil society organizations. Elena Leontjeva, who recently returned as CEO to the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, told the audience that although her donors are concerned that the COVID-19 crisis represents the end of liberty, she sees this as an opportunity to reinforce—and even expand—LFMI’s outreach around free markets and limited government. In Spain, Roxana Nicula of Fundalib has found that listening to how donors are confronting their own issues can help as the Fundalib team looks for new opportunities to build support.

Marketing online content was the focus of the second concurrent panel, with experienced media strategists lending their expertise in building a strong brand and generating memorable content that helps them stand out. Atlas Network’s Dr. Patricia Hohlbein moderated the discussion, with Petar Čekerevac of Libek in Serbia, Ratko Nikolić of the Center for Anti- Authoritarian Studies in Serbia, and Thomas Palermo of the French online journal Contrepoints chiming in on critical opportunities to reach new audiences. As all three speakers pointed out, digital fatigue can be debilitating as people find themselves in lockdown with few external opportunities for news and entertainment. For all three panelists, their work has been largely in the digital space, so pivoting to meet the evolving needs of their audience has been relatively easy. Čekerevac noted that the lockdown has given Libek and their online publication Talas the space to target niche audiences and consider promotional strategies. The audience raised questions about relationship building, analytics, and the problems of censorship, but the panel saw the latter as a challenge to educate audiences by tailoring messages in ways that do not arouse the ire of authorities. Palermo stressed the importance of honesty in messaging—transparency is just as important for content producers as it is for government.

"Openness needs to be based on liberal values....I hope the window of opportunity created after this crisis will allow us to pursue the project of a single market in Europe," said Ivan Mikloš during the Future of Trade and Travel in Europe.

The final two panels, “The Future of Trade and Travel in Europe” and “Populism and Crisis” both addressed troubling socioeconomic trends that have emerged as governments around Europe have sought to control the pandemic’s spread. Atlas Network’s Matt Warner led the trade panel, which featured Matthias Bauer of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Belgium, Oksana Kuziakiv of Ukraine’s Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, and Ivan Mikloš of MESA10 in Slovakia—one of the few countries recognized internationally for quick and largely successful action in flattening the curve beginning in March. The panel was concerned about the growing prevalence of trade restrictions and the proven negative repercussions of economic isolation, particularly during a recession. With so many seasonal laborers leaving Ukraine annually in search of work, Kuziakiv discussed how increased border control will present problems for the country and its relationship to the European Union, its largest trading partner. Bauer was optimistic that the crisis will prove the benefits of markets to skeptics, pointing out that private companies are solving critical problems, such as making and selling personal protective equipment. Additionally, tax cuts and the removal of regulatory burdens will be useful tools in boosting economic growth.

The issue of populism is closely related to the exercise of free trade, and the Populism and Crisis panel, moderated by Nils Karlson of Sweden’s Ratio Institute, was clear that the rise of authoritarian governments can only have negative consequences for prosperity and freedom. Marek Tatala of Poland’s Civil Development Forum and Péter Krekó laid out bleak descriptions of the normalization of right-wing nationalism in Poland and Hungary and the alarming acceleration of government power that the pandemic has unleashed. Tatala pointed out that although a state of emergency plan does exist for Poland, the ruling party has refused to declare one because of the restrictions it establishes on the exercise of powers, and many Poles are calling for closed borders, which will have strong implications for the country’s workforce. From Norway, Civita’s Lars Peder Nordbakken asserted that globalization has made countries much more resilient in dealing with a global pandemic, and that—as noted in the concurrent panel—markets and competition will play a key role in recovery, including developing a vaccine that brings some closure to this crisis. Still, advocates of liberty must remain a strong voice in support of the free movement of goods, services, and people.

A special video announcement honored the three finalists for this year's Europe Liberty Award. Center for Liberal Studies in Greece, Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies in Serbia, and the Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad in Spain. Fundalib was announced as the winner for their index measuring the economic freedom of Spain's cities.

World-renowned author and historian Johan Norberg shares a hearthfelt message to close out #EuropeLF20 Online.

In his keynote message, world-renowned author and historian Johan Norberg shared a heartfelt message of perseverance and resilience for the European freedom movement in the face of expanded governmental authority. Norberg posited that the ongoing global pandemic is the perfect simulation for the world that Greta Thunberg and others propose—the total shutdown of international travel, capitalism upended, economic depression rampant, and skyrocketing unemployment. “It is far different from what the online ads have promised us,” Norberg said, “and I for one do not want to live in this situation permanently.” In closing, Norberg echoed the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on loneliness, thanking Atlas Network partners for not “staring blankly” while the world around them is collapsing.

Click here to hear Johan Norberg's closing keynote presentation.

Atlas Network’s Latin America Liberty Forum, the third in the 2020 Liberty Forum series to be held online, will be held May 27-28.