As populism continues to sweep across Europe, the timeless ideas of classical liberalism are being pushed to the wayside. But Italy’s Istituto Bruno Leoni (IBL) is seeking to combat this trend. At IBL’s recent seminar conference in Turin, top free-market thinkers met to discuss the history of the European Union and its future following the developments of the past year.
In attendance were former French Minister of Economy Edmond Alphandery; Chairman of the Strategic Committee of the French Treasury Jacques de Larosiere; former European Central Bank chief economist Otmar Issing; former U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury John Taylor; former Polish central banker Leszek Balcerowicz; and economists Michael Burda, Francesco Giavazzi, Deirdre McCloskey, Patrick Minford and Richard Portes.
“The conference was aimed to answer a question and put the answer in perspective: how come that a Keynesian elite, after World War II, resorted to free market principles to establish the foundations of the common market and the European Union?” asked IBL’s General Manager Alberto Mingardi. “We had some fascinating answers, though not at all a clear picture: ideas played a rather different role in different constituencies. One point that was made is that European institutions have all in all, performed as an external nudge towards liberalization of member states economies.”
When asked about the future of the EU, Mingardi offered a mixed answer, with some cause for concern but also a reason for optimism. “I think the tendency towards centralization and harmonization has happily weakened in the last few years,” he continued. “Germany, for example, seems to me to be pretty happy with the amount of 'Europeanization' we have and not to desire more. Yet the exit of the United Kingdom may shift the balance of power strongly in favor of a Franco-German axis, and therefore revive a plan for harmonizing taxation and further centralizing regulation and policy. This is a Europe we shall certainly oppose. Yet there is much of value, from a classical liberal perspective, in Europe, we have namely a relatively sound currency, the Euro, and the common market.”
After a successful conference during such a consequential time (European elections are being held in the coming year), IBL sees room for growth for the classical liberal movement. “I think it is vital that we try to provide a home for a rational discussion, based upon evidence and well-argued proposals, in this time of expressive voting and populist turmoil,” Mingardi concluded. “Contemporary politics is tremendously fast in consuming leaders and parties. But we shall continue to provoke discussion and argue meaningfully for the value we hold dear. I'm not fearful of ‘extremism’ per se, I'm fearful of the tendency of simply "stating" rather than "arguing" a certain political position. Think tanks have a duty to be different.”
With a rapidly dynamic and polarized political climate, the work of think tanks like IBL provide an alternative to mainstream ideologies and populism. IBL’s Turin Conference demonstrates the necessity of alternative platforms to critique the status quo.