If someone told you that an American contingent recently left from Washington, D.C. and flew to Europe for a series of late-February meetings with various opinion leaders and other prominent individuals, you would probably say, “Sure, I knew that. Who didn’t hear about President Bush and Secretary Rice visiting with French, German, and other European leaders to try to mend fences and establish closer ties?”
Well it’s true that such high-level meetings did take place. And from most accounts, they were quite productive. But Bush-Chirac and Bush-Schroeder weren’t the only Euro-American discussions taking place during that time. Because as it turns out, (and we can assure you without prior knowledge, since no one in his right mind wants to be anywhere near the Presidential limo, and all the security measures surrounding it, when it comes to town) a team of CFACT leaders was also in Brussels, Frankfort, and other European cities — just ahead of the President — with the goal of forging new trans-Atlantic bonds. While those meetings were just a bit less high-profile, they too offer some exciting opportunities for long-term relations, under the name “CFACT Europe,” that could have far-reaching benefits on both sides of the Big Pond.
The idea for CFACT Europe began in 2001 when we led a group of about 40 U.S. college students over to Bonn, Germany to participate in a prominent U.N. meeting dealing with the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Many Europeans were pleasantly shocked to meet public- interest advocates — accompanied by student activists, of all people — who took a more rational approach to environmental issues than many of the more extreme Green voices they were accustomed to hearing. “We must have a CFACT-style group over here,” they said, and with that, the wheels began turning that eventually led to the launching of a sister organization in Europe in the summer of 2004.
Building up that group was the particular purpose of this journey. So what did we find during our nine-day trip that included nearly 3,000 kilometers by car across the (too-often snowy) highways and autobahn of France, Belgium and Germany? Well the four U.S. CFACT representatives, and two CFACT Europe leaders who participated in the various meetings found some obstacles to be overcome, but a lot more reasons for encouragement.
In the way of obstacles, one has to begin with the general mind set of Europeans these days, which is still, to too large an extent, dominated by the idea that whatever the problem, government is probably the only solution. Many ordinary citizens seem almost resigned to the fact that high taxes and big government programs are always going to be a part of their daily lives. It’s almost as if they have become numb to the costs, and lack of individuality, inherent with large state programs. And while they believe things might somehow one day get better, they’re not sure exactly how, and figure such questions are best left to another day, or another generation.
Adding to that is the presence of a strong Green movement, the lack of a mature market-oriented movement, and a suspicion among many of any ideas deemed “American.” Indeed, a recent poll by the German Marshall Fund found that 57 percent of Germans believe it is “somewhat undesirable” or “very undesirable” for the United States to “exert strong leadership in world affairs.”
Yet despite these challenges, we found there is a hunger throughout the nations of the European Union for a broad new vision on public-interest issues. The goal of CFACT Europe is not to establish an American group in Europe. Rather, it is to help like-minded Europeans create a vast network throughout the EU that can enable policy makers and the public alike to find a middle road on environment and development. This middle road combines the passion and heart of the stewardship ethic with the practical solutions offered by markets and technologies. And it is needed as much in Germany, Lithuania, and Greece as it is in Nebraska, Vermont, and Texas.
Two days of our trip were spent at a gathering of the European Democrat Students (EDS) movement, a venerable coalition of student leaders from center-right parties across Europe who were together for their annual Winter University. The meeting took place in beautiful and historic Strasbourg (in the Alsace region of France near the German border), and presentations by CFACT leaders about the opportunities for students to become involved in the research and promotion of sensible environmental policy, as they are in America through CFACT’s Collegians program, was warmly received by attendees from nearly 20 European nations, including Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, and Poland.
Meetings with business leaders in Germany, France, and the EU capital of Brussels were particularly encouraging, as many said they would welcome a new, market and technology- oriented voice in the debate. A few even lamented the fact that past attempts to try to placate some of the more extreme Green voices has done little good, and that the time has come for a new dialogue on these issues.
There were scientists, like state meteorologist Dr. Wolfgang Tuene near Wiesbaden, Germany, who has become one of the leading voices in that nation calling for better science on climate change. He is anxious to see a network of academics established throughout Europe to help make sure the facts are not left on the table when these issues are discussed.
Then there was the resplendent “Capitalist Ball” in Brussels, in which more than 350 thinkers, policy experts, and other leaders gathered in black tie to celebrate, amazingly, the principles of liberty, and provide an opportunity to interact within the growing conservative think tank movement of Europe. While that movement may not yet be as mature as its American counterpart, it is no less passionate about the principles it supports. And led by organizations like the Centre for the New Europe (which organized the delightful ball), the Stockholm Network (which brought together a fine seminar and workshop for market-oriented groups preceding the ball), and the host of small to medium-sized think tanks that are beginning to dot the European landscape, there is much reason for encouragement.
From our personal perspective, though, there is no bigger reason for encouragement than the two individuals who are leading the charge for CFACT Europe. One is an Austrian named Gunther Fehlinger whose enthusiasm, good humor and capability — not to mention his Austrian accent — have many people thinking of him as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. And then there’s Holger Thuss, an extraordinarily bright and gifted gentleman who is about to receive his Ph.D. in history, and knows firsthand why the principles of political and economic freedom are so essential having spent his youth surviving the rigors of Soviet communism in his homeland of East Germany.
Yes, these last weeks were a time for renewed Euro-American cooperation. There’s much promise on the horizon. Just remind us next time that as nice as it is to see Air Force One sitting on the tarmac while taxiing down the runway, the security precautions aren’t worth the hassle.
Keep up with the activities of CFACT Europe on its new website: www.cfact-europe.org