After two online years, the European Resource Bank Meeting is back in real life. In 2022 the ERB was hosted by the Swedish Taxpayers Association Skattebetalarnas Förening, who is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and by the magazine and foundation Svensk Tidskrift, now in its 111th year. Christian Ekström, CEO of the Skattebetalarna, was the first to welcome the audience. He remarked about the success of the Swedish Taxpayers Association and their achievements in abolishing various taxes. But there is still work to do, as he joked, “Unfortunately, the taxes in Sweden are not as nice as the weather.”
Rolf von Hohenhau, the President Taxpayers Association of Europe, stressed that the taxpayers movement in Europe started 100 years ago with the founding of Skattebetalarnas Förening. He clarified that the Taxpayers Association of Bavaria wants to pay taxes and understands their necessity. However they want to minimize tax waste.
After thanking the hosts and organizers of this ERB, Barbara Kolm, brought Krassen Stanchev before the curtain, who 19 years ago initiated the conference. She acknowledged, “Without the help of partners and sponsors nationally and internationally, this entire movement in Europe would not be possible. We always rely on enterprises and entrepreneurs to support us.”
Anders Ydstedt, chairman of Svensk Tidskrift, expressed his pleasure on being able to have this conference after two years of restrictions and to be able to celebrate the anniversaries of both organizations. He said, it is important to come together, exchange ideas and start collaboration. “Let’s keep up the fight for freedom and a freer society.”
Case Studies – “Politicians will find a new way to waste money.”
Janne Kalluinen from the Finnish Taxpayers described the goals of his organization: to promote reasonable taxation and to defend legal protection of citizens regarding tax questions. The members of the Taxpayers Association of Finland enjoy a number of services. These benefits include lobbying, tax advice, the subscription of a very informative magazine, as well as a variety of digital services. The magazine, the key tool to reach all members, is very popular with them, followed by tax help and lobbying. Concerning lobbying, Kalluinen emphasized that they keep proposals moderate in order to get the message through.
Working with an organization that is only 18 years old, John O’Connell was delighted to celebrate a centenary with the Swedish Taxpayers. He quantified the TPA’s success through the number of research papers published, communications, and digital outreach. He mentioned, “We have been successful in capping the exit payments that go to workers in the public sector. This allowed public sector executives to receive large redundant payments, then move onto high paying salaries immediately after.” TPA takes every opportunity to speak to people, tell them what TPA is doing for them and hear what they are concerned with.
“Politicians will find a new way to waste money.”
We need to react to such ideas. O’Connell concluded that solid research, strategic communication, and sustained campaigns are the most prevalent, with sustained campaigning being the most important.
Christian Ekström focused on the tax waste ombudsman, Skattebetalarna’s long term project to raise awareness of tax waste. “Our job is to say ‘Hey wait a minute, you are spending this much money on things that are doing no good’. The big waste is a hard thing to grasp, because it is so much money and often in the core of something you need.” They focus on the public and ask for their opinion on what they perceive waste to be. Newspapers are a “great way to pressure politicians.” Ekström finished with examples of exotic spending with minimal use such as a 200,000 euro rather questionable art piece and an indoor ski tunnel which cost millions of Swedish crowns. Skattebetalarna lists the top waste projects every year and invites people to vote on the worst.
Best practice – How to Increase Your Outreach on Social Media
Christoffer Heimbrand focused on the use of digital platforms on outreach. He outlined that the key to communication on a social media platform is content and the ability to create key messages. “If you reach enough impact and dominate social media, there is a domino effect. What we post on social media, eventually will find itself in newspapers and traditional media. Social media affects other types of media.” All generations use media with Facebook leaning to older generations and Instagram to younger generations. The elements needed for successful user engagement on social media platforms are visualized by the acronym SUCCESS: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional stories.
How to Communicate Your Agenda – Keep the EU Commission busy
The last panel of the day dealt with agenda setting. Horst Heitz explained how agenda setting works in Brussels. For political agenda setting three groups are important: the public, the media and politicians, each with their own agenda. They influence each other. The public agenda reflects the desires and demands of a society and politicians react to that, because they want to be reelected. Heitz went on in more detail how the European Commission, Council and Parliament work together when discussing legislation. For lobbyists, there is one rule: keep the commission busy with whitepapers and your agenda points.
Michael Jäger added that the three EU commitees changed the process of coming to a decision; it was radically shortened and lobbyists and experts were excluded. “We have no impact any more.” It is not a democratic approach, when 80% of the European legislation is decided by ten people. He lamented this lack of democratic discussions, “We are asked as taxpayers to be efficient, not to waste billions or trillions.” He later emphasized the need to “Do good and talk about it.” Much of the persistence of free market ideas comes from members of the new generation who join groups like the Taxpayers Association. They must call to action both the community and political leaders. Finally, Jäger wraped up by showing various campaigns that the Taxpayers Association is conducting: e.g. they went to court against the solidarity tax, they are campaing for a maximum of 500 MPs in the German Bundestag as the number is growing.
Matthew is a student at Wabash College in Crawfordsville Indiana, where he studies Classics and Rhetoric. He is an active member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity and enjoys traveling, playing volleyball, and writing. Matthew is the spring 2022 intern with the Austrian Economics Center.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.