Free Market Road Show spreads sound economics throughout Europe

Seven years after the financial crisis of 2008, Europe’s economies continue to stagnate. Twin deficits, massive welfare state spending, mountains of regulation, nearly flatlined economic growth, and a continuing push toward increased central planning by European Union (EU) authorities leave little hope for future prosperity. The Free Market Road Show® is working to change that, with a 36-stop tour throughout Europe during its 2015 tour, bringing together renowned economists, leading politicians, and prominent business leaders every year to discuss current economic problems and possible solutions.

The Free Market Road Show® is organized by Atlas Network partner the Austrian Economics Center (AEC) in Vienna, in cooperation with more than 90 leading think-tanks and universities across Europe, the Caucasus, and Israel. Atlas Network spoke with AEC Director and Hayek Institut President Barbara Kolm about this year’s tour and some of its past successes.

“It’s a geopolitical challenge that we face,” Kolm said. “On the one hand, Russia doesn’t see any limits, and the European politicians are too weak to react in the right way. Sanctions definitely will not work, because it hurts the wrong people, and there is no unity in Europe. So the biggest challenge for Europe will be how to create growth again, and we all know this doesn’t work with the one-size-fits-all politics out of Brussels. Our goal is to have competing regions in Europe.”

She pointed out that individual nations within the EU can only become internationally competitive if they muster the political will to put their own fiscal houses in order.

“Of course, our nation states will have to solve their sovereign debt crisis, and this can only be done if you have real austerity — saving and not overspending, plus structural reforms,” Kolm said. “And neither Greece nor France nor Italy are willing to undergo structural reforms. They have been talking along these lines for a long time, and Greece is definitely pulling the legs of the Western world. They are playing catch-me-if-you-can. So this is a real challenge for Europe. If we don’t focus on economics and doing our homework, then Europe is a lost case, definitely, because we need growth and we need economic and individual freedom. And if we don’t follow that, there is no way.”

The Road Show’s stop in Pristina, Kosovo, on May 7, 2014, discussing corruption in the Balkans.

That’s where the The Free Market Road Show® comes in, bringing together scholars with a theoretical background in the importance of sound economics and individual liberty, as well as people with the practical political background necessary to implement those ideals in the real world and entrepreneurs who have proven that they are willing to take risks and compete. However, they need economic freedom.

“We have individuals who have firsthand experience in successfully implementing reforms, whether it’s Leszek Balcerowicz or Prince Michael von Liechtenstein, or a couple of others who have been very successful,” Kolm said. “Montenegro, where half of the government is speaking at the conference, and they have done a great job. And then we have people who advise government, whether it’s John Charalambakis, who is currently advising the conservative minority partner in government in Greece, or whether it’s Krassen Stanchev, who has done so many reforms — not only in his home country Bulgaria but across CEE [ European Economic Community ] — or whether it’s our friends from Lithuania, or whether it’s the think tanks in Scandinavia. It’s everywhere. We combine academic theoretical background with great practical expertise by politicians and entrepreneurs; moreover, a lot of excellent think tank people who combine both because they advise or were in politics themselves.”

The Free Market Road Show® is a way for organizations from throughout Europe that don’t ordinarily work together to meet, coordinate, cooperate, and share ideas about how to advance freedom and economic growth at home. It has proven to be an intellectual centrifuge, spinning out new organizations and activists who have taken what they’ve learned and run with it.

The Road Show’s last stop in Prague, Czech Republic, on May 14, 2014.

“Many think tanks have been founded because of the Road Show, because we started it eight years ago, and most of them in Eastern Europe,” Kolm said. “But, for example, the group in Barcelona that started last year, the Mises Institute there, they were present for the first time last year, so they really got operating after the Road Show. A couple of students in Saloniki called me four years ago and asked, if the FMRS could stop there. It immediately boosted their activities, and now there are plenty of liberty groups which are becoming much stronger because of the Road Show, like the new one in our third city in Greece, Komotini. So these are definitely results. Then, for example, young guys who started their own enterprise after having managed or organized their own Road Show stop. There are plenty of examples. We get hundreds of applications after each Road Show from students who want to intern with us and learn more about free markets. Some of them we hire ourselves, others we recommend to like-minded think tanks.”

Kolm points out that the event has gotten better each year, and she expects that steadily increasing quality to continue in 2015.