Diego Zuluaga // 16.10.15

This week marks the first anniversary of EPICENTER. On 14th and 15th October 2014 we launched this initiative in Brussels with a number of distinguished speakers, including European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen. That was our official birth, but the idea for an EU-focused coalition of independent free-market think tanks had been under development for much longer. At the time of our launch, we had two overarching goals: 1) to become a vehicle through which our members could work together more effectively; 2) to establish EPICENTER as a source of reliable and understandable economic research on relevant issues at EU level, drawing on the decades of combined experience of each of our participant think tanks.

One year on, we are delighted to look back on the remarkable progress achieved. Communication between our member think tanks has increased markedly, which has led to joint projects and events, the sharing of research and expertise, translations of member publications and ideas for new pan-European work. At the same time, we have made our mark on the EU policy debate through a series of briefings on many different subjects, from investment in TTIP, to competition policy in the tech sector, to company finance in Europe, and the Digital Single Market. Our research has featured in media op-eds and been reported on by the press. Indeed, it was quite amusing to notice The Guardian – spooked by the American spelling of our name – wondering whether we might be an American asset planted in Brussels to push for TTIP.

But we are not – we are a joint initiative of six European think tanks working to promote free societies and free markets in Europe. We believe societies are more prosperous when market mechanisms are allowed to play a role in solving economic and social problems – whether it be in industrial production and the provision of consumer goods, or in the delivery of healthcare and education, or in the pursuit of environmental policy. In each of these areas, and independent of the public policy targets, markets tend to lead to better outcomes in a more efficient way. We therefore believe that an environment of competitive markets in the context of the rule of law is likely to deliver the best results for European consumers and the economy.

The EU has been a liberalising force for many of its Member States. The introduction of the ‘four freedoms’ – of movement for capital, goods, services and people – has allowed cross-border trade and investment to flourish, contributing to the substantial increase in living standards that all European countries have enjoyed since the 1950s. Much as they are maligned today, open borders throughout the Union have not only made the migrants better off, but also the societies where they came from and the ones which they joined. Economic research consistently bears this out.

At the same time, the EU has not always pushed its members in the direction of freer markets. Too often, the Single Market has been used as an excuse to centralise and increase regulation at European level, when that regulation is either counterproductive or could better be achieved at a lower level. The EU has also been used by some Member States as a tool to prevent other Member States from competing with them – we have seen this recently in calls to harmonise corporation taxes. Finally, EU policy has sometimes reflected the prejudices associated with many European countries, namely an anti-business attitude, a hostility to change and a propensity to expect the state to solve our problems.

We in EPICENTER are determined to maximise the EU’s potential as a force for freer economies, more competitive markets and more entrepreneurial societies. We are equally committed to oppose moves to make the Union a heavily centralised, bureaucratic behemoth that will stifle innovation, turn its back on the rest of the world and make its people poorer in the process.

We believe we are well-placed to play such a role thanks to the extensive experience and expertise of our member groups: the Institute of Economic Affairs, which helped to turn the UK from Europe’s laggard into one of its most vibrant economies; Timbro, Sweden’s ideas factory since the 1970s which was responsible for the introduction of market dynamism into the bloated Swedish state sector; the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, set up as Lithuania became independent in 1990 and which played a crucial role in turning the country into a reference in economic growth and flexibility; Institut Economique Molinari, which has been fighting anti-innovation policies and the harmful precautionary principle in France since 2003; Istituto Bruno Leoni, which in little more than ten years has successfully changed the climate of opinion towards market solutions among Italy’s decision-makers; and Civismo, whose muscular media profile in Spain brings home the need for greater economic freedom and lower taxes to millions of readers and viewers each day.

But in order to make an impact in Brussels, we need to have a base in Brussels. To this end, over the past year we have grown our presence in the EU institutions and our interaction with policymakers. We will shortly be announcing our new Director, who will be in charge of our outreach to the institutions, making sure our research gets to the right people, our events attract a top audience, and our views reach the ears of those who can enact change.

Finally, as part of our one-year anniversary we are proud to present our new website, which is much better-placed to accommodate the increased research output we expect in the coming months. We are also introducing a blog, where you will be able to find free-market analysis on current affairs in a range of areas – energy, trade, digital, monetary, financial, competition, public health and tax policy – from some of Europe’s leading academics and experts. Here you will find reactions to breaking news, articles on economic trends and challenges, and counterintuitive explanations for matters of public concern – all from a free-market perspective.

We can only look forward to another year of growth and success.

EPICENTER publications and contributions from our member think tanks are designed to promote the discussion of economic issues and the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. As with all EPICENTER publications, the views expressed here are those of the author and not EPICENTER or its member think tanks (which have no corporate view).


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