In 2009, Greece was on the brink of dragging the world economy into an even deeper recession. Multiple bailouts from the European Union barely kept the country afloat, with long-accumulated debt and fiscal obligations leaving some wondering if Greece still had a place in the EU at all. International observers worried similar collapses could happen in their own countries, including the U.S.
Fourteen years later and what once seemed unthinkable has happened. The Greek economy has turned a corner, and while echoes of past hardships linger, it is growing at twice the European average, as highlighted in a recent New York Times article. Among those responsible for this encouraging turn of events is KEFiM, an Athens-based Atlas Network partner, who have spent years laying a foundation of better policy and a more market-friendly point of view among lawmakers and voters.
Nicos Rompapas, executive director of KEFiM, says many people blamed the “free market” for the economic hardships and austerity measures mandated by the EU alongside bailout packages. “It created a very challenging environment for liberal ideas because many Greeks blamed free markets,” he said. “This was actually not the case because Greece was always one of the least free markets in Europe, and the crisis led actually to the reduction of free markets in Greece.”
Since its founding in 2011, KEFiM has pushed back against Greeks’ long-held misconceptions about classical liberalism. And their work has made all the difference in the world. “That's the reason that we started KEFiM,” Nicos said, “just to try to explain to the Greek public what the crisis was about and by understanding what the problems were, find the right solutions. I can say that we have managed to change the environment for ideas. Today, classical liberalism is the most popular ideology in Greece, even higher than social democracy, for example, or conservatism.” He said that after the obvious failure of other models, people were open to seeing the merits of classical liberalism.
A volunteer-run organization until 2015, KEFiM’s relationship with Atlas Network helped strengthen their organization’s structure and increase their effectiveness.
“Atlas Network has been critical to the success of KEFiM,” Nicos said. The organization’s president, Alexander Skouras, worked at Atlas Network for some time, and he realized how much more KEFiM could achieve if it had a dedicated, full-time team.
“That led us to relaunching KEFiM back in 2015, and we based the whole way of operating on Atlas Network trainings and methodology,” Nicos explained.
Just in the past few years, KEFiM has made significant progress helping pass market-friendly policies which have helped get the economy back on its feet. In 2017, they launched Greece 2021: Agenda for Freedom and Prosperity, a sweeping reform effort focused especially on strengthening property rights, increasing judicial effectiveness, and encouraging entrepreneurship. The organization’s efforts ultimately led to lawmakers implementing the bulk of their proposed policies, moving the country closer to KEFiM’s vision of a freer and more prosperous economy. Between 2018 and 2020, Greece’s score on the World Bank’s Government Effectiveness report jumped by over 50%, in part due to KEFiM’s work.
With the Greece 2021 initiative a success and the economic transformation to prove it, KEFiM is preparing for what is next. With Greek voters granting the center-right government another term in office, the organization is hopeful they will be able to build on recent successes.
“Our organization's programs and initiatives, notably the Greek Economic Experts Panel, the Greek Economics Olympiad, and our Reform Agenda for Greece, have influenced both political discourse and tangible political action,” Nicos said. “We take immense pride in having played a pivotal role in this political evolution. Our journey underscores the transformative power of informed and impassioned discourse.”