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How the promise of Europe has been fulfilled

In times of economic distress, gloomy narratives about Europe and pessimistic prognoses about the European Union's future, it seems that most of us miss out on a key point: Europe is already a fulfilled promise. It has brought peace, prosperity and eradicated the dividing lines along the continent. And there is no place where this seems more obvious today than in central Europe.

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is easy to take for granted the peaceful transformation of a number of central European states from communism to fully-fledged democracies with market-oriented economies.

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Given, however, the dramatic collapse of states and regimes in 1989 and the dramatic breakup of the Balkans that followed soon after, the relatively low occurrence of violent conflicts, quick democratization of the political and social sphere and swift economic reforms in central Europe have exceeded all expectations.

This success story is down to the determination of central European societies. These new governments took on huge hardships because of the "Promise of Europe" and an idea of returning home. The success was also an effect of European Union (EU) institutions and the membership path it has set before candidate countries. This path has provided a clear standard for democracy by which governments and people were able to measure performance. It has also created the strongest incentive for those countries to reform and to meet EU requirements.

"The unity of Europe was the dream of a few. It became the hope of many. Today it has become a necessity forall of us. It is necessary for our security, for our freedom and for ourexistence as a nation and as an intellectually creative community of peoples." Konrad Adenauer,1954

Today, all the countries that have joined the EU in the last decade have experienced a clear improvement over time in terms of democratic assets, such as the rule of law, state provision of civil liberties and political rights.

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With the recent exception of Hungary, in all other new member states extremist parties have gone into decline. Early market-oriented reforms were painful at first but after a couple of years of sharp recession the region started to grow again. The EU accession in 2004 and 2007 has had an additional growth boosting effect in almost all new member states. In 2015, gross domestic product (GDP) per person at purchasing-power parity for newcomers was 50-60 percent of the EU average, compared with 20-30 percent in 1989.

The Promise of Europe continues. It was in the hearts and minds of people at the Kiev protests in Ukraine against the kleptocratic regime government in November 2013. It is behind the dramatic decision of thousands of refugees to risk their lives in order to find a new home inside the European Union.

Europe is still an aspiration, a hope for a better life, a necessity. So, whether we like it or not, the EU is here to stay. Just as bad government policies do not make us question our entire political system, European leaders' failures to fix the euro zone or handle the refugee crisis, should not undermine the world's largest peace project. It has offered us democracy, stability and transformed the continent by bridging the East-West divide.

Maybe it is high time to stop asking what Europe has done for us. Maybe it is time to ask ourselves what have we recently done for Europe?

Dr. Katarzyna Pisarska is the founder and director of the European Academy of Diplomacy & the Visegrad School of Political Studies in Warsaw, Poland.

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