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.
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.