Democracy and Euro-Atlantic integration became contested paradigms in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Three decades after the revolutionary transformation of 1989—guided by the vision of democratic, free, West-oriented, and prosperous countries—neither democracy nor Euro-Atlantic integration are the only games in town anymore. While domestic and external threats to democracy are unequally distributed in the region, they are present everywhere and come hand in hand with the increasing malign influence of authoritarian great powers. Illiberal narratives and populist politics stir social polarization, attack independent institutions and media, intimidate civil society, and scapegoat vulnerable groups in society, while high-level political corruption risks forfeiting competitiveness and prosperity and distorting political competition. Authoritarian players like Russia and China are conscious and keen to support these tendencies and to exploit the vulnerabilities of CEE countries, while the European Union and the United States are struggling to find appropriate answers and their ability to act as role models for the region is diminishing. Instability and insecurity, which have long damaged the region, appear to be returning. In short, the grand vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace is at stake.    

Given these mounting threats, the CEE countries and their Western partners urgently need fresh thinking and innovation in policymaking to address the democracy, security, and prosperity challenges in the region. For this reason, The German Marshall Fund of the United States launched the ReThink.CEE fellowship program that supports next-generation policy experts from the region.