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When the path towards European integration began, seventy years ago, a large part of our continent was ruled by authoritarian regimes. But then a wave of democratic change touched all parts of Europe – first Southern Europe, then Central and Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. Democracy came with freedom, but also with economic growth, with civil rights, with new opportunities for all. All of this happened relatively quickly – in just twenty or thirty years. And it wasn't just about Europe, but all around the world. Today, for the first time in a generation, democracy is challenged in many parts of the world – including in Europe and in our region. In too many countries, the space for civil society is shrinking, minorities have come under attack, and the democratic system of checks and balances is perceived as a constraint – not as a guarantee for all. It is true that our democracies are not perfect, and in recent years our societies have become less equal. The only way to make our societies more equal and more just, at all corners of the world, is to invest in stronger democracies. This is what the European Union is doing and will continue to do. We need to invest in our global network of like-minded partners, putting human rights and democracy at the core of our daily work. Democracy cannot be exported: it has to rise from the heart of every society. But even in these difficult times, there are many positive stories that give us hope. Think of the people of the Gambia, who brought about democratic change in their country, and they did it through peaceful means. Political prisoners have been freed, death penalty was suspended, and people are finally free from fear. The European Union has been on the side of the Gambian people all through this transition. And we are working in all continents to protect democracy, and to expand rights and opportunities. We are monitoring elections, but we are also working to create more space for civil society, to support independent media and human rights defenders, and to strengthen the rule of law. A successful democracy is one where all citizens feel that they truly belong in their community. That they do have a say, that the institutions listen to them and work for them. Others may change their priorities and forget about democracy and human rights. We do not and we will not. We will continue to work for more equal, more democratic and just societies – on this international day, and on all other days.