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European Union Accession Dynamics and Democratization in Central and Eastern Europe: Past and Future Perspectives 1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2014


EU influence in encouraging and promoting democratic consolidation in Central and Eastern Europe has been extensive, though in a wide rather than deep sense. But, as shown by the enlargement process up to 2004, accession dynamics are the crucial force driving governments in the region to meet the EU's political conditionality. Despite the latter's deficiencies, it has by and large contributed towards democratic consolidation in the new member states notwithstanding some negative aspects of accession. The clear lesson for further enlargement in post-Communist Europe is that EU pressure and promise over integration will be decisive in new candidate states, even though their capacity to achieve the political conditions is more problematic. It follows too that any lessening of EU commitment is likely to undermine democratization efforts there.

Copyright © Government and Opposition Ltd 2006

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This article draws on work for a Fellowship from the Economic and Social Research Council on ‘Europeanising Democratisation?: EU Accession and Post-Communist Politics in Slovakia, Latvia and Romania’; and previous work for a Leverhulme Fellowship which covered these same countries but also the Czech Republic.


2 E.g. A. Browne, ‘Dreams of a Bigger EU Dashed by Voters’ Fears for Lost Jobs' The Times, 1 June 2005;, 23 June 2005 and 14 December 2005.Google Scholar

3 See introduction by F. Schimmelfennig to R. Linden (ed.), Norms and Nannies: The Impact of International Organizations on the Central and East European States, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, pp. 11–13.Google Scholar

4 See, however, K. G. Kelley, Ethnic Politics in Europe: The Power of Norms and Incentives, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2004, for an insightful application of these theories to the case of minority rights in four CEE accession countries.Google Scholar

5 Cf. the comment of David Ringrose, Director General of Enlargement, European Commission, that the end point of democratic consolidation is EU accession and that the commission would not like a (conceptual) debate about the end of consolidation as this would provoke differences among the member states. Once candidate countries received the invitation to join, thereafter ‘the political criteria are no longer an issue’ (interview in Brussels, December 2002).Google Scholar

6 One EU ambassador in a new member state from post-Communist Europe, who had seen through the last vital years of the accession process, when asked for his definition of ‘democratic consolidation’ (at the end of the interview in spring 2005) replied that he could not ‘tell what is consolidation’, that there was no working definition and that the 1993 conditions ‘look evidently like the key variables’.Google Scholar

7 R. Gunther, N. Diamandouros and H.-J. Puhle (eds), The Politics of Democratic Consolidation: Southern Europe in Comparative Perspective, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995, Introduction, p. 7.Google Scholar

8 Cf. P. Schmitter, ‘The Consolidation of Political Democracies’, in G. Pridham (ed.), Transitions to Democracy: Comparative Perspectives from Southern Europe, Latin America and Eastern Europe, Aldershot, Dartmouth, 1995, p. 556; and, J. Linz and A. Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America and Post-Communist Europe, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, Chapter 1.Google Scholar

9 S. Bulmer, ‘Domestic Politics and European Community Policy Making’, in B. Nelsen and A. Stubb (eds), The European Union: Readings on the Theory and Practice of European Integration, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 1994, p. 144.Google Scholar

10 Dimitrova, A. and Pridham, G., ‘International Actors and Democracy Promotion in Central and Eastern Europe: The Integration Model and its Limits’, Democratization, 11: 5 (December 2004), pp.95–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11 Ibid., p. 97.Google Scholar

12 G. Pridham, Designing Democracy: EU Enlargement and Regime Change in Post-Communist Europe, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p. 127.Google Scholar

13 Ibid., pp. 151–3.Google Scholar

14 Author interviews with Geoffrey Harris, European Parliament Secretariat, and with Kristin Schreiber, member of Commissioner Verheugen's cabinet, both in Brussels, February 2001.Google Scholar

15 In contrast, the lack of such a commitment was, for instance, evident in the case of the Meciar government in Slovakia in the mid-1990s. This government, influenced by a dubious attachment to democratic standards, ran into political problems with the EU over worsening political conditions in that country; and this resulted in Slovakia's failure to be invited to negotiate membership in late 1997.Google Scholar

16 Z. Kalaydjieva, ‘An Independent Judicial System in the Context of EU Accession’, in European Institute, Sofia, Bulgaria's Progress towards EU Membership in 2000 – the NGOs' Perspective, Sofia, European Institute, 2001, p. 18.Google Scholar

17 European Commission, 2002 Regular Report on Latvia's Progress towards Accession, Brussels, European Commission, 2002, p. 34.Google Scholar

18 Interview with Andrew Rasbash, head of EU delegation to Latvia, in Riga, May 2003.Google Scholar

19 European Commission, 2002 Regular Report on Romania's Progress towards Accession, Brussels, European Commission, 2002, p. 37.Google Scholar

20 The Judicial System Strategy of Reform, 2003–2007, Romania, Government Decision no. 1052, 2003.Google Scholar

21 According to Sorin Ionita, Romanian Academy Society, in reference to judicial reform, ‘written things are agreed with Brussels, but the reality points the other way’ (interview in Bucharest, October 2003).Google Scholar

22 Interview with Simona Teodoriou, secretary of state for EU affairs, Romanian Ministry of Justice, in Bucharest, October 2003. She nevertheless commented that the push from Brussels was important for, while there was ‘also an internal need for judicial reform, the rhythm came from the EU’.Google Scholar

23 See Pridham, Designing Democracy, Chapter 5.3.Google Scholar

24 See ibid., Chapters 5.5 and 6.4.Google Scholar

26 See H. Tang (ed.), Winners and Losers of EU Integration: Policy Issues for Central and Eastern Europe, Washington, DC, World Bank, 2000.Google Scholar

27 This following section develops from Pridham, Designing Democracy, Conclusion.Google Scholar

28 The term was coined by Jens Stoltenberg, opposition leader in Norway (The Economist, 9 October 2004, p. 45). Cf. one Czech interview respondent's remark at the end of the discussion that ‘one reason to become a member state as soon as possible’ was to get away from commission pressure, for the commission was ‘like His Majesty’ (interview with Jaroslav Zverina, vice-chairman of the Committee for European Integration, Chamber of Deputies, in Prague, March 2003). The regal reference was evidently to George III and his imperious behaviour towards the American colonies.Google Scholar

29 Cf. the comment of a former Slovak deputy prime minister for European integration that ‘we understand [the democratic deficit] as a fact’; and, there is no criticism of it as ‘we are concentrating on accession – we are simply pragmatic’ (author interview with Pavol Hamzik, in Bratislava, April 2002).Google Scholar

30 Guardian, 17 April 2003 and 13 January 2004; European Voice, 12–18 December 2002. As is commonly noted, Greece would fail on grounds of both fighting corruption and its treatment of minorities.Google Scholar

31 R. Owen, ‘Berlusconi's Leadership Raises EU Fitness Doubts’, The Times, 28 June 2003.Google Scholar

32 Cf. the comment of Heather Grabbe (later appointed to the cabinet of the enlargement commissioner from 2004): ‘The goal of EU membership is used by reformist politicians as far afield as Serbia and Ukraine as an incentive to undertake painful measures to overhaul their economies and political systems. Politicians in these countries will find it harder to ask change of their people when such a lousy example is set by Berlusconi’ (who was just about to assume the presidency of the EU on Italy's behalf); and that in repeating Berlusconi's behaviour ‘the Central and East Europeans would have been ostracised by the Union and told they were unfit for membership if their leaders had lifted themselves above the rule of law, or concentrated media ownership in their own hands. Italian frivolity will provide the rest of the EU with a bit of light entertainment over the next six months. But it looks like a sick joke in those countries where democracy is a recent, hard-won achievement’ (The Times, 8 July 2003).Google Scholar

33 E.g. Eurobarometer 2004.1, Public Opinion in the Candidate Countries, National Report, Executive Summary, Latvia, Brussels, European Commission, 2004, p. 3.Google Scholar

34 E.g. in Romania, this attitude has been quite pronounced because of the problems of state capacity there and the connection made between EU accession and reform of the state. According to the director of the Institute of Marketing and Polls (IMAS), ‘the public believe these international organizations [like the EU, the IMF and the World Bank] know better than Romanian politicians’; and this meant these organizations ‘had public opinion behind them’ (author interview with Alin Teodorescu, in Bucharest, October 2003).Google Scholar

35 Initial reactions to the French and Dutch referenda were rather critical of what happened, see N. Smith, ‘New Dawn Fades for Latest EU Members, The Sunday Times, 5 June 2005; although official statements since have been mixed. Nevertheless, President Kwasniewski of Poland commented revealingly, as if to indicate much potential for dillusionment: ‘When I see the atmosphere in some European countries, especially among founders such as France, Germany and Holland, and the atmosphere in our countries, the new EU members, the difference is that the founders are like people after 50 years of marriage and we are still in love with Europe’ (, 20 June 2005).Google Scholar

36 Cf. reports in 2003 on deficiencies in the observation of human rights in Latvia in Latvian News Agency (LETA), report, 9 February 2005, and in EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights, Report on the Situation of Fundamental Rights in Latvia in 2003, Brussels, European Commission, 2004.Google Scholar

37 Interview with Alena Panikova, executive director, Open Society Foundation, in Bratislava, May 2005.Google Scholar

38 Cf. the comment of the Central Europe correspondent of European Voice that ‘enlargement is coming to be seen not as a way of exporting stability but of importing instability (European Voice, 4–11 May 2005).Google Scholar

39 International Commission on the Balkans, The Balkans in Europe's Future, Sofia, Centre for Liberal Strategies, 2005, p. 12.Google Scholar

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