This article compares the performance of state institutions and compliance with EU law in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. The public institutions highlighted are of crucial relevance when it comes to enforcing EU social standards and include the court and legal systems as well as labour inspectorates and equal treatment authorities. Expert and practitioner assessments point to major shortcomings in their institutional performance. The procedural compliance pattern to which these shortcomings give rise closely resembles that found by previous studies in some Western European countries, notably Ireland and Italy. Thus, the four countries examined here fall within a ‘world of dead letters’ as far as their compliance with EU law is concerned. In this ‘world’, EU directives tend to be transposed in a politicised mode (although so far, this happened rather timely and correctly) and there is frequent non-compliance at the later stages of monitoring and enforcement.