Enlargement is acknowledged as the European Union’s (EU) most influential democracy promotion tool.
While the accession process has undoubtedly helped push and entice Central and Eastern European (CEE) states towards democratic consolidation, its success has not been unqualified.
Doubts remain over the depth of democratic norms in many CEE states.This can be seen particularly in Romania. Commonly regarded as the ‘laggard’ of the post-Communist countries, Romania did not qualify for accession in 2004 and became subject to a stricter application of EU political conditionality.
In the latter respect, ‘safeguard clauses’ were operated against Romania (and Bulgaria) after entry negotiations were concluded; and, then, as a condition of allowing entry in 2007, a new sanctions regime was introduced involving a further extension of conditionality.
But,while under such pressure,Romania succeeded in gaining EU accession at the beginning of 2007, the county’s positive and cognitive adoption of democratic norms (what political theorists refer to as ‘social learning’) has so far been limited.
Indeed, some such concerns are present also in two of the member states that were granted accession in 2004, Slovakia and Latvia. Crucially, such observations present challenges for how the EU can continue to contribute to deep, democratic consolidation in CEE states after accession.
Sobering lessons can be drawn from this most successful of EU policies for democracy promotion strategy.