Geoffrey Pridham: Democratic conditionality after EU accession

Geoffrey Pridham

“There is no general pattern of backtracking, aside from some national-specific cases like Poland and Slovakia over political control in their civil services.”


Geoffrey Pridham was Professor of European Politics at the Department of Politics of the University of Bristol (UK). After his retirement in November 2007, he won a University of Bristol Senior Research Fellowship for two years and continued his research on democratisation and EU enlargement.

Already in 2005 Pridham had published “Designing Democracy – EU Enlargement and Regime Change in Post-Communist Europe”, a book in which he explores the relationship between Europeanisation and democratisation.

“It was essentially the overall accession process that most of all carried forward the implementation of democratic conditionality. This is underlined by examining in turn the two successive phases of pre-negotiations and then actual membership negotiations. Even though the EU’s political conditions were more visible in the former phase, because their satisfaction was decisive in persuading the EU to invite countries to negotiate, it was the enhanced dynamics that accession then acquired through the shift to these negotiations – together with the progress these made – that contributed much to propelling forward the implementation as distinct from the observation of democratic conditionality.”

In a more recent article, published in 2007 (“Unfinished Business? Eastern Enlargement and Democratic Conditionality”), Pridham explores what happens to democratic conditionality once a country has joined the EU as a member state. While enlargement is acknowledged as the EU’s most influential democracy promotion tool, says Pridham, doubts persist as to the depth of democratic norms in many a Central and East European country.

Pridham refers to Ulrich Sedelmeier who, in 2006, warned of a possible “Eastern (compliance) Problem”. In subsequent research, however, Sedelmeier has concluded that “far from constituting an ‘eastern problem’, compliance in the new members has been surprisingly good.”

Pridham’s article focuses primarily on Romania. Looking at post-accession compliance in Slovakia and Latvia, Pridham explores what these countries’ track records might imply for Romania’s post-accession performance. What is more interesting, and more concrete, are his findings on the actual post-accession performance of the new member states:

“There is no general pattern of backtracking aside from some national-specific cases like Poland and Slovakia over political control in their civil services.”

Comparing Slovakia’s and Latvia’s performance in two particularly tricky areas, judicial reform and the fight against corruption, Pridham detects no uniform pattern.

“By and large, this analysis confirms, in hindsight, the overall importance of EU conditionality’s impact during the accession process, notwithstanding its defects … Even where the EU’s main achievement was formal with the creation of new structures and an enlarged statute book to buttress the conditions, this could be important as a framework for subsequent action following accession. It is noticeable in several instances that real progress only began towards the end of the accession process.”

This was true for judicial reform in Slovakia and anti-corruption policies in Latvia. The dynamics of the accession process have – obviously – disappeared. But they were replaced by new pressure for change.

“EU enlargement is … a continuing process that stretches beyond the point of actual entry. As political conditionality shows, accession-induced change did, as a whole, achieve sufficient progress upon which to build further … [The post-accession picture] is one where direct pressures are diminishing and indirect pressures – coming from full engagement with the EU from inside – continue to grow.”

10 August 2009