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Bringing Europe In? The Impact of EU Conditionality on Bulgarian and Romanian Politics

ANETA BORISLAVOVA SPENDZHAROVA
University of North Carolina at CHapel Hill

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Abstract

The thesis of this paper is that influenced by pre-accession European Union (EU) conditionality, Bulgaria and Romania are allowing a considerable number of EU-related issues in their domestic political agendas. Ideally, this will translate into increasing awareness and harmonization with EU policy-making mechanisms in the two countries, which, in turn, will make the prospect of EU membership more achievable. From the point of view of Europeanization literature, this paper makes a case that, domestically, potential membership in the EU can function as an incentive for the modernisation of the political, economic and social systems of candidate countries. The paper outlines how through the mechanism of conditionality the burden of Europeanization falls on domestic elites who are pressured to speed up reforms in order to meet EU accession criteria. Identified are several levels on which Europeanization has proceeded in Bulgaria and Romania such as the economic, the ideational, and the institutional.

 

Introduction

 

The upcoming wave of EU Enlargement in 2004 is intended to comprise 10 new countries Cypress, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, with Bulgaria and Romania still at the doorstep to the union, hopefully joining by 2007. The broader framework of my argument is the current situation of Bulgaria and Romania outside the ten country EU Enlargement planned for 2004. In this context, what can we say about the domestic politics in the two countries? Do we see further incentives to strengthen the internal reforms in order to qualify for joining as quickly as possible? Or, on the contrary, are the two countries experiencing a negative impact of exclusion from the 2004 group of forerunners? Guenther Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, frequently acknowledges that Bulgaria and Romania are making progress in their bids to join the EU. Yet, only to insert the qualification that they are still some time away. Thus, it is a puzzling question for both analysts and the broader public what exactly the future 5-10 years will bring to Bulgaria and Romania in light of their aspiration to join the EU as a paramount foreign (and domestic) policy goal.

        The main argument of this paper runs contrary to current analyses that lagging EU candidates Bulgaria and Romania will be neglected as more and more attention is devoted to first-wave EU acceding states who will be joining the Union in 2004.1 In fact, I will show that besides shaping the foreign policy orientation of Bulgaria and Romania in the most recent history of the two countries after the fall of the communist regimes, the momentum of EU accession negotiations has made considerable impact on the domestic political agendas in both Bulgaria and Romania. In that sense, even if the two countries are going to be nominally outside the EU for several years after the EU enlargement in 2004, they have already been anchored in a process of letting Europe in their domestic politics. Some analysts choose to focus on whether and when Bulgaria and Romania will be officially admitted in the EU (and thus granted access to the exclusive benefits of membership). However, the thesis of this paper is that influenced by pre-accession EU conditionality, Bulgaria and Romania have begun letting the EU in their domestic agendas, thus making the prospect of EU membership more achievable.

The sections of the paper are organized in the following logic. I will first outline some major contributions in Europeanization literature. I will then reconstruct several mechanisms of interaction between international and domestic politics and explain why, in my view, one of the most consistently used mechanisms to promote Europeanization is the top-down process of EU conditionality. After that I will focus on the roadmaps to membership provided by the EU to Bulgarian and Romanian decision-makers as evidence for the role of EU conditionality in structuring the accession process of the two countries. Next, I will identify several levels on which Europeanization has proceeded in Bulgaria and Romania such as the economic, the ideational, and the institutional. This is followed by a discussion of how through the mechanism of conditionality the burden of Europeanization falls on domestic elites who are pressured to speed up reforms and thus meet the EU accession criteria. To conclude, I will go back to my initial emphasis on the fact that Bulgarian and Romanian domestic politics are undergoing a process of significant Europeanization under the impact of EU conditionality.

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Southeast European Politics
Department of Political Science, Central European University
Nador U. 9, Budapest 1051, Hungary
Email: editor@seep.ceu.hu 
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