Looking at political conditionality in the EU enlargement policy, Pauline Thinus asks how compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria was assessed in relation to the membership of Central and Eastern European countries.
The primacy of EU law, or more generally of the rule of law, is a fundamental and necessary requirement for a functioning European Union. It is a core value that member states must comply with once they enter the EU as written in Article 2 TEU. All countries are thus expected to be stable democracies respecting the rule of law. Yet a certain decline is observed at national level, as illustrated by the recent Polish top court ruling challenging the primacy of EU law in relation to the dispute over judicial reforms.
To address this situation, the European Union is trying to find solutions to counter the backsliding of EU values in some of its member states. The launch of the Article 7 TEU procedure against Poland and Hungary, or the severe fine imposed on Polish authorities because of the maintenance of the disciplinary chamber for judges are two illustrations of the EU’s attempts to solve this issue.
It is thus interesting to go back to the accession process of these countries, who became full members in 2004 after a decade of negotiations. In 1993, the Copenhagen criteria were developed as necessary conditions to join the EU. Political requirements notably include democracy and the rule of law. Here is the paradox: member states that accepted and were requested to comply with fundamental and non-negotiable values are now pulling back.
The objective of Pauline Thinus’ research project at the HAEU was thus to return to the accession negotiations on the enlargement of Central and Eastern European countries, to understand how compliance with the Copenhagen criteria was evaluated by European institutions. Depending on the criteria used and the requirement level expected from EU authorities, this work intends to assess whether the situation was already problematic from the beginning of the membership, or if a real backsliding took place over time.
This research is part of a larger project of publication and/or thesis proposal, to be widened by a comparison with the current debate over the enlargement process to the Western Balkans.