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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

Societal Empowerment and EU Enlargement: Evidence from a ‘Successful Laggard’

Europe (Central and Eastern)
 
Civil Society
 
Democratisation
 
European Politics
 
European Union
 
Presenter
Gergana Noutcheva
Maastricht Universiteit
Authors
Gergana Noutcheva
Maastricht Universiteit

Abstract
The EU enlargement literature has predominately favored the rationalist explanation of the democratic transformation of Central and Eastern European countries in the context of EU accession. The empowerment of pro-reform political elites through external manipulation of EU incentives and disincentives has largely been credited for the democratization of the region. The existing studies have under-emphasized the societal dimension of the EU accession process and the normative context in which the EU leverage has been applied. Taking a societal perspective, this paper examines the societal empowerment as a scope condition of Europeanization and argues that while the incentive of EU membership has been a powerful driver of change in the pre-accession process, it needs a facilitating societal context to produce durable domestic transformation. Focusing on Bulgaria’s democratic transformation pre- and post- accession, the paper shows that the perceived legitimacy of the EU conditionality in the pre-accession process has created a strong pro-reform societal constituency beyond the political establishment that has the potential to sustain the reform dynamic in the post-accession period in the absence of strong EU leverage mechanisms.
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