Europeanisation without Democratisation? A Discursive Institutionalist Account of Pre- and Post- EU Accession Politics in Bulgaria and Czech Republic

Sean Hanley, James Dawson

Over the last ten years many East Central European (ECE) states which joined the EU in 2004-7 have experienced forms of democratic 'backsliding'. However, until mid-2000s the region was regarded as an exemplar of rapid democratic consolidation, with the EU's accession conditionalities widely cited as a principal driver of this success. This is less paradoxical than it at first appears. Scholars of ECE and EU conditionality had long warned that liberal democratic practices were likely to erode once candidate states joined the Union and conditionality fell away - especially if 'lock-in' mechanisms proved weak. However, we argue, the broadly rational institutionalist and historical institutionalist underpinnings of such debates, which stressed incentive structures and path dependent 'lock in', need to be supplemented by an analytical lens embracing the causal power of actors' norms and ideas. This is especially necessary given the conditionality literature's strong, but usually implicit, assumption that, if left unconstrained, ECE elites and publics values would quickly lead to illiberal politics. The discursive institutionalism (DI) developed by Schmidt (2009) offers such a lens. In this paper we use DI to re-examine arguments about the pre-accession leverage and post-accession backsliding in two ECE states: Bulgaria and Czech Republic. Although leveraged to different degrees, both escaped the rise of conservative nationalism seen elsewhere in ECE, apparently leaving liberal forces with a West European orientation in control. Examining the nature and discourse of such forces, however, particularly on sensitive issues around minorities and the inclusiveness of national community, we find patterns of long-term accommodation between liberal and illiberal norms. Building on earlier critiques of the EU's (supposed) democratic conditionality, we conclude that far from backsliding on leveraged democratization, ECE consolidation may be better viewed as somewhat illusory in the first place.

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