Contestation in the Promotion of EU Norms: Evidence from the Western Balkans

Jonathan Webb

Retrospective evaluations of European enlargement have questioned its capacity to diffuse democratic governance norms. Concerns about the growth of populist movements in 2004 accession candidates such as Hungary and the persistent problems of corruption effecting 2007 candidates such as Romania, have challenged the proposed transformative power of the EU. In response to the shortcomings of previous enlargement cases, current enlargement policy seeks to increasingly emphasis the need for Candidate States to adopt specific governance norms. A dominant body of literature that presents norm diffusion as a linear and uncontested venture reinforces this approach. Problematically, this approach fails to consider the contested nature of the norms being exported by the EU. This paper departs from this perspective by drawing evidence from the case study of Serbia. This alternative perspective requires reconceptualising EU enlargement as a contented political project. This alternative perspective suggests that enlargement attempts to disseminate particular liberal governance norms that are highly contested in Serbia. To mitigate the tensions that arise as a consequence of these norms, the EU attempts to depoliticise its enlargement project. This approach fails to recognise the constitutive relationship between power struggles and the production of norms. By attempting to mitigate as opposed to directly engage in a process of political contestation, it is argued the EU does not adequately challenge existing governance norms in Serbia that contradict promoted EU norms. In drawing conclusions from the Serbian case, it is argued that successful diffusion of the EU's norms is contingent on its engagement in the process of contestation surrounding norm diffusion.

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