Fitting already in? Romania and the political criterion of Copenhagen

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

47 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Research questions

2. Theoretical considerations: The prospect matters

3. The state of Romania’s democracy: attempting a quantitative comparison
3.1 Limitations of measuring the Copenhagen political criterion
3.2 World Bank Governance Indicators: Romania and the baselines

4. Conclusion: Postponing the accession



Appendix A: Data and calculations

Appendix B: The 90 % confidence intervals of the 2004 point estimates

Appendix C: Comparing the CEEC 8 (2002) with Romania (2004)

Appendix D: Comparing the CEEC 8 (2002) with the EU 15 (2002)

1. Introduction

1.1 Background

Loudly debating the scope and the future of the European Union has once again become a common practice of politicians in recent time. Especially since the rejections of the ‘Treaty establishing a European Constitution’ in France and the Netherlands in early summer, this debate is increasingly fought out in front of the European and national publics. Recently smouldering disputes about the power of Brussels versus national sovereignty, about contributions and pay-offs, and about the meaning of the Union beyond economic terms broke out openly. The Brussels summit on the financial perspective that failed this June and the surrounding rhetoric of the political actors provided a colourful example. All these quarrels can be subsumed under the grande question accompanying the European Union since its very beginnings in the 1950s: How far should this Europe reach in political and in territorial terms? Given this background, the public and thus the political interest focuses now also increasingly on the upcoming enlargement round. After the Union has welcomed ten new member states in May 2004, Bulgaria and Romania’s accession is scheduled for January 2007. However, this focus contains the danger that politicians within the ‘club’ of the existing member states exploit the enlargement debate to sharpen their profile and gain politically. In a speech criticising the European politics of the German government, the opposition leader Angela Merkel (2005) for example doubts the fixing of the accession date for Bulgaria and Romania implicitly stating that these countries are not ready yet. But what is true and what is biased through short term political interest? To answer this question one must ask whether and which conditions exist that characterise the readiness for accession of a candidate state.

In preparation of the first eastern enlargement, the European Council of Copenhagen in June 1993 specified the general rules defining whether a nation is eligible to join the European Union. These conditions – commonly known as the Copenhagen criteria – divide the readiness of a country into three aspects. Firstly, a functioning market economy is required. Secondly, sufficient legislative and administrative capacity to deal with the European law is a compulsory basis. Thirdly, in political terms the European Council demanded “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the respect for and protection of minorities” (European Council 1993, p. 1). In the remainder of the paper, the term “Copenhagen political criterion“ will especially refer to the requirements of democracy and the rule of law.

At the present time, eminently Romania is under public criticism for suffering from large-scale corruption and shortcomings in the implementation and enforcement of law. Since these criticisms are regarded mainly as questions of the political system, this paper is going to analyse Romania’s readiness as objective as possible in terms of the Copenhagen political criterion.

1.2 Research questions

Admittedly it has to be noted that the accession treaty between the EU and Romania has already been signed and ratified and is thus legally binding. Nevertheless its worth discussing Romania’s readiness, since this treaty contains a safeguard clause that enables the EU to postpone the accession for one year if prior commitments regarding the readiness are not fulfilled until autumn 2006.

A second note before explicitly stating the research question concerns the relativity of readiness. Since ‘being ready for the EU’ describes no universally valid, independent and detailed concept in itself, the readiness of a candidate country has to be considered in relation to certain baselines. The most straight-forward baseline is obviously the European Union itself. Given a specific criterion, the candidate state can be compared with the status quo of the Union along this criterion. For the paper at hand this means to ask where the EU 25 stands with regard to the Copenhagen political criterion and how far Romania is away from this standing. Another adequate baseline is the standing of the twelve states that formulated the Copenhagen criteria in 1993 (EU 12). Their level along the political criterion can be seen as the minimum expectation for a candidate state like Romania. Additionally one can compare Romania’s standing with the eight Central and Eastern European States that accessed the Union in 2004 (CEEC 8). They provide a valuable baseline for several reasons. First and foremost, the recent histories of these states and Romania’s history have similarities. Although the Ceauşescu Regime was more independent from Moscow than other states in Soviet sphere of influence, Romania and the CEEC 8 commonly experienced oppressive and monopolistic political systems and state-centred economies. Furthermore, the breakdown of these regimes and the resulting orientations towards the West and the EU happened at almost the same time.

Secondly, the CEEC 8 are a valuable baseline from a normative point of view. They provide the most recent example of European Enlargement. So, if EU enlargement should be a fair, credible and consistent game, the same requirements should be applied in every round of enlargement (apart from this ‘justice’ argument, section two provides also a positive argument on consistency) – especially if the candidates show similarities.

The research questions of the paper at hand are deduced from this rationale:

1. In terms of the Copenhagen political criterion, where does Romania contemporarily stand in comparison to (a) the EU 25, (b) the EU 12 and (c) the CEEC 8?
2. Given the answer on question one, is the present time-frame – accession of Romania in January 2007 – reasonable?

The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. The next section provides theoretical approaches shedding light on the influence of the European Union on transitions and reforms in candidate countries. The third section contains a quantitative comparison of Romania and the baselines along indicators that are closely linked to the Copenhagen political criterion. The last section combines the results from sections two and three and tries to answer the research questions in this respect.

2. Theoretical considerations: The prospect matters

This paper’s reasoning is informed by an implicit assumption widely used in common discussions about the eastward enlargement of Europe: transition of the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) is closely linked with European integration. This section aims to put this assumption on solid theoretical footing by presenting clear mechanisms given in the scholarly literature.

As a starting point, a look at the classical transition/democratization theory proves valuable. In the framework of the ‘Transitions from Authoritarian Rule’ project that analyses democratization in Southern Europe and Latin America, Laurence Whitehead (1986/1991) investigates among others international aspects influencing domestic change of political systems. The basis of his argument is what he calls the “center-periphery-aspect” (p. 9): The international promoters of democracy – i.e. the USA and the European Union – are relatively rich, stable, and liberal societies whereas the addressees are less rich and stable and can thus be qualified as peripheral and dependent capitalist societies. The latter seek to belong to the secure and prosperous communities at the center. Whitehead derives two consequences out of this setting. Firstly, catching up economically requires “national unity, social discipline, and the sacrifice of present welfare for the sake of future growth” in the peripheral countries. Obviously this favours authoritarian forms of government. Secondly, affiliation to the developed capitalist world is also desired because of political freedom, personal security, and social justice – attributes apparently favouring political democracy. Thus, according to Whitehead, transition countries suffer from tensions between these two opposing forms of government.

Switching to its recent history, the latter finding seems to hold with respect to Romania. For example, the first democratically elected president Ion Iliescu, an opponent of Ceauşescu and promoter of a cautious opening to the west, encouraged and applauded violence of Romanian miners against opposition groups in June 1990 – an action that obviously does not speak for a deep democratic conviction of the former communist. Having lost the election in 1996, he was even able to regain power in 2000 as a leader of the socialist party (PDSR) and remained in office until December 2004. As one of his last official acts, Iliescu even pardoned the leader of the miner raids that helped him to remain in power in the beginning of his ‘democratic’ career.

Nevertheless, this paper argues that the Copenhagen Criteria – by combining conditions of market economy and democracy – create the possibility to exploit almost fully the two-sided mechanism Laurence Whitehead proposed. Failing economically has the same weight as failing politically – both ways oppose the desire of the peripheral states to be members of the secure and prosperous centre, i.e. the EU. This can maybe explain why Romania never completely tipped back towards dictatorship. Regarding the southern enlargement of Europe, Whitehead (1986/1991, p. 22) states in line with this that “the prospect of membership of the European Community remained an important incentive for the consolidation of democratic processes in Iberian Peninsula, although the social and economic climate became extremely adverse”1.

Another insightful approach is the application of liberal theory on European enlargement by Milada Vachudova (2001). She aims to explain the effectiveness and its variation of the EU’s influence on the democratizing states in Eastern Europe. By grounding her argument on the liberal assumption that foreign as well as domestic policy is shaped through state-society relations, she is able to give a more explicit micro foundation for the way the EU’s attractiveness supports democratization. In more detail, Vachudova analyses how the prospect of EU membership influences the rent-seeking behaviour of political elites in the candidate states.

As a first step, the benefits of membership or respectively the costs of exclusion are specified. In general, “[t]he EU is attractive as a welfare-enhancing common market and a security-enhancing political community” (Vachudova 2001, p. 7). In economic terms, the Central and Eastern European Countries depend on trade with Western Europe, especially since the market in the former soviet block is less powerful and thus less attractive (pp. 7-9). It follows that these countries have to adjust to the rules of European market access anyway. Without membership, however, the CEECs do not have a voice in formulation of these rules. Furthermore the European Union is highly protectionist towards ‘outsiders’, for example if one thinks of agricultural subsidies. According to Vachudova (p. 9) this will redirect investment flows, money and expertise in the region from those who do not join to those who do. Seeking membership is thus the dominant strategy from the economic point of view. Politically, Vachudova (2001, p. 11) argues, the prospect of membership supports reforms of the judiciary and the civil service thus promoting the interest of the public. “Pressure from Brussels” buttresses thus civil interest and even acts as a “temporary surrogate”.

It can be seen that the benefits of EU membership specified by Vachudova appeal to wide parts of the population in the democratizing states. This supports actors in the pro-Western part of the political spectrum (cp. e.g. p. 5) which in turn puts pressure on the rent-seeking governing and bureaucratic elites for opening towards the EU. Consequently compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria becomes an option for these elites2.

Although this mechanism is very straightforward, it does not present an automatism towards democratization in the CEECs. Crucial in Vachudova’s explanation is the link between governing elites and the governed society. The more these elites are dependent on the people they govern, that means the more representative the incipient democracy is, the more effective will the EU influence be.

The fact that the benefits are “diffuse” and “long-term” (Vachudova 2001, p. 6) whereas the costs are immediate and thus politically remarkable creates possibilities for the governing elites to circumvent the grass-roots pressures for fast EU-adjustment. Without dismissing the European integration ostensibly, political leaders may ‘sell’ slow economic reform as a means to prevent unemployment, using the fear of their electorates. This in turn creates space for corruption especially during the privatization phases that maximizes the rents of the political elites (pp. 20-21). Rent seeking behaviour could also be build on ethnic nationalism or as Vachudova (2001, pp. 22-23) puts it, governing elites can push “the electorate towards shortsighted identity politics and an identification of the state with the ethnos.”

Both strategies can be found in Romania’s recent history. The name of the party that helped Iliescu into power – by promising cautiousness in reforms – speaks volumes: the former communist led the National Salvation Front (FSN). Two years before the first CEE Countries were already able to close their accession negotiations, the European Commission (2000, p. 87) showed serious doubts in its regular report on Romania’s progress: Besides “continued high levels of discrimination” especially with regard to the Roma minority, “Romania cannot be regarded as a functioning market economy” and “[l]ittle progress has been made in reducing the levels of corruption”.3

To sum up Vadochuvas’s argument, rational calculations of the rent-seeking elites act as an intervening variable between the influence of the EU and the transition processes and explain variations in effectiveness of this influence and speed of transition in the respective country. The influence, however, never decreases to zero:

The prospect of membership in fact multiplies the international effects of domestic policy choices, making the opportunity costs for “illiberal” politics at home unusually high (Vadochuva 2001, p. 20).

The recent literature discusses the influence of the EU mainly by the concept of conditionality. Conditionality can in general be defined as the specification of conditions or preconditions by international organisations necessary for support in terms of material resources or political opportunities (Pridham 2002, pp. 956-57). With regard to the EU, this strand of literature explicitly or implicitly distinguishes between democratic and acquis conditionality (see, for example, Grabbe 2002, pp. 250-52). The latter focusses on the requirements regarding the transposition of the body of European rules, commonly known as the acquis communautaire, into national law.

Needless to say, the paper at hand focuses mainly at the first type of conditionality. Nevertheless, the second type also deserves short consideration for several reasons. Firstly, the European Commission measures progress in accession negotiations mainly in terms of the acquis, which is divided into thirty policy specific and one miscellaneous ‘chapter’ that are successively ‘closed’ (for an overview on the single chapters and the progress of the CEE Countries refer to: European Commission 2004a). Closing a chapter thereby means an agreement between the Commission and the candidate state on transposition of European law within the respective policy area. After all chapters are closed, these agreements become formally binding. Please note, however, that this is based on promises by the candidate states – promises most often reaching into the time after accession. Please note further on, that transposition is not automatically congruent with implementation. Nevertheless, closing acquis chapters seems to be the central criterion on progress for the European Commission and governments of the candidate countries – an actuality that may be an artefact of pragmatism (compare also the paragraph on measurement in the following section).

Secondly, the acquis conditionality matters to a limited extent also for the purpose of this paper. To varying degrees, some of the chapters can be considered as specifications of the Copenhagen political criterion. Therefore, if suitable, reference to the respective paragraphs in the progress reports of the Commission will be made when analysing Romania’s present standing in the next section. But, recalling that this paper targets on informing the general and broader debate, its center of gravity remains the political criterion of Copenhagen instead of sectoral case studies.

In a very recent article, Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier (2004) build a rationalist bargaining model of the concept of conditionality for explaining the effectiveness of EU leverage4. Their general hypothesis is, that EU rules are adopted by a candidate state, if the EU benefits exceed the adoption costs at home, thus following the logic given by Vadochuva (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2004, p. 664 and 670). Crucial factors are furthermore the determinacy of the rules, the credibility of threats and the extent of the adoptions costs. The more determinate the conditions are, the more effective is their transfer, since governments know exactly what to do to get the benefits (p. 664). In terms of credibility, the lesser the costs of withholding the benefits for the EU are, the more credible is the respective threat and the more effective the rule transfer will be (p. 665). Given the asymmetrical bargaining structure in the accession negotiations, this condition also holds for Romania. Looking through the glasses of an economist, Romania is apparently much more dependent on the EU than the EU is dependent on Romania.

However, Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier seem to ignore, that the efforts made by Romania and the (mainly social) costs it had to bear, decrease the possibilities of the EU to withdraw. One could argue that the international loss of image and the responsibility for the social and political development in Romania are too high for the EU to make withdrawal a rational option. The authors unfortunately apply the concept of ‘sunk costs’ only in economical terms: The more time and the more investment the EU spends on accession negotiations, the lesser credible is the threat of withholding the benefits.

A basis for credibility is further more consistency in the distribution of benefits by the EU (p. 666). Rule transfer from the EU to the candidate states is only effective, if these states can expect that a certain level of fulfillment of the conditions leads to a certain level of benefits. Consistency is therefore very similar to the concept of justice. As shown earlier, this is the reason for making the eight CEE Countries that became members in 2004 a baseline for comparison in the following section.

Coming to the last point of Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier’s model, the effectiveness of rule transfers is directly linked to the number of veto players incurring the adoption costs. Linking this to Vachudova’s (2001) explanation, the more governing and bureaucratic elites have to bear welfare or power losses from the transfer of EU rules, the lesser its effectiveness will be. Considering the last national election in Romania that brought a liberal government consisting of the alliance D.A. (Justice and Truth), the UMDR (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania) and the PUR (Humanist Party of Romania) into power, there is reason to assume that thus the European rule transfer will become more effective in the near future.

To sum up this theoretical reflection, one should note, that all presented theories especially pay attention to domestic factors. This is mainly because they aim to explain variations of transitions and see domestic factors thus as an intervening variable between the EU’s influence and the democratization processes in the candidate states.

Apart from this, there is one central finding common to all three presented theories: it is the prospect of membership that matters. Influence of international actors on domestic policy or political choices can only be created through a ‘carrot and stick’ strategy. Thus giving away the ‘carrot’ of membership obviously makes the ‘stick’ of conditionality useless.

Consequently, to open the following comparison, one can draw one central essence from this section with hindsight to the research question: If Romania exhibits high differences compared to the three baselines, postponing the date of accession (including clear reasons why and giving unambiguous conditions) will be highly reasonable.

3. The state of Romania’s democracy: attempting a quantitative comparison

This section will present Romania’s readiness as to the Copenhagen political criterion in a comparative perspective. The bases for comparison are the EU 12, the group of states that formulated the Copenhagen Criteria in 1993, the EU 25, representing the contemporary ‘state of the art’, and the eight new member states from Central and Eastern Europe (CEEC 8). In terms of the consistency argument (see especially the paragraph on Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier above), one also needs to look at the EU 15, since their distance to the CEEC 8 on the political criterion should be the baseline for a credible and normatively fair decision on Romania5.

3.1. Limitations of measuring the Copenhagen political criterion

In order to provide facts as objective as possible for the mainly politically informed debate on EU enlargement, this paper relies on a quantitative comparison (assuming that the underlying numbers are unbiased). This creates at least two problems. The first problem is of pragmatic nature: Reliable data that is cross-nationally and cross-temporally comparable had to be found. The second problem is common to any discipline of social science: How should one measure phenomenons which are not directly observable? Normally this problem is tackled by developing clear-cut definitions, specifications and resulting operationalisations of the concepts to be analysed. In the case of the Copenhagen political criterion, which calls for “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the respect for and protection of minorities” (European Council 1993), this is a difficult and maybe even misleading task.

On the one hand, this is due to the fact that the Copenhagen Criteria are a compromise between largely sovereign states, as it is the case with almost all decisions from the consensus oriented Council of the European Union. This implies that for example the concept of “institutions guaranteeing democracy” includes several different ‘true’ definitions and specifications. This argument will become clearer if one imagines locating the political institutions of the United Kingdom and Germany on a continuum between Isaiah Berlin’s concepts of negative and positive freedom. The majoritarian based British system obviously would receive a score far more right to the one of the more welfare oriented and federalist German system. Thus uncovering what the Copenhagen political criterion actually was meant to mean implies uncovering the smallest common denominator of the involved states, implicitly assuming that transitive and stable preferences on the issue of ‘democracy’ existed and were furthermore relevant for the formulation of the criterion. Obviously, this very idealistic assumption and the partial circularity in the logically following reflections (preferences on the criterion vary along the criterion itself) do not lead to the expectation of high suitability of the resulting definition.

On the other hand, Council decisions generally, and membership criteria specifically are of highly political nature. This means the vagueness of the political criterion is not only interpreted as a matter of its compromise nature, but also as an intention of the involved politically motivated actors. By keeping the entry conditions very broad and leaving the sovereignty of definition and interpretation to the Council and the Commission, the European Union is able to follow a case-by-case approach in accession negotiations. The existing member states remain powerful in dictating case-specific conditions for each candidate country through the enormous political room for manoeuvre stemming from the flexible formulation of the criteria. Or as one scholar put it with a compelling imagery:

This “moving target problem” also has implications for relative strength in negotiating the terms of accession, because the Union is a referee as well as a player in the accession process (Grabbe 2002, p.251).

So, for both reasons given, the paper at hand does not try to present a closing specification of the Copenhagen political criterion6. In the light of these limitations the indicators to be used had to fulfil three requirements: Firstly, they need to provide directly comparable data for Romania and the twenty-five existing member states of the EU. Secondly, especially in the light of ongoing transformation processes in CEECs, data should be very recent to make contemporary statements possible. Thirdly and most importantly, the data should measure concepts that are linked to the broad and general notion of liberal democracy. For example, it would not be contested that the (fictive) indicator “regular free elections with universal suffrage” is undoubtedly linked to the notion of liberal democracy independent of its varying existing forms.


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Fitting already in? Romania and the political criterion of Copenhagen
Difficult enlargement - New member states in the EU
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Christian Rauh (Author), 2005, Fitting already in? Romania and the political criterion of Copenhagen, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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