Eastward expansion has changed the face of the UnionIMPORTANT CHANGES TO THE TREATIES HAVE BEEN INTRODUCED TO PREVENT THE ANTIDEMOCRATIC REGRESSION OF THE EASTERN COUNTRIES. BUT THEY HAVEN'T ALWAYS WORKED, SAYS ELEANOR SPAVENTA
The prospect of enlargement of the European Union to include countries from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall caused some major institutional changes. While it was acquiring (albeit minimal) competencies in foreign policy, the EU had to reconsider its geopolitical role. The member states have tried to find the best way to prevent the democratic regression of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. The protection of fundamental rights and the respect of the rule of law have therefore been included in the accession criteria and the European Council was appointed the job to identify violations. Unspecified sanctions were supposed to be implemented in the event of a persistent violation.
“Thirty years later, these procedures have proved ineffective in dealing with Hungary and Poland’s anti-democratic drifts”, says Eleanor Spaventa of the Department of Legal Studies. “The first procedure requires a majority of four fifths of the countries and can be blocked rather easily. The second requires unanimity. Also, governments don’t like to interfere in internal affairs. They do not want to adopt state-specific measures, nor they we want to disadvantage citizens of those countries, feeding an anti-European sentiment”.
The European Commission is proposing a regulation, requiring a smaller majority of votes, according to which European funds may be suspended in case of systemic violations of the rule of law. The Commission has also suggested that European funds should be allocated only to political parties whose members respect democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. “These decisions, too, are bound to meet with criticism. Enlargement to Eastern Europe meant great economic and geo-political opportunities for the EU. Yet this success story is undermined by anti-democratic drifts in some countries. The EU seems unable to react both legally and politically. It is still unclear if it will find a way to help strengthen young democracies”.
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