Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - COMPLARGE (An Emerging Eastern Problem for the European Union - Compliance with EU Rules in the New Member States of East Central Europe)

One of the key concerns about the eastern enlargement of the European Union (EU) that was shared by its proponents and opponents alike was that the new member states from central and Eastern Europe might not be able to apply the EU's vast body of legislation - the acquis communautaire - after accession. As a result, the EU has devised a number of strategies to foster a high degree of legislative alignment prior to accession, including technical and financial assistance and making membership conditional on a high degree of adjustment to EU law. Previous research suggests that these strategies have been highly effective in prompting a high degree of pre-accession compliance with the EU's legislation in the post-communist candidate countries. The main objective of the project was to assess whether this good compliance continues after accession has been achieved and second to identify factors that can explain (non)compliance in the New Member States.

The first step of the project was to derive expectations about post-accession compliance from the literature. The project reviewed two relevant bodies of literature, both of which lead to scepticism about post-accession compliance in the new members. The literature on legal compliance in the EU suggests a number of factors that are highly salient for compliance problems (high costs of implementing EU law, administrative capacity problems, and low degrees of societal mobilisation). The structural characteristics of the post-communist new member states therefore create generally unfavourable conditions for compliance. The literature on pre-accession compliance identifies the conditional incentive of membership as the factor that explains the high degree of pre-accession compliance. The changed incentive structure after accession, when the sanctioning power of EU institutions is much reduced, therefore suggests a deterioration of compliance. The new members might fail to properly apply and enforce EU law that has been correctly transposed into national law, or more generally backslide in meeting the legal obligations of membership. Therefore the literature would lead us to expect an 'eastern problem' in the enlarged EU - akin to the 'southern problem' of poor compliance records in the countries that joined in the 1980s.

However, in contrast to these pessimistic expectations, the main finding of the project was that, far from creating an 'eastern problem,' the post-communist new member states that joined in 2004 generally outperform the old members. Records of infringements of EU law in all member states show that virtually all of the new member states incur fewer infringements of EU law than virtually all of the old member states. These good compliance patterns are fairly homogenous across the post-communist new members, with the initial exception of the Czech Republic, and more recently, Poland. A particular characteristic of compliance in the new members is that they not only incur fewer infringements, but also settle emerging infringement cases at a much earlier stage of the EU's infringement procedure than the old member states.

The project finds that the unexpectedly good compliance in the new members is not due to the sanctions entailed in the EU's compliance system or the safeguard clause included in the accession treaties. Rather, compliance can be explained with two factors that relate to the experience of pre-accession compliance. A heavy investment in administrative and legislative procedures allowed the then candidate countries to transpose large amounts of EU legislation within a very short period of time.

The countries that not only created such legislative capacities but also maintained them after accession were in a favourable position to transpose new EU legislation in time and to correct emerging compliance problems quickly. Second, the experience of continuous pre-accession monitoring of alignment - as much as policy-makers in the then candidate countries resented the process - socialised policy-makers into accepting good compliance as appropriate behaviour.

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