External Publications

Feb 21, 2024

How Can an Expanding EU Best Protect Rule of Law and Democracy?

Abbildung: EU Western Balkans Meeting
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Democracy, human rights, and rule of law are enshrined in the Treaties and are part of the European Union’s (EU) DNA. There was no hesitation at the time to include those provisions in the Treaties. But over the past years, we have seen backsliding in some countries, and the EU struggling to impose respect for the rule of law. The EU has given considerable attention to the issue and developed a whole toolbox of instruments to deal with it, both specific rule of law instruments as well as more general tools that can also serve for rule of law purposes. 



This TEPSA’s EUCO Debrief addresses the sensitive issue of the Rule of Law. 15 experts from the TEPSA network have provided their response to the following question: How should the EU best use its existing mechanisms for protecting the Rule of Law (including article 7 TEU; EU budget conditionality), and how should it adapt them in preparation for enlargement to EU 30+?

This is an excerpt from András Rácz's analysis. His full contribution is available here.

The previous enlargements offer important lessons in ensuring rule of law

Two main lessons may be learnt from the two decades of experience gained since the 2004 enlargement. The first one concerns the accession process, i.e., the period when the given countries are not yet inside the EU. Experience of the 2004-2007 period demonstrates that the institutions created back then did not provide a lasting guarantee for ensuring the rule of law. In some countries they functioned very well, for example, in Estonia, Slovenia or the Czech Republic. However, in others, major backsliding took place, even though all 12 countries had to go through the same accession process.

The second lesson is about protecting the rule of law in those countries that are already within the EU. So far, the most successful tool has been the consistent use of financial incentives, including punitive ones. Various infringement procedures, and even the Article 7 TEU procedure have all largely failed to prevent systemic violations of rule of law. This has been particularly so, because the perpetrating countries, once inside the EU, could slow down and already hamper the procedures from within.

Bibliographic data

Rácz, András. “How Can an Expanding EU Best Protect Rule of Law and Democracy?.” February 2024.

This contribution was first published in the tenth issue of the European Council Expert's Debrief in February 2024.