3. July 2019 | EDP Wire | Sonja Grimm

Democracy promotion in EU enlargement negotiations: more interaction, less hierarchy

This EDP Wire contribution briefly summarizes the article “Democracy promotion in EU enlargement negotiations: more interaction, less hierarchy” of the recent Democratization special issue “The negotiation of democracy promotion. Issues, parameters and consequences“, edited by EDP network members Annika E. Poppe, Julia Leininger and Jonas Wolff. With the help of the generous support of the Leibniz Association, the entire special issue “The negotiation of democracy promotion: Issues, parameters and consequences” is available online as open access. The summary was prepared by Nora Berger-Kern.


Scholars have conceptualized democracy promotion in the context of the EU enlargement process as a highly asymmetric relationship: While the EU sets the accession conditions, the role of the (potential) candidate country is to fulfil them. Nevertheless, reform demands for an EU membership are often not fulfilled. To explain this, Grimm proposes an interactive model of democracy promotion negotiations that takes both sides’ agency and leverage into account. She argues that the relationship between the EU and accession candidates should be conceptualized as a dynamic interaction in the course of which the formulation, the scope, the procedure and pace of reforms are negotiated. Her interactive model complements the well-known set of external instruments with a set of domestic instruments, systematically taking external and domestic constraints into account.

The interactive model: interplay, instruments, and domestic leverage

In most of the literature on democracy promotion, domestic actors are hardly if ever analyzed as independent actors that dispose of distinct and powerful instruments that are used to influence the process of negotiations, shape the reform agenda, and alter its output and outcomes. Instead, scholars tend to portray domestic actors foremost as ‘unwilling’ or ‘unable’ to democratic reform in order to explain a domestic actor’s ‘partial’ or ‘non-complying’ behavior. In line with Poppe, Leininger and Wolff and other contributions to this special issue, Grimm argues for a dynamic perspective on democracy promotion, which conceptualizes the external-domestic interplay as a permanent, interactive process of action and reaction through negotiations in which both sides are competent to take action independently. Not only the external, but also the domestic side disposes of a set of instruments employed to shape the reform agenda and its implementation (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Negotiating democracy promotion – the interplay model (taken from the original article).



The instruments external actors dispose of include:

  • Diplomacy: The practice of dialogue and negotiation between representatives of external and domestic actors,
  • Democracy Assistance: The provision of financial resources or political expertise to support institution-building and actors’ empowerment,
  • Conditionality: A bargaining strategy of reinforcement by reward, and
  • Supervision: The (temporary) takeover of decision-making and the implementation of capacity by an external actor.

Unlike previously assumed, however, domestic actors also do dispose of a large set of six instruments that may help them succeed in convincing external actors during negotiations:

  • Diplomacy: The practice of argumentation and persuasion over the direction of reform or specific details of a policy draft and its implementation,
  • Take-over: A practice in which domestic actors follow specific external demands in the process of policy-making, taking over the goals and practices of the external actors,
  • Slowdown: The domestic actor’s actions that result in the deceleration of initiated reforms),
  • Modification: Domestic actors selectively change external reform proposals,
  • Resistance: The rejection of external reform demands, and
  • Emancipation: The development of reforms independent from external demands.

External and domestic factors constraining the negotiation interplay

Several structural and behavioural factors on both sides constrain the interplay between external and domestic actors in democracy promotion negotiations. External constraints include conflicting objectives, hidden agendas, and lack of capacity; domestic constraints are domestic structures, diverging interests, as well as other domestic actors and veto players. Without seriously acknowledging the behaviour of domestic actors and the constraints they are confronted with and instead portraying them as ‘unwilling’ or ‘unable’ to reform, international democracy promoters tend to neglect the interests and the agency of domestic political actors and the internal dynamics within the domestic political arena.

A case study on public administration reform in Croatia

The article applies this conceptual framework to the case of public administration reform in Croatia, which serves as a representative empirical example for the dynamic external-domestic interplay in EU enlargement negotiations. The EU provided aid, offered expert consultancy, and supervised democratization and the Croatian political elite showed great willingness to implement democratic reforms, while at the same time remaining critical of what they viewed as ‘too much’ external interference in domestic state affairs.

The analysis of Croatia’s reform process finds evidence for both reform successes and reform failures. The study focuses on the process of formulating and adopting two specific reform initiatives in the context of Croatia’s Public Administration Reform (PAR), namely the General Administrative Procedures Act (GAPA) and the Civil Servants Salary Act (CSSA). The overall goal of the EU was to optimize the administrative state bodies based on democratic principles. The pace of reform was a constant issue as the EU constantly wanted to speed up the negotiations whereas the Croatian side used its leverage to retard them. The negotiations that began in 2003 and took until 2011 produced an agreement for the GAPA that included substantial changes. For the CSSA, no such agreement was found.

Tracing the GAPA and the CSSA reform process

The reform of the GAPA can be judged as a partial democracy promotion success, as a new law was adopted and enacted, but it differs to a great extent from the original proposal and leaves the basic structure of the old system intact. The Croatian government was thus satisfied with the result, whereas the EU would have favoured further changes. The reform of the CSSA cannot be evaluated a democracy promotion success, as no new law was adopted. Finding a compromise between all the actors involved in the reform proved to be very difficult, due to widely diverging interests.

The comparative analysis of the two reform projects illustrates: 1) that enlargement negotiations entail a constant exchange of diplomatic means, 2) that all external and domestic instruments are employed during the negotiation process, 3) that the external-domestic interplay followed an escalation curve, and 4) that the notion of ‘unwillingness’ or ‘inability’ does not capture the domestic side adequately. Finally, there is still a certain asymmetry involved as demands for democratic reform and the initiative to place these issues on the agenda came mostly from the EU.


This article summarized here suggests conceptualizing democracy promotion as an interactive interplay between external and domestic actors who intensely negotiate about scale, scope, and contents of democratic reforms in which both sides dispose of a wide range of instruments to set, modify and change the reform agenda.

As Grimm shows, it is necessary for scholars to engage more seriously with the interactive interplay as shaped by specific structural constraints. The interaction model identifies the instruments that domestic actors employ to accept, modify or adapt external reform demands with regard to local needs and preferences, studies domestic motivations for critical attitudes about externally promoted reforms, and looks at the domestic constraints in which political actors operate. It sheds light on the struggles waged in the domestic arena of democratizing countries and connects them to the outcomes of democracy promotion, offering a more fine-grained analysis of why some democracy reform proposals succeed, some are substantially altered and some fail after all. The empowerment of domestic actors as competent players in the political arena, their mode of interaction with external actors as well as constraints on both sides help explain democracy promotion’s (partial) successes or failures.


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