Introduction The European Union’s (EU) democratization action in the new member states of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is undeniable and there is a widespread scholarly agreement on the EU being an important democratization factor in this area (see Cameron 2007; Vachudova 2005; Schimmelfenning 2007; Way and Levitski 2007). An historical approach,1 however, points out that all 12 new EU member states had already implemented democratic reforms in the area of political and civil rights before the 1993 Copenhagen Summit – which decided to open membership to CEE countries – and that they did so in the years immediately following the collapse of the communist regimes. This excludes to a significant degree the direct influence of the EU on these countries’ choices to introduce their first democratic reforms.2 In Romania, in fact, already on 22 December 1989, Ion Iliescu issued a ‘Communicate to the Country’, where democracy, liberty and freedom were the proclaimed objectives of a new page being written in the history of Romania.3 This initial choice, made in the immediate aftermath of communist regimes in CEE, could have been passively and superficially influenced by the as yet unofficial prospective EU membership before the 1993 summit.4 But, independent of whether the first democratic steps were or were not passively influenced by the prospect of EU membership, once that fundamental pro-democracy choice was made, the EU acted as an anchor5 for these countries, helping them to remain within the boundaries of the democratic regime type. The early development of formal membership-oriented ties with the EU contributed, together with other factors, but more so than other factors, to democratic developments in these countries.6 As the Romanian case demonstrates, while the granting of accession before the fulfilment of all membership criteria may have helped to anchor a young democracy, it has done so in a perverse way, by postponing further reforms and thus indirectly contributing to a consolidation of deficient democratic practices. Although the direct causes for the recent very adversarial inter-institutional politics in Romania (sometimes at the limits of constitutionality and mainly dictated by a very personalistic approach to politics) are internal and none may be directly attributed to EU conditionality, the EU’s ‘fault’ lies in allowing for the
progressive consolidation of such practices, instead of pressing for further reforms before granting accession. The strong conditionality the EU was able to exert during accession negotiations7 and until accession itself gave way to little more than monitoring after accession.