Transformative Power Challenged : EU Membership Conditionality in the Western Balkans Revisited

Abstract: The EU is assumed to have a strong top-down transformative power over the states applying for membership. But despite intensive research on the EU membership conditionality, the transformative power of the EU in itself has been left curiously understudied. This thesis seeks to change that, and suggests a model based on relational power to analyse and understand how the transformative power is seemingly weaker in the Western Balkans than in Central and Eastern Europe.This thesis shows that the transformative power of the EU is not static but changes over time, based on the relationship between the EU and the applicant states, rather than on power resources. This relationship is affected by a number of factors derived from both the EU itself and on factors in the applicant states. As the relationship changes over time, countries and even issues, the transformative power changes with it.The EU is caught in a path dependent like pattern, defined by both previous commitments and the built up foreign policy role as a normative power, and on the nature of the decision making procedures. This path dependent pattern prevents the EU from actively using its strongest tools when trying to influence and steer the applicant states regarding reforms and norm transfer, effectively weakening the transformative power.Evidence from elections in Albania and Macedonia show how the domestic electoral stakeholders actively can resist, and even prune, important norms and laws, on best electoral practice, a key feature for the democratic structures required for EU membership. It is also apparent how there are few domestic change agent strong enough to actively promote normative changes, leaving much of the work for the EU. The clientelistic structures of these countries are a key aspect in shaping interests and actions of the political elite. The result is that layers of old and new institutions are created, producing the mixed pattern of reforms observed all over the Western Balkans.By combining the findings at both the EU level and in the applicant states, this thesis makes both important empirical and theoretical contributions, challenging some core aspects of the Europeanisation literature.