How well do Eastern European states uphold the normative values of the Copenhagen Criteria?

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This article under no circumstances employs undermining statements regarding the Eastern European states’ eligibility to remain in the European Union. With this said, it is important to consider the factual and empirical data that overview how well the Eastern European nations uphold to the Copenhagen Criteria, which by now has become the defining normative narrative of the EU. This article will mainly consider the case of Romania.

The Copenhagen Criteria are the rules that define whether a state is eligible to become a member state of the European Union. The Criteria strictly require the state to preserve democratic governance and human rights, has a functioning market economy and as a member of the European Union, accepts obligation and intent required by the standards of European Law. The criteria, as the name suggests was coined in June 1993 at the European Council in Copenhagen, Denmark (hence the deriving name). Membership of the European Union requires as the European Commission has coined:

  • Political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • Economic criteria: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces;
  • Administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the acquis and ability to take on the obligations of membership.

Now, the states that usually employ, promote and uphold these laws are hereditarily western European. Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark etc. However, a dissonance can be seen. With the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia demonstrated that they had conformed to the set of rules the EU had set with the Copenhagen Criteria. The former socialist republics of Bulgaria and Romania also joined in 2007. Rising form the Communist ashes of war-torn Yugoslavia was Croatia, who would join the EU in 2013 and has been the last state to enter the EU as of today.

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Though these nations have been accepted by the European Union as member states, there are fundamental issues with some of the states when it comes to upholding the Copenhagen Criteria which has by now become a norm western Europe (the governing side of the Union of course).

As mentioned earlier the European Union promotes the Copenhagen Criteria’s rule of law, especially today, at such a volatile age of political dispute regarding discrimination of minorities. The LGBT+ community, falling under the umbrella term of “minority” does benefit from the fact that it is somewhat protected by law based on the Criteria. Though, western states uphold to these standards and ambitiously promote them in western Europe, the East is not so keen.

Eastern Europe can be defined in one word: traditional. Eastern European states share the bond of being post USSR and post USSR-controlled states. In addition, compared to their western neighbors, house deeply religious majorities. States such as Romania whose populous majority claims belong to the Orthodox Christianity enjoy the perks of being the majority. To elaborate:

Romania have faced the issues concerning the usage of church and specifically religion as a political tool. Such was the case in Romania during the 2014 presidential elections. Traian Băsescu who served as the fourth president of Romania stood down from his position, as he could no longer be re-elected. Klaus Iohannis of the National Liberal Party and Victor Ponta of the Social Democratic Party were the two candidates of presidency. Iohannis who was of Romania’s Transylvanian Saxon German minority and a Protestant was running against Ponta an Orthodox Christian. Attempting to win, Ponta sought to exploit Iohannis’ religion and mobilise Romania’s rural population to vote for him (Ponta). In addition, Ponta gained the support of the Romanian Orthodox Church whom allegedly lobbied for Ponta among the rural population. It is even speculated that both Ponta’s PSD and the Church were often attempt to give some voters material gifts also seen as transparent attempts to purchase votes. Ironically, Klaus Iohannis won the election and is now the fifth president of the Romanian Republic. More recently, in 2016, the Romanian Social Democratic party proposed Muslim, Sevil Shhaideh to be nominated as the next prime minster of Romania. However, President Klaus Iohannis rejected the nomination of the country’s possible first ever Muslim candidate for Prime Minister. Sevil Shhaideh who is of Romania’s Muslim Tartar minority was denied candidacy by Klaus Iohannis of Romania’s Transylvanian Saxon German minority. Though the case of her rejection was not elaborated Iohannis, it is believed that it was her Islamic faith that caused the Romanian President’s reaction. Though the Romanian Social Democratic Party had won the 2016 legislative election with 45%, president Iohannis came out with the statement “I call on the PSD coalition to make another proposal”. In this scenario, the Romanian Orthodox Church did not intervene as the debated question did not concern the interests of the church.

In the given topic, it seems like Romania, a member state of the European Union did not uphold the demands upheld by the Copenhagen Criteria. The western European states, though unable to personally respond to these types of transgressions, often opt for dialogue behind the scenes. As a Union of European States, the western European nations must be functional. We have other states similar to Romania in the east, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia etc. and also aspiring nations towards the Caucasus such as Georgia, who till this day are attempting to rise in the ranks in order to become at least a candidate member of the EU. Finally, though states join the EU they do not necessarily uphold the Copenhagen Criteria to its full extent.