To What Extent have Voters and Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe Reverted to Illiberal Policies Since Joining the EU?

To What Extent have Voters and Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe Reverted to Illiberal Policies Since Joining the EU?

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Since joining the EU, countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been reported to have reverted to illiberal policies. This essay addresses this topic by examining broad trends in the region, firstly defining ‘illiberal policies’ and why these might occur once EU conditionalities have weakened post-accession. It then analyses the extent to which there is evidence of ‘backsliding’, if this is present amongst voters and politicians, and whether it can be explained by weakening EU conditionalities. It shows that there is evidence of reversion to illiberal policies, albeit with limitations, particularly concerning voters. It finds that EU conditionalities are only a weak explanation of the trend.
‘Illiberal’ policies are not necessarily undemocratic: they can be enacted by legitimate actors, supported by voters, but contravene constitutional limits, freedoms and other liberal ideals. In CEE, there is concern over the rise of populist parties and rhetoric. This essay uses Mudde’s conception of political populism: a ‘thin-centered’ ideology where society is separated into two dichotic groups: ‘pure people’ versus ‘corrupt elite’. Characteristics of populist parties include supporting direct democracy and primacy of national politics. Ideas are often presented through emotions, not alternative policies. A rise in illiberal policies and populism may occur because of weakening EU conditionalities post-accession: previously the EU held leverage over states and conditionalities led to them to enact policies that were not necessarily beneficial. Upon joining the EU, these changes can be reversed and other policies enacted without the penalties.
There is substantial evidence that voters and politicians in CEE have reverted to il...

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