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EU Accession: Norms and Incentives

The EU accession process has been truly remarkable in its scale and scope. The nature of the changes it has brought about across diverse societies through incentives, normative pressure, conditionality and social learning is unmatched in modern times. The process has worked best where goals have been clear, policy has been detailed, advice consistent, mechanisms adaptable, and financing predictable. Moreover, an emphasis on design and a focus on learning from experience have ensured that accession, in a technical sense, has continued to evolve and adapt to changing realities. Even where change cannot be specifically attributed to accession policies, EU norms, procedures and ways of thinking have often pervaded accession-country governments, stimulating change and providing mental models for reform. While there is little doubt that problems with the process remain, including uncertainty over parameters, inconsistency in advice, the lack of sustainability of reforms and the creation of unwieldy bureaucracies, the EU has managed to move beyond many of the issues that continue to plague development efforts elsewhere around the globe.

The paper examines the aspects of the accession process may provide useful examples that can be applied to other contexts, including: the way in which a single framework can be articulated and agreed upon to set a reform agenda, which can be monitored and adjusted over time; the value of having standards and goals that the public can discuss, mobilize around and use as a framework for accountability; and the value of specific types of technical assistance, including the use of twinning and other knowledge-sharing mechanisms.