The accession of Central and Eastern European countries to the European Union (EU) has been a transformative force, particularly in reshaping governance standards. While the impact of EU accession on governance varies by country, the overarching narrative implies a positive relationship between the EU and significant improvements in governance.
Romania and Poland are two countries that stand out as shining examples of constructive progress. Poland was steeped in corruption in the 1980s, but drastic changes in the early 1990s, combined with EU entry, resulted in a remarkable turnaround in governance. Similarly, Romania, which has typically lagged in market reforms, rose 24 places to No. 63 in 2022. The key role of an independent anti-corruption prosecutor, backed by strong EU pressure, demonstrates the effectiveness of late-stage judicial reform when backed by the EU.
Moreover, the success stories continue in the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, where EU membership has been associated with economic growth and improved governance. In terms of governance and economic well-being, the Baltic countries, particularly Estonia, have outperformed Hungary. This success story indicates that EU membership not only promotes good governance but also economic growth and development.
While not as successful as Romania and Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Croatia have shown some progress. These countries have pursued sound policies, with Croatia making notable strides in recent years. The EU accession process pushed these countries to implement governance reforms.
With Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovenia, however, the narrative takes a different turn. Hungary, once a model of solid administration, has been rapidly declining for some time. Hungary’s governance has deteriorated under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, highlighting the essential role that political leadership plays in determining the trajectory of government. Slovenia, the most successful post-communist country at the time, has suffered as a result of its unwillingness to undertake the required changes.
Bulgaria, the poorest EU country, is afflicted by widespread corruption and organized crime. Despite reform-minded individuals’ efforts, the government has struggled to destroy these criminal networks. The EU’s role in assisting forces within Bulgaria working for constructive change is critical.
The overarching takeaway from these different situations is that while EU accession offers a unique chance to improve governance, it is not a panacea. The success of governance changes is dependent on a country’s willingness to change and the efficiency of EU assistance. The Baltic nations’, Poland’s, and Romania’s experiences provide vital insights into what works and should be replicated.
For Ukraine, EU accession provides a road to better governance. Ukraine has achieved great progress in recent years. The experiences of Ukraine’s European neighbours provide vital insights for the country as it navigates its route towards EU membership. Recent improvements in Ukraine’s Corruption Perception Index ranking indicate positive momentum, and the country can learn from the Baltic states, Poland, and Romania’s triumphs. Late-stage judicial reform in Romania, in particular, demonstrates that meaningful change is feasible with committed efforts and strong EU assistance.
The Baltic states, Poland, and Romania offer relevant precedents for Ukraine, demonstrating how late-stage judicial reform, supported by the EU, can deliver positive outcomes.
Economic prosperity is inextricably connected to effective governance. Estonia, which will have a GDP per capita nearly equivalent to Slovenia in 2022, shows a favourable relationship between improved governance and economic growth. The Baltic countries are the EU’s rising stars, with economic success exceeding that of semi-authoritarian Hungary, which has suffered a decrease in both governance and economic welfare.
Bulgaria, the poorest EU country, on the other hand, emphasizes the tremendous cost of weak governance, particularly when it favours corrupt authorities. The EU’s role in assisting change agents in Bulgaria becomes even more critical.
EU accession provides considerable opportunities for countries such as Ukraine to improve governance standards, but success is dependent on domestic commitment and effective EU support. The experiences of Central and Eastern European countries show that EU admission can improve not only governance but also economic well-being.
The difficulties that Hungary, Slovenia, and Bulgaria have encountered highlight the importance of continuing efforts, both domestically and with EU assistance, to ensure a good trajectory of governance changes. The success tales of the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania serve as beacons of hope, demonstrating that with determination and EU support, nations can overcome historical hurdles and emerge as post-communist transformation success stories.