The CEE Countries' First Decade of EU Membership: from Policy-takers Towards Agenda-setters?
The accession of the group of eight post-communist Central and Eastern European member states who joined in 2004 marked a historic watershed in the development of the European Union. The subsequent enlargements in 2004 represented the biggest expansion of the EU's membership base since the beginning of the institutionalised process of institutional European integration after the end of WW2. Even more importantly however, it constituted the official end of more than four decades in which the European continent had been artificially divided into two ideological and military blocs by the Cold War. This article concentrates on the 2004 enlargement and analyses how the CEE-8 group has integrated into the EU's institutional and policy acquis over the past decade. In this respect the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008-09 represents a major challenge for the countries of the region in their ongoing political, economic and social transformation since the fall of communism. The paper examines to what extent the CEE countries have managed to tackle the multiple challenges of the post-communist transition and which factors have determined their status as predominantly passive policy-takers. Special emphasis is put on the impact of the 2008-09 global financial crisis, which poses the risk of backsliding the CEE's domestic political and economic transition process and growing alienation from the increasingly complex new coordinative EU policy mechanisms. The article also considers the potential future role of the semi-institutionalised cooperation amongst the Visegrád 4 group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) in effectively promoting the interests of the wider CEE region in the EU. The main challenge in this respect lies in the persistent diversity of national interests and varying levels of commitment towards transnational cooperation amongst the V4 and the wider CEE group. This especially applies to the regional leader Poland, which has been torn between the ambition to intensify regional cooperation and the desire to become a leading player in the EU alongside France and Germany. (original abstract)
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