Promoting the Rule of Law in the EU Enlargement Policy: A Twofold Challenge


  • Leposava Ognjanoska Law of the European Union


Since the rule of law was introduced into the EU enlargement policy, its role within the conditionality policy has advanced gradually so that it has become the cornerstone of the accession process. This paper analyses the evolution of the rule of law promotion in the process of EU enlargement with a focus on the Western Balkans and strives to identify what the main challenges are in this regard and the main reasons why the EU has made the rule of law central to its new enlargement methodology. Drawing on the experience of the Europeanisation process of the CEE countries, the paper examines the different approaches in terms of the promotion of the rule of law within the Copenhagen political accession criteria. It finds that with regard to the accession process of the Western Balkans, the EU is no longer satisfied with ‘reforms on paper’ and strives to apply more active leverage. However, the internal challenges for the rule of law within the EU and the often ‘neglected’ fourth Copenhagen criterion – absorption capacity of the Union itself referring to its capability to include new members – also affect the process. Rule of law conditionality has been compromised not only by more focus on the box-ticking benchmark fulfilment exercise than on substance, but also by the lack of credibility on the side of the EU that has undermined the pre-accession conditionality. The most illustrative case in this regard is the accession process of North Macedonia that is analysed as a case study in order to identify the main challenges and shortcomings of the EU enlargement policy. The paper proposes that the rule of law promotion and the overall Europeanisation process must rest on a credible merit-based accession process that involves clear commitments on both sides – candidate countries but also the EU. 

Keywords: European Union, rule of law, enlargement policy, conditionality, accession process, Western Balkans.



This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution − Non-Commercial − No Derivatives 4.0 International License.


Suggested citation: L Ognjanoska, ‘Promoting the Rule of Law in the EU Enlargement Policy: A Twofold Challenge’ (2021) 17 CYELP 237.




How to Cite

Ognjanoska, L. (2021). Promoting the Rule of Law in the EU Enlargement Policy: A Twofold Challenge . Croatian Yearbook of European Law and Policy, 17(2021), 237–277. Retrieved from