Events

The EU, International Organizations and Post Communist Reform: Five Paradoxes

April 26, 2006 // 12:00pm1:00pm

The European Union and other International Organizations have played an important role in reforming the institutions of post communist societies. Through its accession process, the EU in particular has generated a great deal of activity in institutional reform in central and Eastern Europe. But there is evidence to suggest that these changes are not as authentic and deep as they should be. By tracing East European countries' progress in adopting the EU's acquis communautaire, Wade Jacoby offered five paradoxes the should be considered when designing a democracy promotion strategy.
Existing scholarly literature offers two explanations for how institutional change comes about. On the one hand, there is what Jacoby calls the "occupation literature," in which external power is the driver of reform. On the other hand is the so-called "diffusion literature," in which reforming governments voluntarily scan the world to find best practices to incorporate into their institutional structures. Jacoby presents a third approach, his so-called "patrons and pioneers" model, which more accurately characterizes what worked in postcommunist societies because it combines external power with internal volunteerism.
In the early 1990s, postcommunist leaders looked to the West for models and templates for how to reform their institutions. This slow and voluntary approach offered a certain amount of flexibility in how countries could reform themselves with little coercion from the outside. Once the Agenda 2000 introduced a clear pre-accession program for postcommunist candidate countries, a shift occurred in which institutional reform became much less voluntary and success was tied to a clear reward, EU accession.
The East European model of reform is the basis of Jacoby's five paradoxes, which can guide an externally driven institutional reform process. First, the international actors must be flexible (but firm), meaning that reforms should focus on firm principles that must be implemented, but flexible about the actual proposals and models reformers follow. Second, the international community should adapt to local conditions (but without being overly deferential to local practices). After all, the purpose of reform is to change and improve local conditions. Moreover, the IC must drop the idea that they are there to please and help everybody. Effective institutional reform means that there will be winners and losers, and it is important to identify the members of society who might be hurt by reforms. Third, reforms should be sustainable (but should not recreate traditional structures). For reforms to be lasting, it is important that they be captured by committed local partners, but it is important that those partners are not tied to the old institutional structures that are being replaced. The fourth paradox calls for the IC to be determined (but not to raise the bargaining power of veto players by setting the stakes too high). The one who wants it the most will pay the most to get it. Finally, the fifth paradox is that the IC must be patient and strive only to make incremental reforms (but not miss a window of opportunity when it presents itself.) This means that the international community must operate on a longer time-scale with more modest goals, but be sure to keep the reform process moving.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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