The Role of International Institutions in the Transition towards Democracy

by Alfio Cerami                                                                    REV: 5 March 2019

Source: Cerami, Alfio (PI), et al., 2019. “Tri-Dimensionality of Clouds and…”. VNP02MOD_NRT. NASA MODIS Adaptive Processing System, Goddard Space Flight Center, USA [ ].

The role played by international institutions in the transition towards democracy in Eastern Europe and in the Russian Federation has become the object of increasing scholarly attention (Deacon et al. 19971; Orenstein et al. 20082; Bafoil 20063; Cerami 2006a, 2008a, 2009a, 2009b4. Wolchik and Curry 2015)5. Evidence gathered from the post-communist countries has shown that the World Bank has been one of the most influential actors in the economic, political and social reform process (Deacon 20076; Orenstein 20087). Under the priorities of the Washington Consensus, the main socio-economic security politics put in place by the World Bank has primarily been concerned with a strategy of economic conditionality where the privatization of the economy, macro-economic stabilization measures, and the establishment of a residual social safety net for the poorest social strata have been the key characteristics. The faster re-conversion of post-communist societies, towards a market-based economy, translates, in its practical implementation, into the access to loans and other financial assistance programs made available only upon progress in economic and administrative restructuring. Loans granted in one sector, such as the railway sector, were, in fact, often conditional upon the full implementation of reforms in another sector, such as in the social security or administrative sector. By so doing, the final impact of a planned reform in one sector (e.g. the social protection sector) was exponentially amplified by the introduction of another reform in another sector (e.g. the sector of telecommunications). In addition, the World Bank was also directly involved with local partners in the implementation and management of projects, as well as in training activities and workshops, which, beyond their pure informative character, served to introduce new policy ideas and to call attention to what the institution addressed as crucial reform priorities (see Cerami 2006a, pp.69-72)8. Despite the positive early results, contrasting evidence has now come to light in the most recent World Bank’s evaluation reports and the real impact of the Bank’s activities in the region must, consequently, be drastically reconsidered (for an interesting review, see Cook 20079).

A second but not less influential actor in the post-communist reform process has certainly been the European Union. Under the priorities of the Brussels Consensus, the main socio-economic security politics put in place by EU institutions in CEE countries has been centered on financial and monetary stability, in clear convergence with the objectives of the World Bank and the IMF, but also, even though probably not always in a coherent way, on the political and social dimension of reforms (for a discussion, see, for instance, De la Porte and Deacon 200210; Ferge 200111; Lendvai 200412; Bafoil 200613, Cerami 2006a, 2008a, 2009a14). In its practical implementation, the socio-economic security politics of the EU has materialized primarily in terms of a strategy of political conditionality established to ensure the fastest possible completion of the acquis communautaire. This strategy, complementary to the strategy of economic conditionality promoted by the World Bank, has been associated also to the introduction of specifically tailored financial and technical assistance programs. The programs put in place to assist CEE countries in adopting EU laws were PHARE (institution building), SAPARD (agricultural and rural development support), ISPA (environment and transport investment support), and TAIEX (training of civil servants). Despite an increasing scholarly attention and importance given to the cognitive processes associated with the Europeanization of public and social policies, several critiques to the EU approach have been moved. These critiques have involved, on the one hand, the real possibility of EU institutions ensuring the real observance of its future economic, political and social objectives in absence of credible carrot and stick instruments following the conclusion of the Enlargement (see Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 200515; Vachudova 200516; Grabbe 200617), while, on the other, also the structure of the assistance programs itself. At the end of 2000, for example, only about 56 per cent of the projects financed under PHARE were rated as satisfactory, while, with respect to the “Twinning” of civil servants, the EU Court of Auditors repeatedly stated that the European Commission should still “demonstrate that it was achieving adequate value for money” (read cost/benefits). The absence of a coherent economic and social strategy in ‘projects’ implementation was also frequently highlighted in numerous independent evaluation reports (Cerami 2006a, pp. 66-68)18. Moreover, in spite of the fact that more recent research results seem to provide less disastrous forecasts on the EU real law enforcement capacity, with EU institutions now able of “reinventing” themselves (see Special Issue of JEPP 200819), the real prospects for the future are still unclear.

In the case of the Western Balkans and Turkey, possible future EU member states, the debate is even more controversial. Research on this topic is not only at a very early stage, but these debates become even more sensitive primarily because of the countries’ substantially different and, probably, more complex political, economic, social and cultural environment. In fact, not only can no clear or well-defined socio-economic security politics, either expressed in terms of a strategy of economic conditionality or in terms of a strategy of political conditionality, can be identified (or envisaged) for Turkey and the Western Balkans, but also the possible attempts to promote socio-economic security through an increase in foreign influence is something that has to be conducted with due caution owing to possible disruptive consequences. In brief, what can political scientists, economists and sociologists learn from the first period of economic and social transformation in Eastern Europe? And what are the prospects in the light of future waves of enlargement and democratization? These are all essential unaddressed issues.


1 Deacon, B., Hulse, M. & Stubbs, P. 1997, Global Social Policy. International Organizations and the Future of Welfare, SAGE Publications, London.

2 Orenstein, M. A., Bloom ,S. & Lindstrom, N. eds., 2008, Transnational Actors in Central and Eastern European Transitions, University of Pittsburg Press, Pittsburgh.

3 Bafoil, F. 2006, Europe Central et Orientale. Mondialisation, Européanisation et Changement Social, Presses de Sciences Po, Paris.

4 Cerami, A. Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe; Cerami, A. 2008a, ‘Europeanization and Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe’, in eds F. Bafoil and T. Beichelt, Européanisation D’Ouest en Est., Coll. Logiques Politiques, L’Harmattan, Paris, p.82-99; Cerami, A. 2009a, ‘The Politics of Social Security Reforms in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia’, in ed B. Palier, A Long-Good Bye to Bismarck? The Politics of Reforms in Continental Europe, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam. Cerami, A. 2009b, ‘Welfare State Developments in the Russian Federation: ‘the Russian Miracle’?’, Special Issue on Eastern Europe, Social Policy & Administration, 43(2): February/March.

5Wolchik, S. L. and Curry, J. L., eds. (2015), Central and East European Politics From Communism to Democracy – Third Edition, Washington DC: Rowman & Littlefield.

6 Deacon, B. Global Social Policy & Governance.

7 Orenstein, M. A. 2008, Privatizing Pensions. The Transnational Campaign for Social Security Reforms, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

8 Cerami, A. Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe.

9 Cook, L., J. 2007, Post-Communist Welfare States. Reform Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London.

10 De la Porte, C. & Deacon, B. 2002, ‘Contracting companies and consultancies: the EU and the social policies of accession countries’, GASSP Occasional Paper NO 9/2002 , Helsinki : Stake University.

11 Ferge, Z. 2001, ‘European Integration and the reform of social security in the Accession Countries’, Journal of European Social Quality, 3 (1–2): 9–25

12 Lendvai, N. 2004, ‘Review Essay: The weakest link? EU accession and enlargement: dialoguing EU and post-communist social policy’, Journal of European Social Policy, 14(3): 319-333.

13 Bafoil, F. Europe Central et Orientale.

14 Cerami, A. Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe; Cerami, A. Europeanization and Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe; Cerami, A. The Politics of Social Security Reforms in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

15 Schimmelfennig, F. and Sedelmeier, U. 2005, The Europeanization of Central and Eastern Europe, University Press, Cornell, Cornell.

16 Vachudova, M. A. 2005, Europe Undivided. Democracy, Leverage, and Integration Since 1989, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

17 Grabbe, H. 2006, The EU’s Transformative Power: Europeanization through Conditionality in Central and Eastern Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

18 Cerami, A. Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe.

19 Journal of European Public Policy (JEPP) 2008. ‘Special Issue: Beyond conditionality: international institutions in postcommunist Europe after enlargement’, Journal of European Public Policy, vol. 15, no. 6.


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