Taking signals seriously
membership credibility and EU rule transfer to candidate countries from the acquis communautaire
While researchers broadly agree that a credible EU membership perspective is vital for effective rule transfer to candidate countries, scholarship has so far conceived of membership credibility in formal and dichotomous terms. This is emblematic in the empirical focus on accession stages or types of EU incentives. As a result, the literature has not taken seriously the role of political signals shaping credibility perceptions. This article develops and systematically tests a novel argument: the credibility of the EU’s membership hinges on whether a given country believes in the EU’s ability to deliver on its promise. As such, I opt for conceiving of membership credibility as a perceptive issue. Specifically, it is argued that credibility perceptions are influenced by official EU announcements as they are by political signals from the big three (France, the UK and Germany). The argument finds empirical corroboration in a pooled regression analysis based on an original dataset of rule transfer from the acquis communautaire comprising 16 candidate countries from 1998 to 2009. While future research should assess the veracity of the hypothesis across countries and time, at the very minimum, the findings suggest to take the issue of conflicting political signals more seriously when gauging the EU’s membership credibility.
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