Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Studies


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Austin Jersild

Committee Member

Peter Schulman

Committee Member

Tatiana Rizova


The European Union has been the primary promoter of democracy and rule of law to its neighbors to the east. Much of the early scholarship as well as official documents on the EU’s transfer of norms to the east have shown some degree of optimism and expectation of serious reforms. Fast forward to its contemporary experience and the situation is significantly more grim than anticipated. Major think tanks like Freedom House, The Economist Democracy Index, and EU Venice Commission Reports show a stagnation and reversal on the question of rule of law, despite the millions of euros spent on anti-corruption and judicial reforms.

This dissertation examines the transformation in Europe’s normative power i.e. rule of law norm from relative stability to a system where individual member states are openly challenging this cardinal EU norm. This study uses two case studies as reference points for assessing the robustness of the norm and examines the European community’s responses in light of the rule of law crisis in Poland and Hungary. It seeks to answer questions regarding the consequences of the current crisis on the integration process itself. How to consider change in the Europeanization process? What impact will Europe’s autocrats have upon on EU’s self understanding?

Ultimately, there is strong evidence that suggests norm contestation has led to a deeper commitment to the norm as more than a “moral duty”, increasingly shifting to realm of interest when it comes to the EU. To this end, other factors which help shed light on the context of contestation are discussed including domestic politics of case study countries, economic factors, and historical traditions. Thus Europe is in the process of re-identifying its own understandings, seeking to rearticulate principles at the bedrock of its foundation.