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The Community Trap: Liberal Norms, Rhetorical Action, and the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union


The decision of the European Union to expand to Central and Eastern Europe is a puzzle for rationalist intergovernmentalism. This approach to the study of European integration accounts for most of the preferences of the state actors and many characteristics of the intergovernmental bargaining process but fails to explain why it resulted in the opening of accession negotiations. I introduce the mechanism of rhetorical action in order to show how the supporters of enlargement succeeded in overcoming the superior material bargaining power of their opponents. Through the strategic use of arguments based on the liberal norms of the European international community, the “drivers” caught the “brakemen” in the community trap and, step by step, shamed them into acquiescing in Eastern enlargement.

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
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