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Enforcement and public opinion: the perceived legitimacy of rule of law sanctions

To support the rule of law in the EU and avoid democratic backsliding, enforcement is necessary. However, sanctions might be difficult to accept as legitimate when they hurt a citizen's country. This article studies the perceived legitimacy of EU enforcement actions.

Dimiter Toshkov, Honorata Mazepus, Nikoleta Yordanova & Darinka Piqani
07 March 2024
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Democratic backsliding is experienced in individual countries, but when these countries are members of the European Union (EU), it poses a fundamental challenge for the process of European integration itself. Protecting democratic values in a multi-level system of governance, such as the EU, is however, complex. The authors explain that the use of punitive enforcement measures by the EU against infringements on the rule of law might be difficult to accept as legitimate even for pro-European citizens in the member states subject to sanctions. At the same time, not enforcing EU’s fundamental values, such as the rule of law, is also a risky strategy, as citizens concerned about the state of democracy can lose faith in the EU as a guardian of democratic rules.

This article developed theoretical hypotheses and presented a survey-experimental research design for the study of the perceived legitimacy of enforcement actions by the European Union. Building on insights from several bodies of literature, the authors proposed that people’s assessment of whether financial sanctions against their state are legitimate will be a function of procedural fairness, norm prevalence and the perceived effects of the sanctions on the future of European integration of their country and on other enforcement actions in the future. These effects were anticipated to work in addition to and conditional on the fundamental influence of exclusive national identity and the perceived importance of the norm being infringed.

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