The paper discusses the nexus between the EU pre-accession conditionality and membership obligations to guarantee respect for the rule of law as a founding value of the EU, common to the Member States. It does so through the prism of the notions of legal uniformity and differentiation. The paper examines how the EU’s rule of law promotion in the accession process converges with and potentially inspires the progressive EU articulation of standards applicable to the Member States. By focusing on the judicial dimension of the rule of law, it is argued that while a certain diversity is conceivable in the manner in which the rule of law is observed, and more specifically in how judicial independence is achieved at the national level, there is a functional rationale for the EU to circumscribe the heterogeneity of national judicial systems – and accordingly, for elaborating common rule of law standards in the EU.
1. Rule of law, judicial independence and the EU accession process: Towards EU uniformisation of the candidates’ judiciaries?
1.1 The rule of law in the Copenhagen criteria
1.2 The new approach
2. Rule of law, judicial independence and membership: Towards less differentiation among Member States’ judiciaries?
2.1 EU mandate to safeguard the rule of law internally
2.2 Judicial articulation of Member States’ obligations regarding the independence and impartiality of their respective judiciaries
2.3 Establishment of (accession-like) oversight of Member States’ rule of law compliance
3. Connecting EU pre-accession and domestic rule of law: Towards convergence in the operation of Member States’ judicial systems?
3.1 Pre-accession as vector of further differentiated integration in the enlarged EU?
3.2 Pre-accession as laboratory for articulating common membership standards?