Hardening and Softening of Borders in European Integration Enlargement

  • Research Focus and Methodology

    Akudo’s research focuses on how Poland's civil society responded to threats to the rule of law and human rights from 2015-2022. She demonstrates how civil society organisations (CSOs) employ diverse but consistent strategies to stop backsliding, mobilising EU institutions, supranational courts, international civil society and more. However, she argues that civil society is no guarantee of democratic stability and that CSOs can work with illiberal governments, not just against them. Akudo's project used a combination of document analysis and semi-structured interviews. Her document analysis included over 797 documents including newspaper articles, reports from think tanks and policy organisations, reports commissioned by EU and other international institutions, judgements from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), and information published on CSOs' websites and social media. In addition, she conducted 18 semi-structured interviews with 21 Polish CSOs. In total, she has examined the interventions of 206 organisations


    Relation to Borders

    Borders play out in Akudo's work in a number of ways. Firstly, EU observers will note that significant threats to her norms of focus, the rule of law and human rights, are occurring at an unprecedented rate in the EU's Central and Eastern European member states, even reinvigorating concerns about the re-emergence of the so-called 'East-West divide.' In addition, standards for the rule of law and human rights appear to be uneven across member states, within member states, and across EU institutions, raising concerns that invisible borders or 'faultlines' are forming across the EU which affect the extent to which EU citizens can expect that the norms enshrined in the Union's own treaties are respected and defended. The EU’s norms are not respected evenly across member states, as states like Hungary and Poland openly defy them. Similarly, not all EU institutions defend these norms evenly, with clear faultlines appearing between the European Commission, whose response has been abysmal towards threats to EU norms and the European Parliament, which has been active and pushing for harsher penalties for threatening these norms. It appears as if uneven standards for EU norms are widening amongst member states and institutions.


    Findings and Takeaways

    In her research, Akudo finds that liberal Polish CSOs employed 22 unique strategies in efforts to counter rule of law and human rights backsliding in Poland. These strategies are buttressed by liberal CSOs' relationships with each other and even bring together organisations with diverse missions, foci, and countries of operation. They also aim both at immediate remedies to backsliding and longer-term societal change and knowledge creation. In addition, CSOs learn how to appeal to a variety of audiences, from Polish citizens to EU institutions to bring attention to their causes and the state of the rule of law and human rights in the country and work through various pathways to further their causes.


    PhD thesis defence date: 20/03/2024

    Researcher: Akudo McGee (see profile)

    Supervisors: Mathieu Segers, Ferenc Laczó, Frans Brom (see profiles)


    Read the full thesis