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Since the introduction of the Copenhagen Criteria, enlargement has been framed as an inpartial process based on conditionality and regulated by mutually agreed benchmarks, but its political connotation seems to be increasingly evident, affected equally by both domestic and European considerations.
While still formally distant in the EU jargon, this presents us with a new reality in which the actual dividing lines between partnership and candidacy are increasingly blurred. This is particularly relevant since, traditionally, deepening integration and widening it – by being able to integrate new members in the European family and projecting the normative power of Europeanization outside the EU – have been seen as the two respective, and mutually reinforcing, faces of the process of constructing European Unity.
Such reality justifies the necessity to comparatively assess the above-mentioned developments in the neighbourhood and candidate countries and the EU’s respective strategies in terms of Europeanization. Accordingly, EU’s influence towards partners and candidates should not be studied in a vacuum, but in terms of relative weight of alternative models of regional integration and non-exclusivity of relations.