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This article argues that the EU’s enlargement negotiations with Eastern European applicants have become possible to a large extent by the introduction of objective assessment by the Commission, which allowed integration to proceed despite the threat of deadlock. The process of negotiations and preparation, however, should be better seen as a constant switching between the technical parts of the acquis and their (potential) political consequences. These arguments are developed in an analysis of Bulgaria’s path to accession. The analysis shows that in the domestic arena, the same tensions between the seemingly technical character of the negotiations and their political implications and consequences can be observed. The article will argue that while the emphasis on objective criteria and technical issues obscured the potential political consequences and effects on various sectors of the economy and society, stalled reforms in public administration or the judiciary belonged to the realm of its unintended consequences. Rule of law did not reform significantly despite the introduction of a special tool of political conditionality, the EU’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (cvm). The politicization of issues changed over time, with some measures affecting political cleavages more than a decade after Bulgaria’s accession.

In: Southeastern Europe