The paper first outlines the conceptual framework of the early consolidation as the recent stage of development in the East Central European (ECE) countries. In analysing the process of accession to the EU, the paper focuses on the role of the ECE parliaments that has been an "underresearched" field. The role of parliament has been discussed in three major aspects. First, in its legislative function as legal and political harmonization with the EU, i.e. passing the acts for the Europeanization. Second, the ECE parliaments have the function of aggregating the particular interests into a national interest by providing a public and transparent forum for discussion and interest reconciliation. Third, they have a communicative function given their high visibility, therefore they have to inform the public at large about the latest events of the EU accession and to prepare the populations for the participation in the EU referendum as well as for the support of the EU membership.
Democratization and EU integration of the East Central European (ECE) countries have often been treated separately. In the EU integration literature the economic aspects have been discussed almost exclusively and the political aspects ("political harmonization") have been largely neglected. Instead of reducing EU integration to its economic dimension, this paper deals with the political criteria of the accession capacity in the ECE countries, first of all in and by parliament. There is a shift in the democratization process in ECE countries in general from the minimalist-procedural to the maximalist-substantial understanding of democracy. No doubt that there has been a democratic order in ECE states as far as the formal criteria of democracy are concerned but there are many new problems concerning the low performance of the new democratic system, including the parliaments, also in the europeanization process. In this regard, the paper analyses three issues: 1) internal capacity - how the ECE parliaments manage EU affairs; 2) aggregation capacity - how it creates a national interest from the conflicting interests concerning EU accession; 3) external capacity - how it can mobilize the population for a successful referendum. The conclusion of the paper highlights some tasks for the ECE parliaments in the coming years. This paper has been pre-published in the series of Budapest Papers on Democratic Transition (2000 No. 272) edited by the Hungarian Centre for Democracy Studies.
Introduction: Pre-Accession and Early Consolidation
Despite some disillusionment, the first decade of democratization has been very successful in the ECE countries, first of all for their parliaments. The parliaments have been the mother and model institutions, that is the other institutions in fact have been generated by the parliaments and have been modelled according to the principles of the parliaments. As in Southern Europe, the ECE parliaments have also been central sites of politics, while the parties have been its major actors. The ECE parliaments have actually done the best job in connecting the average citizens to the "high" politics through its representative, communicative, socialization and legitimization functions.
I have tried to point out in a series of recent books and papers that 1) the East Central European (ECE) countries have recently entered the stage of democratic consolidation, but only through its sub-stage of early consolidation; 2) the pre-accession period in europeanization has necessarily coincided with early consolidation and these parallel processes have produced common tasks and new difficulties for democratization and EU integration (e.g. Agh, 1998a and 1998b). The new situation can be described as a shift of focus from democratization to political modernization, or as a new period of "completing" democratization into a coherent structure of consensual democracy (Rose et al, 1998: 154). My thesis is that the ECE parliaments could have managed both democratization and integration easier at an earlier point, in the period of democratic transition and association but in this completely new situation of consolidation and accession both its institutional and cultural capacity is largely missing and has to be newly created. …