Summary: Studies of EU conditionality assume a power asymmetry between the Commission and the CEECs over the adoption of the acquis, and at the macro level of democratisation and marketisation, rather than tracking clear causal relationships in policies. The article employs regional policy and regionalisation in the Central and Eastern European countries to challenge the 'conditionality model' and demonstrate its limitations. The research draws on interviews conducted with officials in the Commission and in Central and Eastern European countries delegations in Brussels to illustrate actor perceptions, and tracks policy differences within the Commission over time, to demonstrate and explain the weak impact of the Commission on regional policy and regionalisation in the Central and Eastern European countries. Inherent in the assumption that a power asymmetry characterises the enlargement process is the implication that it facilitates institutional convergence. The diverse pattern of regionalisation in the Central and Eastern European countries demonstrates the limitations to this notion of EU conditionality. Three key factors explain the divergence. Firstly, EU enlargement conditionality for the Central and Eastern European countries in the area of regional policy was implemented in a context of a spill-over of policy contestation within the Commission, where divisions over the regional policy reforms in 1988 and 1993 still resonated. Secondly, regional policy is a thin area of the acquis with sparse and ambiguous regulations. Thirdly, it is also an area under EU law where the national governments have a great deal of power to decide the institutional framework and means of implementation. Thus, whatever the competing policy preferences of the Commission, it lacked a repertoire of legal instruments to enforce a particular institutional design on the candidates, even if one existed. While the preferences of parts of the Commission for decentralisation informed the early stage of the enlargement process and strongly influ
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