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The article gives a critical assessment of the emergence, development and consolidation of the administrative capacity criteria for entering the European Union (EU). The administrative capacity criteria emerged for the first time during the 5th European Enlargement (2004-07) under soft political conditionality, showing a limited impact. The criteria gained importance during the accession process of Croatia, reflecting some changes in EU enlargement policy in order to address the specificities of the Western Balkan countries. The article concludes that these criteria today have become a central part in the new EU enlargement strategy, posing strict conditions to be fulfilled by all candidate countries if they want to proceed in their path towards the EU. It will be sustained that this reorientation represents a major change in the nature of EU enlargement policy.
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