Effective enforcement is essential for international cooperation. Accordingly, the European Union (EU) has developed over the years a number of formal tools for enforcing its laws and policies across the members states. The application of these tools, however, has been often slow, timid and uneven. One of the possible reasons for this is the fear that enforcement by supranational institutions (the Commission and the Court of Justice of the EU) will provoke public backlash in the member states targeted by sanctions. Systematic empirical evidence for such effects of enforcement is, however, lacking. This paper develops hypotheses about the effects of enforcement actions on public opinion related to the legitimacy of these actions that capture the possible influence of procedural fairness, descriptive norm prevalence, and the likely effects of the sanctions on the future of the EU. These hypotheses are tested with a survey experimental design in the context of enforcing the rule of law (and judicial independence in particular) in Poland. The results suggest that providing information about the prevalence of support for judicial independence and the rule of law in the country increases significantly the perceived legitimacy of enforcement actions, however, only among those already predisposed to support the rule of law. No evidence is found about possible effects of information about Polexit, possible future deterrence effects of the sanctions and their procedural fairness or unfairness. Altogether, these results suggest that the perceived legitimacy of rule of law enforcement actions is very hard to change when the issue at stake is relatively salient and politicized.
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