Did you know that in 1987 the government of Morocco formally submitted an application to become a member of the European Union?
Brussels flatly rejected the application, arguing publicly that Morocco was not a European country and also that Morocco had a poor human rights record. This rejection marks one of the biggest mistakes that Brussels has ever made in its short-but-brilliant history (along with instituting a central bank).
Does anyone know of any scholarly literature showing that the admittance of authoritarian states to the EU or other federal-esque institutions will have the effect of liberalizing the political regimes of such states, as long as the republics admit these states one or two at a time? I did a blog post on it awhile back, but a blog post is not a peer-reviewed journal article.
The best counter-example of federalism-as-a-path-to-liberty that I can think of is the pre-Civil War US. The US federal system was made up, in part, of a number of authoritarian states that promoted and enforced chattel slavery. This example does not address the EU model, however, where Brussels admits neighboring poor states and a gradual liberalizing effect takes place.
In the US example, factions within the slave states benefited economically from the use of slaves, and this economic prosperity was tied up directly to the political institutions of the US. So, the US Senate had a number of pro-slavery representatives that not only made sure slavery could not be attacked politically, but also that the interests of slaveholders were advanced at the expense of the non-slaving states (and, of course, the slaves themselves). In other words, a powerful minority with interests very different from the general intent of the classical liberal framework of Madison’s constitution.
Once the number of free states became great enough to overcome the number of slave states in the Senate, a war became much more likely. It became more likely because the interests of the (illiberal) slaveholders were directly challenged by the numerical superiority of free state representatives in both houses.
In short, the pre-Civil War US was made up of two factions – one liberal and one illiberal – that were almost equal in power. The EU does not have to worry about this, though. It should be much bolder in admitting despotic, neighboring states into its apparatus. (The same goes for the US.) Imagine if Morocco had been admitted into the EU in 1987. There would likely be representatives in Brussels bitching about austerity instead of representatives of the King torturing and imprisoning Moroccan citizens for reasons unknown.