The article examines the power as well as the limits of the EU's leverage on domestic governance in candidate countries from Eastern Europe through the cases of Bulgaria and Romania. It argues that the reasons for Bulgaria and Romania's lagging behind in meeting the EU accession criteria have to do with a set of domestic factors. Powerful veto players and institutional structures embedded in the domestic sociopolitical context have obstructed reform in the sectors most susceptible to political influence and least likely to be reformed without external pressure. The EU's leverage helps explain why the two laggards did succeed in breaking the vicious circle of semireforms and in ultimately qualifying for EU membership. The EU conditionality has tilted the political balance in favour of a consensus on pro-EU reforms, but before these reforms Can take root, they need to generate further demand 'from below.'