Ecological modernization has established an important position in the field of environmental politics. The adoption of technocratic solutions to environmental challenges is attractive to policymakers. Ecological modernization enables such an approach, in combination with mechanisms for participation and reflexive policy development. However, there are questions regarding the applicability of the concept to political contexts differing from those in the Northern European states in which it first emerged. This paper examines the challenges associated with adopting ecological modernization in the context of democratization and draws on analysis of the development of environmental politics in Bulgaria to illustrate the difficulties identified. The findings suggest that the adoption of ecological modernization during a period of democratization may lead to the hardening of closed technocratic policy-making, limiting wider participation and preventing the development of stronger and more reflexive forms of ecological modernization. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.