This article investigates how and to what extent member states comply with EU obligations in terms of process and outcome. The aim is to demonstrate how norm-conform behaviour unfolds, or fails to unfold, in an interaction between a member state and the European Commission. The empirical focus is on recent rule of law crises in France, Hungary and Romania. The argument is that member states engage in symbolic and/or creative compliance, designed to create the appearance of norm-conform behaviour without giving up their original objectives. The cases illustrate that creative and symbolic compliance strategies may be successfully employed by member states because they enable the Commission to disengage from conflicts it judges too costly and yet maintain its credibility, and are conditioned by the visibility of failure to change facts on the ground. The implication is that, at times, not only is compliance symbolic, but also to some extent is enforcement.