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Accountability and Multi-Level Governance

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter first presents the major characteristics of multi-level governance and gives examples thereof from the European and the transnational level. It then identifies a number of properties of multi-level governance networks that can cause prejudice to their democratic “anchorage”: the widespread cooperative logic of interactions within networks, the weak visibility of networks due to their frequent lack of formalization, their loose coupling with the representative circuit, the lack of public accountability of some network actors (e.g., private interests), and the prevalence of “interdependence” accountability among network members. The chapter concludes that, in multi-level governance, there is a risk of the exercise of political power being divorced from democratic accountability and that accountable multi-level governance should not be equated with democratic government.

Keywords: multi-level governance, transnational governance, cooperative governance, informal governance, private governance, policy networks, interdependence accountability

What is Multi-Level Governance?

Cooperation in policy-making among governmental levels as well as between public and non-public actors is described as a shift from “government” to “governance.” “Governance” in this rather narrow meaning refers to a process of formulating or implementing collectively binding decisions by networks involving public actors (politicians and administrators) together with non-public actors of different natures (firms, interest representatives and stakeholders, and experts): “Fundamentally, a network can be defined as a group of goal-oriented interdependent but autonomous actors that come together to produce a collective output (tangible or intangible) that no one actor could produce on its own” (Isett et al. 2011, 161). Instead of hierarchical steering by the state, deliberation, bargaining, and compromise-seeking are the main modi operandi in governance networks.

With “downward” devolution and decentralization, and the “upward” Europeanization or, more broadly, internationalization of policy-making, governance is today frequently coupled to “multi-levelness,” a characteristic that one encounters first in federalist systems divided into different levels of government. This means that policy-making requires the cooperation of distinct governmental levels (local, subnational/regional, national, European, transnational), in what one might be tempted to call, rather, multi-level government. But particular policies such as European Union (EU) structural and regional policies exemplify multi-level governance, as they are based on both the cooperation of public actors across levels and on cooperation with non-public actors in partnership forms.1 The emphasis of the concept of multilevel governance is, thus, on the growing (p. 274) importance of horizontal and vertical interdependence between policy-making actors, especially in the context of European and transnational integration (Bache and Chapman 2008, 398). An illustration of the combination of “multi-levelness” and network governance is provided by the fact that subnational governments have an interest in showing to national and supranational authorities that they stand close to civil society actors to prove the authenticity of their representational claims (Piattoni 2009, 174).

Blanco et al. (2011, 304) note that the literature on governance networks “conceives the spread of networks and partnerships as part of a strategy to open up decision-making processes to interest groups and to citizens themselves.” The present chapter explains, however, why such a spread can have an impact on the democratic accountability of decision-makers that is not necessarily positive. Accountability is viewed here, in line with the definition provided by the editors of this handbook, as a social mechanism: a relation in which an agent can be held to account by another agent and face consequences (see also Bovens 2007). Democratic accountability in representative government is the accountability of decision-makers to the electorate. The normative attractiveness of this form of accountability relies on the existence of a direct line upward from “we the people” to government and downward from government to society (Hupe and Edwards 2012). However, with multi-level governance, this kind of straightforward relationship is undermined. This chapter seeks to identify the properties of multi-level governance that can be responsible for that and concludes that accountable multi-level governance should not be equated with democratic government.

The Problematic “Democratic Anchorage” of Network Forms of Governance

Networks can be analytical constructs that researchers use as a metaphor to describe the more or less dense relations linking a set of individual or organized actors. Although the metaphorical use of the “network” concept has been criticized (Dowding 1995), multi-level networks involved in policy-making are empirically detectable (Slaughter 2004). They range from networks composed of administrative actors in charge of informal negotiations between governmental units belonging to distinct decisional levels in federalist systems (Bolleyer 2009) to formalized networks of regulators in a supranational polity such as the European Union, associating national regulatory authorities with EU-level actors (typically members of the Commission or a European agency).2

According to Sørensen and Torfing (2009),3 the democratic anchorage of network forms of governance should be ensured if they display the following attributes:

  • control by elected politicians

  • accountability of actors participating as representatives of collective interests

  • (p. 275)
  • possibility of critical scrutiny and contestation by stakeholders

  • broad inclusiveness and procedural fairness.

Such a democratic anchorage of multi-level forms of governance should not be taken for granted. An obvious reason is that multi-level settings may involve the supra- or transnational level, characterized by a deficit of democratic accountability.4 However, it can also be hypothesized that a number of other reasons also undermine the democratic accountability of multi-level governance, and they are presented below.5

The Cooperative Logic of Multi-Level Negotiations

Hooghe and Marks (2003) distinguish between two types of multi-level governance. Type I governance has a strong resemblance to federalism: it refers to the dispersion of authority to general-purpose, non-intersecting, and durable jurisdictions. Type II governance presents a picture that is more complex and fluid. Governance functions are performed by a vast number of jurisdictions that are task-specific, may overlap with each other, and tend to be flexible to adjust to problem-solving imperatives. Types I and II are not exclusive: Formal institutions of government create special-purpose bodies to carry out particular tasks such as water provision, public transportation, health care, etc. Usually, it is the growth of Type II multi-level governance bodies that leads to concerns with regard to democratic accountability (Bache and Chapman 2008). Type I governance is part of the circuit of representative democracy, whereas Type II governance, which is more network-like, tends to be decoupled from it, most notably because it tends to escape control by elected politicians (see also Koppell in this volume).

However, even Type I governance impacts democratic accountability, although it remains governance by elected politicians. In spite of the formal division of competencies between decisional levels, several competencies overlap across them, and the resources for effective policy-making must be pooled from different levels as well. Interdependence entails the risk of mutual vetoes leading to suboptimal agreements on the lowest common denominator: the “joint decision trap” problem (Scharpf 1988). This problem can be overcome if the involved elected governments display a cooperative attitude (Benz 1998). However, this weakens their democratic accountability: Mutual deliberation and negotiation are possible only if those involved are not tightly constrained by the demands of their democratic “principals” (citizens or parliaments). These problems due to the extension of the chain of delegation are amplified by the fact that intergovernmental negotiations are prepared by administrators who can enjoy considerable discretion too.

Further, even democratically accountable governments will be only accountable on paper for their participation in intergovernmental policy coordination if the account-holders lack information. Only those who are close to negotiators are aware of the meanders of intergovernmental negotiations and, because several actors are involved in often opaque negotiated decision-making, it is also hard to decipher who is (p. 276) responsible to what degree for which part of what (Considine and Afzal 2011, 376). This is the well-known “problem of many hands” (Thompson 1980) or “paradox of shared responsibility” (Bovens 1998, 45–52): It becomes easier to evade justifications for poor performance because actors can engage in “blame-shift games” (Hood 2007, 200).

On the other hand, the relevant literature has also identified the reverse problem, which is caused by insufficient network pluralism. Networks may be subject to closure, and their members are likely to collude, erect barriers to outsider control and participation (Lord 2004, 114), and resort to self-serving “club-type rulemaking” (Koppell 2010, 172). Network pluralism is, thus, a variable; a classic distinction is between closed and cohesive “policy communities” and more open and fluid “issue networks” (Marsh and Rhodes 1992). There is, however, a trade-off. Pluralism remedies problems of imperfect representation, but it may aggravate problems of accountability due to the dilution of responsibility. Finally, participants in negotiations are themselves caught in an accountability dilemma: They must satisfy multiple account-holders with different preferences. “Multi-levelness” can be a resource for playing one level against another (Putnam 1988), but it is a constraint as well. Even actors who are directly subject to the control of their electorates are, in reality, subject to multi-level accountability—they must account for their actions not only to their constituencies but also to their negotiation partners. The latter constraint can be expected to prevail whenever democratic “principals” (citizens but also MPs) lack information that makes them vigilant (see below). Furthermore, even if accountability holders are able to open up the “black box” of negotiations, their representatives therein can still justify shifts in their preferences through the need to consider claims and menaces made by their partners.

The Weak Visibility of Governance Networks

Visibility is a necessary condition for accountability: If the account-holders are not informed about the actions of the accountees, they will lack sufficient information to evaluate these actions in a reflexive manner.6 Apart from the aforementioned “problem of many hands,” basically two factors make what happens in policy networks hardly visible to outsiders: the lack of formalization of networks and the privatization of some governance activities (with policy-making power conferred to actors who are not the “usual suspects,” i.e., public office-holders).

The lack of network visibility is not always deliberate, but sometimes activities within networks remain opaque to facilitate the achievement of compromise. Public accountability may be inimical to compromise-seeking, which may require that interactions within networks take place behind closed doors. Publicity entails the risk of favoring “plebiscitary reason” (Chambers 2004), and public accountability to voters or to the rank-and-file may inhibit solutions that cannot be easily “sold” to them. Therefore, “informalization” strategies may be preferred by policy-makers to avoid public scrutiny. However, even formalized networks may not be visible to a broad public: How many consumers are aware that standards affecting their daily life are formulated, for instance, (p. 277) in entities such as the non-governmental International Standardization Organization (ISO)? In the field of transnational standard-setting, the ISO has developed more than 16,000 standards (Prakash and Potoski 2010, 75) and accounts for about 85% of all international product standards (Büthe and Mattli 2010, 456). ISO comprises about 180 technical committees, 550 subcommittees, and 2,000 working groups involving several thousand representatives selected by national organizations, mostly from industry. Although ISO standards are voluntary and the organization has no formal capacity to enforce them, countries increasingly adopt this form of “soft” law. ISO is best described as a global network

...comprising hundreds of technical committees from all over the world and involving tens of thousands of experts representing industry and other groups. The institutional backbone of these networks is formed by private sector standards bodies at the national level. Domestic bodies are thus part and parcel of the international institutional architecture.

(Mattli and Büthe 2003, 4)

Similar problems of lack of visibility affect the practice of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). The IASB is a private organization directed and financed by the International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation, a private company registered in the U.S. state of Delaware and funded by voluntary contributions. Most of them come from the “Big Four” global accountancy firms, which also monitor the implementation of accounting standards. This private organization has now become the de facto global regulator of accounting standards and, in the European Union alone, more than 7,000 companies have started using IASB standards (Perry 2009). Each IASB standard requires endorsement by the EU Commission, and this form of public recognition is reversible. However, the Commission bases its endorsement decisions on regular advice from another private organization: the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG), which is “an umbrella network of organizations representing European employers, banks, accountancy professions, insurers, stock exchanges and financial analysts” (Perry and Nölke 2006, 576).

Even if politicians’ conduct has nowadays become the object of increased (and feared) media scrutiny and politicians adjust their behavior to media “dramaturgy” (Hajer 2009), the day-to-day practice of multi-level governance is immune to “(self-)mediatization” and to the scrutiny of “monitory” (Keane 2009) bodies. The media usually do not display any interest in multi-level governance—they cannot produce meaningful and sellable “news” out of it—and neither do journalists possess enough expertise to delve into it. For instance, two case studies on the EU Open Method of Coordination showed that the media did not play the watchdog role that is expected of them (De la Porte and Nanz 2004, 277). The lack of accountability is not necessarily due to a lack of public accounts. In their case study of structural funds policy in South Yorkshire, Bache and Chapman (2008, 413) find that, even if reports are provided, problems arise in getting the account-holders to understand the explanations provided in them. Either because the reporting documents are too complex or because there is no interest in them, the public sphere that is necessary for accountability is absent from multi-level (p. 278) governance. Even if it has been argued that we live in the era of “audience” democracy (Manin 1997), in the sphere of multi-level governance, the production and reception of “communicative discourse” is, rather, the exception to the rule (Schmidt 2006).

The Weak Coupling of Networks with the Democratic Circuit

If decisions are prepared by policy networks, the legislative function of parliaments is affected; if they are implemented by them, it is their control function that is weakened. As a result, one can speak of a “loosening grip of representative democracy on acts of governing” (Bekkers et al. 2007, 308). Network governance is not the only factor possibly driving toward what has been characterized as a process of “deparliamentarization” (Von Beyme 2000) or, more radically, of “post-parliamentary” democracy (Benz 1998), but it is considered to contribute to that trend. Is this causal relationship correct?

There are few empirical studies of the democratic anchorage of governance networks, and even fewer are comparative in their scope. Skelcher et al. (2011) find cross-country variation and identify the type of democracy (majoritarian or consensus) as well as the varying strength of voluntary associations as contextual factors (elements of the democratic milieu) affecting the degree of anchorage. A comparative study of three policy sectors in seven European democracies (Kriesi et al. 2006) concludes that state agents are the most powerful group in policy networks and that their influence is stronger than the influence of political parties, which are the traditional sources of preference aggregation and policy formation. Another comparative study (Bache and Olsson 2001), focusing on EU structural funds policy that is considered the prototypical case of multi-level governance (Marks 1996), shows that elected officials participated in partnership bodies in Sweden but not in the United Kingdom; this made hardly any difference however because, even in Sweden, the influence of politicians was negligible.7 Skelcher (2007, 2009) finds that elected politicians remained very much absent from UK public–private partnerships, whose members were primarily accountable to their organizations and to the local community. However, parties were much more present in partnerships in Flanders (De Rynck and Voets 2006) and, based on a case study of structural funds policy in South Yorkshire, Bache and Chapman (2008, 409–10) provide a more differentiated account of the influence of elected local councilors. The scattered empirical evidence is so far inconclusive.

In any case, too tight a coupling of networks with the circuit of politique d’opinion (Leca 1996) can be problematic as well, because policy networks can then be instrumentalized by governmental or other partisan actors to the detriment of problem-solving (politique des problèmes).8 Hence, one should seek to optimize rather than maximize the degree of coupling between policy networks and the representative circuit, although the definition of the optimal point might remain controversial. A crucial issue in terms of influence is who is in charge of “meta-governance”; that is, the governance of governance networks themselves. According to Torfing (2007, 13), this task is largely delegated to the administration, which usually makes the decisions regarding the design of (p. 279) networks (taking, for example, the form of working groups and the like), their participants, their attributions, the framing of issues on their agenda, and their management. This argument received punctual confirmation by Skelcher et al. (2005), who found that public administrators played an important role in network design in the United Kingdom. Is this a problem with respect to accountability?

Members of the administration are subject to vertical accountability to their political superiors, and the latter are subject to democratic accountability through the risk of electoral sanctions. However, the length of the chain of delegation combined with the magnitude of administrative discretion can make the accountability chain (running in the reverse direction from the delegation chain) fictitious again. In addition, depending on their views about democracy, “managers-as-designers” may be more or less sensitive to issues of democratic control (Jeffares and Skelcher 2011). Technocratic traits seem, thus, discernible in multi-level governance;9 yet it is impossible to assess whether they are more pronounced than in traditional forms of policy-making.

Even if governance networks are dominated by technocrats and elected politicians are physically marginalized, it may well happen that networks operate in the shadow of democratically authorized institutions, which would thus exert an indirect influence on their outputs. This would be an illustration of the “law of anticipated reactions” (Friedrich 1937): If networks operate under the Damoclean sword of rejection of their outputs by democratic institutions that are in charge of their formal ratification, then there are strong incentives for network members to internalize the preferences of these institutions. This, however, may be challenged. Parliamentary assemblies may have the formal right to overrule decisions formulated in networks or to supervise how decisions are implemented, but it is questionable whether this represents a credible threat. One may legitimately raise doubts as to whether MPs have sufficient time and expertise to exert effective oversight.

Auel (2007), for instance, found considerable variation in the ability of national parliaments to control the executive when it is involved in European policy-making. Interestingly, parliaments are more influential if they succeed in becoming involved in informal negotiations with the government. They must then adopt opaque practices, and this implies a trade-off: Governments are more accountable to parliaments on EU matters if the latter exercise their control function outside public scrutiny, but this causes prejudice regarding the accountability of parliamentary action to the citizenry. There is no reason why Auel’s conclusions on classic intergovernmental decision-making in the EU would not apply equally (if not more) to the even less visible practice of multi-level governance. Raunio (2007, 169) refers, for instance, to evidence on the Open Method of Coordination, according to which “national parliaments have not scrutinized OMC documents in the same way as they process EU laws.”

It can be expected that the more multi-level governance is uncoupled from representative government, the higher the risk that the accountability process is undermined by attribution errors in the assignment of responsibilities. Thanks to media attention, elected officials are highly visible targets for sanctions without necessarily being at the core of policy-making in the complex processes of network governance. The effectiveness of the (p. 280) democratic feedback loop is thus reduced: The retrospective evaluation of office-holders on the grounds of their policy achievements and the prospective evaluation of candidates for office on the grounds of their pledges become fictitious. The incumbent parties are held responsible for political decisions whose formulation or implementation at least partly escapes their control, and candidates standing for election make promises that structurally they will not be in a position to fulfill because, once in power, they will have to negotiate with other influential actors. Since networks deliver a variety of outputs—among others, decisions, standards, or merely knowledge (Marcussen and Olsen 2007, 286)—the accountability gap is more alarming if authority to issue binding decisions is (even plainly de facto) conferred on networks than if networks offer only advice.

The Deficient Democratic Accountability of Network Members

The problem of deficits in the collective democratic accountability of policy networks as organizational entities can be aggravated by the fact that the individual accountability of the actors involved in them may be deficient as well.

The only network actors that are directly accountable to the citizenry are elected politicians, but they are not necessarily key players, and even if they are, their action in networks lacks visibility, as already mentioned. As also noted, politicians sometimes delegate much of their power to members of the bureaucracy, who are only indirectly accountable to the citizenry due to the lengthy chain of delegation. This is even more the case in the administrative structure of the European Commission or in the case of the proliferating autonomous regulatory agencies. As for experts participating in networks, to be credible they must convince their audience about their independence. Thus, they are not bound by a delegation relationship, and they are accountable only to their professional community, a form of “peer” accountability “based on mutual monitoring of one another’s performance within a network of groups, public and private, sharing common concerns” (Goodin 2003, 378). This “social accountability regime,” with the risk of loss of reputation as the main sanctioning mechanism, differs from the traditional accountability regime in public governance based on the legally codified threat of electoral sanctions for politicians and the equally codified threat of administrative sanctions for members of bureaucracies (Mashaw 2006).

Representatives of interest groups and NGOs are accountable only to limited constituencies such as donors or their members.10 This is accountability neither to the general public nor to the communities affected by NGO action. NGOs act as “surrogates” (Mansbridge 2003) for the populations whose well-being is of concern to them,11 but the latter cannot sanction them if they are not satisfied with them. If representation is not based on ex ante formal authorization, it requires at least the ex post consent (if only tacit) on behalf of those allegedly represented: “a plausibly democratic perspective must surely lead to the view that those targeted as constituents by a claimant should have a chance to respond and to assess the claim” (Saward 2010, 148). However, no procedures (p. 281) are foreseen with the purpose of subjecting self-proclaimed representatives to a test of recognition of their claims by their constituencies. When an organization legitimizes itself by claiming to represent the public interest, its (external) accountability to such a diffuse reference group becomes nebulous. Furthermore, many organizations do not escape the problems of elitism that reduce the internal accountability of their leaderships to the rank-and-file (if any). For instance, in spite of recent efforts to regulate the conditions of access to EU policy-making, NGOs involved in it often lack adequate internal democratic structures, and their supporters do not manifest a will to monitor their action (Warleigh 2006; Saurugger 2008). In the case of UK local partnerships, board members expressed puzzlement when the topic of their accountability was raised: “respondents reported feeling that they had a free hand to do what they thought was best when on the partnership board and tended only to report back to their nominating body when they thought it necessary” (Skelcher 2009, 171).

Private corporations, which are also sometimes present in network forms of governance, are primarily accountable to their shareholders: This poses again the problem of lack of external accountability as these firms are not accountable to those who are affected by their externalities (workers, residents in neighboring areas, etc.). To be sure, firms are accountable to consumers through the market, and NGOs, for instance, threaten with boycotts those among them that are reluctant to comply with social or environmental standards. Nevertheless, neither internal (through shareholder action) nor external (through public opinion alerts) pressures seem to have a significant positive effect on corporate responsibility with respect to social or environmental concerns (Vogel 2005), and even if such effects are produced, they depend on the degree of market competition, the type of issue or company involved (highly visible brands are more vulnerable to pressure), or the existence of strong social expectations on firms to behave in a normatively acceptable way (Graz and Nölke 2008, 4–5). Ultimately, the market accountability regime also differs from that of public governance (Borowiak 2011, 127–49).

The Pressure toward Interdependence Accountability

It may finally be conjectured that the more network members are emancipated from “principals” with whom they would be in a delegation relation, the more accountability dilemmas (see above) will be resolved to the benefit of “peer” accountability. This also requires network homogeneity: The extent to which a feeling of “common fate” or an esprit de corps develops within networks is an empirical matter, but if such a feeling develops, then it is likely that network participants become primarily accountable to their network partners in soft and horizontal accountability relations. In this kind of “interdependence” accountability (Scott 2000, 50–2), the fear of “naming and shaming” is expected to yield disciplining effects because “free riders” or unreliable actors risk loss of reputation in the network, and their partners will not continue to trust them in the future or might even ostracize them (Scott 2006, 180). Finally, such pressure is stronger (p. 282) if the network is consolidated and small. According to the Gesetz des Wiedersehens (Luhmann 1973, 39), trust-generating behavior is favored by one’s anticipation that one will regularly face one’s peers and be confronted with accountability demands by them.

This soft form of mutual accountability can operate to the benefit of the common good only if network members share strong public-minded values or if they are sufficiently representative of social pluralism.12 Networks should also consider the interests of weak actors or of actors whose preferences do not coincide with the network’s “mainstream” orientation. This is, however, challenged by two bodies of literature, each focusing on distinct limits to pluralism. First, the literature on collective action (Olson 1982) emphasizes strategic behavior by “insiders” whose interest lies in using benefits from participation in arenas of power as exclusive (“club”) goods and in externalizing the costs generated by their choices (“rent-seeking” behavior). Second, the literature on deliberation reveals that the lack of cognitive variety in deliberative settings—overly-intense ties between participants and, as a result, too strong a sense of community—can lead to closure and to “enclave deliberation” (Sunstein 2001). This impedes learning based on critical scrutiny, which is necessary for the effectiveness of accountability mechanisms and requires, in a sense, mutual trust not to be blind. There is hardly any empirical research dealing with those matters in multi-level governance settings, so it is not possible to say whether rent-seeking or “groupthink” is widespread. However, a more fundamental critique of horizontal peer accountability is that it should not be considered a functional equivalent of vertical democratic accountability. Mutual learning by policy-makers is quite another objective of accountability than popular control by “policy-takers,” and control in the network does not substitute for control of the network.

A Divorce between Power and Accountability?

“Power and accountability have been divorced, if not de jure so de facto and we now need to assess what this means for democratic governance,” writes Pierre (2009, 592) in a piece on transformations of governance. The amplitude of the accountability gap is an empirical matter that depends upon quite a number of factors. To a large extent, the proliferation of sites of authority in multi-level governance is matched by the proliferation of control mechanisms (Grant and Keohane 2005), leading “to a more diversified and pluralistic set of accountability relationships” (Bovens 2007, 110). The emergence of complex accountability regimes may be viewed as an adaptation to the complexities of network governance. Multi-level accountability networks are, for instance, established between “monitors” such as courts or ombudsmen, thus involving the European Court of Justice or the European ombudsman together with their national counterparts (Harlow and Rawlings 2007). Are such complex regimes efficient in their disciplining (p. 283) function? Competing hypotheses can be formulated, and again, more empirical research is needed to have a clearer view.

Mechanisms of “comprehensive” accountability are, to a large extent, replaced by “compartmentalized” modes of issue accountability (Tsakatika 2007). Scott (2000, 57) refers to mechanisms that “are in tension with one another, in the sense of having different concerns, power, procedures, and culture, which generate competing agendas and capacities.” The extent to which multiple accountability forums have divergent preferences, if they communicate with each other and coordinate their action, should be carefully scrutinized. Overall, it can be expected that being watched by multiple controllers will produce a disciplining effect because redundancy improves control (Scott 2000), and the pluralism of critical perspectives brought about by a diversity of accountability forums is welcome. In addition, redundancy provides multiple venues to account-holders and increases their blackmailing potential by making the environment of decision-makers less predictable. However, being placed under the scrutiny of “too many eyes” may also induce risk-averse behavior and blame-avoidance strategies on behalf of the controlled. Furthermore, surveillance by too many eyes may lead, in the end, to fatalism or indifference, as it increases the randomness of control (Hood 1998). In short, how actors will behave in a context of indeterminacy may well be indeterminate, too. The situation is complicated by the fact that some of the accountability mechanisms at work are of the “soft” type: non-codified, operating through social pressure or through stigmatization in the public sphere, etc. Are they, perhaps, toothless? The efficiency of “hard” sanctions is disputed in the literature on cooperative forms of governance, yet the efficiency of “soft” sanctions has not been established either. Accountability “forums” with no formal right to sanction are “weak” publics (Fraser 1993): They can influence the governance processes by informing actors with a sanctioning capacity about their views, but their own judgment is not authoritative.

Quite another question is that of the relationship of the complex accountability regime of multi-level governance with democracy. Network forms of governance are considered problematic both from a liberal point of view because of their frequent lack of formalization and from a democratic point of view, emphasizing the necessity of popular control (Dryzek 2010, 122–4). Many accountability mechanisms in multi-level governance perform different functions (such as ensuring learning) than mechanisms of democratic accountability, which aim at ensuring responsiveness, and should thereby make citizens confident that their preferences (input) are reflected in the production of decisions that affect them (output). Hence, the divorce in multi-level governance is not so much between power and accountability as a whole, but, rather, between power and democratic accountability.

Accountability forums in multi-level governance may well not include democratic “principals” such as elected officials (not to mention ordinary citizens)—think about peer accountability. The relationship between accountability and representation is thereby loosened; Those who control network outputs ex post are not necessarily the same as those who formulate ex ante mandates to networks. In addition, accountability forums may be weakly accountable—think of organized civil society actors acting (p. 284) as “surrogate” accountability-holders—and accountability relations may lack transparency themselves—think again about peer accountability that best functions in closed networks. Therefore, the emergence of alternative forms of accountability in multi-level governance can be no remedy for the erosion of democratic accountability. Rubenstein (2007, 631) correctly maintains that “standard” (democratic) accountability is superior to its different surrogates, which should be viewed as no more than second-best alternatives. In spite of the proliferation of accountability mechanisms and of the normative discourse on accountability as a virtue, accountable governance is no synonym for democratic government.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Notes:

                                                                                                                                                                        (1) . See, for instance, the case of regional Monitoring Committees, which are deliberative bodies supervising the operation of EU Structural Funds (Kamlage 2008). See also the “Open Method of Coordination” (Kröger 2007), based on policy goals agreed upon between the governments of EU member states and followed by policy recommendations adopted in deliberations between national experts and EU officials, whose implementation may require the cooperation of subnational and non-public actors as well.

                                                                                                                                                                        (2) . See, for instance, Martens (2008).

                                                                                                                                                                        (3) . See also Löfgren and Agger (2007) and the criteria developed by Mathur and Skelcher (2007) for the assessment of the democratic quality of network governance. For example, the “Governance Assessment Tool,” which contains indicators of transparency and external accountability for multi-level partnerships (Skelcher 2007).

                                                                                                                                                                        (4) . For a differentiated analysis of the accountability of various EU institutions, see Bovens et al. (2010).

                                                                                                                                                                        (5) . See also Papadopoulos (2011).

                                                                                                                                                                        (6) . This problem of “hidden action” and “hidden information” has been emphasized by the “principal–agent” theory of delegation (see, among many others, Lupia 2003).

                                                                                                                                                                        (7) . See also the analysis based on Scandinavian data in Olsson (2003).

                                                                                                                                                                        (8) . On cases from France and Germany, see, respectively, Taiclet (2006) and Auel (2006), and on the United Kingdom compared with smaller European states, see Skelcher et al. (2011).

                                                                                                                                                                        (9) . See also the role of technocrats as described by Bache and Chapman (2008, 410–2).

                                                                                                                                                                        (10) . For an analysis of different forms of NGO accountability depending on NGO type and NGO interactions with their environment, see Ebrahim (2007).

                                                                                                                                                                        (11) . Rubenstein (2007, 625) distinguishes “surrogate accountability” from “mediated standard accountability.” In the latter, accountability-holders delegate the tasks of surveillance or sanction to an agent (for instance, to courts), whereas such delegation does not exist in surrogate accountability.

                                                                                                                                                                        (12) . A similar condition is posed by Chambers (2004) when she refers to the moral necessity for deliberations in camera to be respectful of the public interest (“public reason”).