Social Accountability in the Regulatory Policy Process: The Governance of Telecommunications in Italy and Spain

Maria Stella Righettini and Selena Grimaldi


The role of independent regulatory agencies (IRAs) has expanded considerably in recent decades because political institutions increasingly tend to transfer to them regulatory powers in many policy areas (Jordana et al. 2011), thus contributing to changes in the interaction between the public and private domains (Bernstain 1955; Majone 1994; Giraudi and Righettini 2001; Gilardi 2008). The expression 'the rise of the regulatory state' refers to a double trend: to the process of increasing privatization of public services and to the concomitantly increasing use of authoritative instruments to regulate industries (Lodge 2008). Consequently, the diffusion of technocratic policymaking (based on skills and performance) through IRAs in the EU raises new questions regarding the ways in which accountability and transparency work in multi-level democratic governance (MLG) (Majone 1999). One of the most salient issues regarding IRAs concerns their accountability in terms of targets, activities, procedures and interactions while ensuring they remain visible, intelligible and assessable yet politically independent. The explosion of the 'audit society' (Power 1994) triggers certain problems in guaranteeing the existence of conditions for transparency and creating new channels of accountability.

The aim of this chapter is to examine the ways in which accountability may be linked with transparency within the regulatory governance of the IRAs, as a precondition of the good governance, effectiveness and efficiency of regulatory implementation (OECD 2001). In other words, if transparency is a necessary condition for public scrutiny and democratic accountability and, based on this hypothesis, the dependent variable is accountability and the independent variable transparency, what are the characteristics of regulatory processes that render IRAs more or less accountable?

This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section deals with the analytical framework and defines the empirical concepts of transparency and accountability. The second section concerns our research design (dependent and independent variables) and the indicators of social accountability and transparency in multi-level governance in the regulatory policy process. If a relationship between accountability and transparency does exist, how does it work in practice in the telecommunications sector? In other words, what are the characteristics of regulatory processes that may render IRAs more or less accountable? Finally, the third section compares a number of accountability mechanisms of the regulatory process in the telecommunications sectors in Spain and Italy, and seeks to assess the degree of transparency and overall social accountability existing in the two systems of governance. This section focuses on specific tools, instruments and measures that can be used to render policymaking in the telecommunications sector open, visible and amenable to public scrutiny. Transparency depends on the way IRAs, Autorita per le Garanzie nelle telecomunicazioni (AGCOM) in Italy and Comision del Mercado de las Telecomunicaciones (CMT) in Spain, put in place specific tools to cope with the growing complexity and difficulties of legitimizing the setting, while applying and enforcing rules in the context of globalization and high technological development.

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