Findings

Table 11.4 summarizes the results of this exercise. It classifies agencies according to their consumer sovereignty 'score'. This score was allocated on the following basis: a zero for non-existence of this particular tool, a one for some non-interactive information, a two for a link to a different organization and a three for the facility to exercise the particular tool on the agency's website. Choosing cut-off points is somewhat arbitrary, but it accentuates differences. Countries in italics represent 'new' EU member states which, broadly, have witnessed a lower degree of market opening, especially in energy.

Some key aspects stand out. One is that none of the agencies allowed for a switch of operator to be carried out on their websites. Such switches were possible via embedded links to comparison websites or to operators, but these were more than three clicks away and not directly organized by the regulator. Second, energy regulators usually provided more information on price than on quality, and the same held for telecommunications regulators. Price comparison websites were more immediately linked to energy regulators' websites than in telecommunications. It was also noticeable that some regulators provided links to (certified) price

Table 11.4 Cross-sectoral comparison

High (>7)

Medium (5/6)

Low (<4)

Telecommunications

Austria

Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Italy, UK, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden

Belgium, France, Bulgaria, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia

Energy

Austria, France, UK

Denmark, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain

Belgium, Finland, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Sweden, Czech Republic, Ireland, Iceland, Lithuania, Romania, Malta

Multi-Sector (MS)/ Competition Authorities (CA)

Germany (MS), Netherlands (MS)

Estonia (CA), Latvia (MS), Luxembourg (MS)

Source: Agency websites, see Appendix. 'New' EU member states are in italics.

comparison websites rather than offering one directly. Third, differences existed in terms of whether regulators take on complaint-handling functions for more than just complaints against the organization per se, namely against operators themselves.

Overall, Table 11.4 suggests that none of the agencies under investigation performed very highly in terms of a consumer sovereignty perspective (at least when scored on the basis of the indicators established earlier). Especially in energy, some markets may have lacked a degree of liberalization to justify more extensive consumer sovereignty- related aspects. Agencies may be accountable in other ways, especially through formal legal and political channels. However, if this is the age of liberalized markets and empowered consumers, then the observed patterns pointed to, at best, a modest outcome in terms of consumer sovereignty.

More generally, the observed patterns suggested that in some countries, the energy regulator provided for more consumer sovereignty- related tools than in telecommunications. However, overall, Table 11.4 does not display major cross-sectoral differences, and those that do exist are difficult to associate with distinct sectoral dynamics. Similarly, it is difficult to point to evident national patterns. Websites varied considerably between agencies within one country, therefore suggesting that no 'diffusion' of consumer templates (or web design) was taking place. Central and Eastern European regulators were somewhat less extensive in their offerings regarding consumer sovereignty, which may, in energy, have reflected the more limited state of market liberalization. However, this could not account for the observed patterns in telecommunications. Nor did it seem to be the case that 'new' agencies were more likely to offer consumer-related information than old established agencies. Such a claim would follow from the argument that to embed themselves, newly established bodies need to perform more 'popular' activities than well-embedded regulators. Thus they will seek to maximize accountability-related activities to gain extra legitimacy beyond that gained from appearing in front of parliamentary committees.1

Table 11.5 offers the same information on the basis of a cross-national comparison. Austria scores 'high' as it scores highly in both domains. Countries score 'medium' if they are at least medium in one domain. No major difference between 'old' and 'new' Europe emerges. It is mostly smaller countries in the 'old' European states that have low degrees of consumer sovereignty, but country size (in terms of population) is not relevant when including 'new' Europe.

Finally, do the observed patterns link to measures of independence? Taking the scores from Gilardi's work on independence of regulatory bodies (from government) in select EU countries (Gilardi 2008), Table 11.6 uses a somewhat arbitrary classification of Gilardi's scores into high, medium and low. One might assume, similarly to the claim earlier about age, that those agencies that score less highly on 'independence' scores will seek to establish more autonomy from government by appearing as customers' friends and thereby build alternative channels to gain legitimacy. However, if one assumed that agencies with low

Table 11.5 Cross-national comparison

High

Medium

Low

'Old Europe'

Austria

France, Iceland, Italy, Finland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK Germany, Netherlands

Belgium, Ireland, Cyprus,

Luxembourg, Malta

'New Europe'

Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania

Source: See Appendix.

Table 11.6 Independence and consumer sovereignty

High

consumer

sovereignty

Medium consumer sovereignty

Low

consumer

sovereignty

High

Independence

(>0.7)

Austria

(energy/telecom)

Portugal (energy), UK (telecom), Italy (energy/telecom)

Belgium

(energy),

Ireland

(telecom/energy)

Medium

(0.5-0.6)

UK (energy), France (energy)

Netherlands (MS/telecom), Norway (telecom), Portugal (telecom), Spain (telecom), Sweden (telecom), Denmark (energy), Finland (telecom)

Sweden

(energy),

Finland

(energy),

France

(telecom)

Low (<0.4)

Norway (energy), Spain (energy), Germany (MS)

Belgium

(telecom)

Source: Gilardi (2008), own calculation based on agency websites; see Appendix.

independence scores were interested in developing a 'consumer-focused' profile in order to advance their status, then again, this potential expectation was not confirmed.

 
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