Accountability, regulatory governance and democracy

Both the policy process and the impact of accountability on regulatory governance gain in complexity as the lines driving the national, the regional and the international arenas become increasingly blurred, and they straddle the division between public and private accountability. In this respect, professional accountability also emerges as a relevant form of accountability, one relying extensively on norms and practices of adequate regulatory behaviour and expectations based on a common and shared understanding of how to deal with multiple fora within the regulatory space.

This is precisely the first element brought to light across several of the chapters included in this volume: the role of epistemic communities and networks of experts. While the increasingly technical nature and sophistication of some regulatory policy areas more directly account for the enhanced role of these actors, this also may raise concerns as to the democratic accountability of the regulatory process.

The stronger role played by technocratic experts in these networks may jeopardize democratic mechanisms of accountability, as emphasized by Dorn and acknowledged by Ozel. Furthermore, it brings to light a relevant dimension: the difference between political control and expertise. Whereas there is a trade-off between political control and expertise (Bawn 1995), technical information and expertise are not homogenously distributed between political representatives and technical experts in agencies on the one hand, and across fora - namely, regulatees and civil society actors - on the other. Though of course these actors can resort to different resources to build on their regulatory capability and expertise - consultations with experts, networks, cross-memberships and cooperation, among many other possible strategies they may pursue to overcome their structural weaknesses - their actual resources will affect their capabilities and hence their role and use of accountability mechanisms, where available. In sum, fora or actors relying on scarce and weak resources are hence expected to have fewer capabilities to process the information, which in turn may hinder their ability to hold the agency to account.

While in the regulatory world this asymmetry of information seems to become more acute as the particular policy field gains in technical complexity, financial regulation being a clear example of such processes, the consequences of policy decisions become, in turn, more uncertain. The global financial crisis has revealed a number of acute accountability problems in relation to regulatory processes and regimes for financial markets.

On the one hand, effective scrutiny in the area of financial regulation requires a great deal of expertise, as convincingly argued by Dorn and Scott in this book. Given that it is the reservoir of powerful and more concentrated interests - namely, large investors - the lack of such resources limits the range of effective actions that either the government can impose on the agency or the regulator can enforce on private firms. Additionally, it may restrain the participation of consumers, as depicted by Lodge in this volume, and other societal actors and their capability to hold to account.

However, and despite the risk of hegemony of these technocratic networks and elites, or even the capture by these actors, regulatory accountability results from a number of issues including complex political and social dynamics involving national and transnational actors. This is shown in the case of Turkey, where the interrelated effects of both political and technocratic dynamics explain regulatory accountability outcomes, including international regimes and expert networks.

This raises the issue of these regulators and experts bringing about a 'democratic deficit', following their statutory separation from democratic institutions on the one hand, and their articulation in transnational networks that further reinforces their detachment from national governments and decision-makers, on the other. In other words, these actors together with the institutions and practices of regulatory capitalism pose a challenge and a problem for traditional accounts of democratic governance.

While the challenge, as posed by Scott, lies in finding the adequate combination of actors, mechanisms and arrangements that may enhance accountability in current regulatory governance processes, it is clear that this remains a highly political and socially contested issue, as Dorn underscores. As has been argued, this also provides evidence for a relevant dimension of accountability: rather than a matter of quantity, accountability constitutes a matter of adequacy. Finding and developing successful articulations of accountability mechanisms both formal and informal is desirable in many cases. Still, it also imposes a complex requirement on institutional design, one that better and more nuanced knowledge of institutional dynamics in regulatory governance settings may contribute to.

 
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