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Accountability is one of the main processes which help any organization or state agency to control its financial resources and expenditures in order to avoid fraudulent actions and misconduct. The European Union (EU) is a large institution responsible for financial funds and the EU’s budget. In this case, political and managerial accountability is the only possible way to control distribution of resources and prevent misconduct. The core services that the EU is supposed to provide, such as legal and judicial protection for citizens, are the most affected by institutional weaknesses, although most of the public debate focuses on market institutions.
Following Harlow: “The significant semantic transition from “responsibility” to accountability” reflects a change of practice in the English political system 8 which has not occurred or is incomplete in other European systems” (Harlow 2002). For EU, it is important to keep independence in the accounting that it may be regarded as a cornerstone upon which much of the ethics peculiar to the institution is built. Note the radical change in focus when the accounting profession speaks of independence. Independence in fact is one of the most elusive aspects of ethics. The EU is ready to assert that for the most part independence in fact is the norm in daily professional life. The main body responsible for accountability in EU is the Court of Auditors (Anderson 33).
The advent of a new legal culture cannot be prompted unless a more comprehensive strategy is forged aimed at building institutional social capital. This will require bringing in line various organizations capable of acting as horizontal accountability agents, either formal or informal, and empowering them to act as partners, ombudsmen and audit agents for governmental agencies within the framework of large coalitions granting transparency and accountability on the part of governments and the public sector in general (Legitimacy, accountability and Democracy 2002). Corruption and accountability issues have been given little space on the agenda of European accession negotiations so far, the reason being that they are informal phenomena, while negotiations are extremely formal in their nature. Informal realities therefore, regardless of their importance, become the main casualties of the negotiation process. Since the reform of the East European public administration systems is Brussels-driven, the EU needs to further strengthen its position regarding accountability and best administrative practices, and use its leverage to support domestic ‘mani pulita’ (‘clean hands’) coalitions, not governments alone. If the EU wants the negotiations to succeed in countries where informal institutions are at least as strong as formal ones, there is little choice but to develop a strategy that will address informal problems, backed by part of the resources earmarked for formal ones (Anderson 39).
The main principle of political and managerial accountability in EU is transparency. It means that the EU announces all its decision and policy making processes which have a great impact on the EU and its community. Thus, Harlow criticizes recent policies of the EU stating that “it follows an unorthodox idea of accountability, focused on the policy-making process. It pays minimal attention to the more traditional obligation of government to render an account of its doings. And there is almost no reference in the White Paper to classical definitions of responsibility and accountability as recognised within the democratic systems of government of the Member States” (Harlow (b) 2002). The EU needs to build accountable governments and public agencies.
The dramatic public discontent with politicians and political organizations comes from a generalized feeling that governments are not accountable. More often than not this perception is rooted in reality since institutions of horizontal accountability are extremely weak or non-existent. In developed democracies, vertical accountability is ensured by constituencies, and by competition for resources between various levels of government. Legislative bodies and the judiciary provide formal horizontal accountability, but NGOs, interest groups and strong, impartial media also bring an essential contribution to informal horizontal accountability.”The principles of openness, transparency and accountability…. are at the heart of democracy and are the very instruments allowing it to function properly. Openness and transparency imply that the decision-making process, at all levels, is as accessible and accountable as possible to the general public” (cited Harlow (b) 2002).
The main problem of political accountability is that: “the European Union, the elemental notion of democratic accountability in the sense of a process by which a government has to present itself at regular intervals for election, and can be ousted by the electorate 15, can be quickly passed over. At EU level, governments are not elected” (Harlow 2002). Both subjective and objective estimates of corruption and accountability show the EU is falling into the bottom half of the scale. The ‘Area of freedom, security and justice’ has shown an extraordinary build-up of structures and activities as a reaction to perceived transnational threats to internal security; the outcome was the proposed common structures and measures at the European level, of which there have been quite a few over the past ten years (Democracy and Accountability 82).
The Treaty on European Union is a complex document characterized more by pragmatism and compromise than idealism and coherence. It gives to the Union important responsibilities but divides responsibilities for making policies between the institutions of the EC and the member states acting together in political cooperation. It implies that integration is a dynamic process but does not provide a direction for the process. It also introduces subsidiarity as a principle of restraint in integration. It addresses the democratic deficit by giving more power to Parliament but obscures democratic accountability by creating a policy-making morass. It provides for flexibility in the integration process through the addition of protocols, but the resulting two-speed Europe may not be feasible when it is superimposed on a single market. In short, it is a flawed instrument but one which can serve to provide the amount of integration possible in the current situation in Europe. The European Parliament would not have any power of decision except through its budgetary powers. “Yet for the accountability gap to be closed, it is essential for national parliaments to take matters into their own hands; they need toensure that relationships between national parliaments are strong and in good repair” (Harlow (b) 2002).
Title II provides for more democratic policy making in the EC by increasing the power of Parliament and by limiting the number of cases in which a single member government can block action by the Council. Subsidiarity is the operational principle for determining the locus for policy making but is not an easy principle to apply. The treaty and its protocols provide an intricate map to the locations of the various responsible actors and the routes which they must take according to the circumstance or policy involved. The treaty provides for multilayered politics. Citizens, regions, political parties, national governments, and EC institutions have roles to play in the Union. One may easily criticize the treaty as a bundle of compromises (Harlow (a) 68).
One may even speculate that the EC might have been better if it had not been drafted. Once it was drafted, however, implementing it became essential to the future of the EC. The tenuous public support for integration would have plummeted in the face of a defeat in the ratification process. It could still plummet if implementation flounders on the complexities and ambiguities in the treaty; on the other hand, the treaty could encourage closer relations between the EC and citizens in the member states and lead to EU. The cost of the increased power, however, is high. The treaty provides for so many procedures that it fails to create the transparency or openness which is essential for democratic accountability. Interested citizens will have difficulty understanding the responsibilities of the various institutions. The provisions of the treaty also increase opportunities for disputes over the appropriate policy-making procedure. Such disputes have already occurred under the SEA over, for example, environmental policies. Given the greater complexity of the new treaty, one can foresee a vast increase in the number of disputes which will require a ruling by the European Court (Harlow (a) 65).
In sum, accountability is a complex issue based on democratic principles and social values. Accountability allows the EU to control its political and financial power, budgets and social policies. National parliaments play a key role in the accountability of the agents of cooperation, and this is a role that they have not yet exercised effectively. These highly complex and sophisticated instruments are to be adopted almost at the same time, and many of them either prior to accession or on day one of the accession by applicant countries. Given the current stage of institutional development of the EU, in many instances such adoption can only be formal.
Anderson, M. Policing the European Union. Clarendon Press, 1996.
Democracy and Accountability in the EU and the Role of National Parliaments: Report and Proceedings of the Committee v. 1. European security Committee. Stationery Office Books, 2002.
Harlow, C. (a). Accountability in the European Union.
Harlow, C. (b) Problems of Accountability in the European Union. 2002. Web.
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Legitimacy, accountability and Democracy in the European Union. 2002. Web.