Behind Closed Doors Re-Visited: Exploring the Transparency-Accountability-Representation Nexus
A sequence of delegation constitutes modern representative democracy: From voters to parliamentarians, parliamentarians to government, and government to bureaucrats or specialised agents. What might be lost through these processes in terms of autonomy and authorisation can be at least partially compensated through procedures of accountability and control. Consequently, representation and accountability require one another in modern democracy. One factor in particular makes the task of monitoring and holding agents to account difficult: the inevitable asymmetry of information between those who work with an issue on a regular basis, and those who do not. Access to information, but also the knowledge and expertise that specialised agents have, give them a benefit vis-à-vis those whose interests they are supposed to serve.
Delegated processes also often take place behind closed doors. Whether it is closed oversight bodies in parliaments, expert agencies, working groups and committees appointed by government, or legislative negotiations between parliament and government, these processes remove policy-making, control procedures as well as essential deliberations from the public realm. There are of course important pragmatic reasons for why every political process cannot be publicly broadcast, but lack of transparency nevertheless presents a problem to representation and accountability. Thus, the main questions we want to raise in this section are: 1) How can representation, accountability and transparency be reconciled in conceptual and normative terms? When and under what conditions is it democratically legitimate for procedures to evade publicity? 2) What characterises processes taking place behind closed doors? Why are they accepted and when? 3) How does the increasing role of experts in policy-making affect and challenge transparency, accountability and representation? Is there a trade-off between democracy and knowledge-based policy-making, or can expert bodies and procedures be institutionalized so they foster both epistemic and democratic goals?
How does transparency impact on the relationship between representation and accountability?
Chair: Yannis Papadopoulos, University of Lausanne
Discussant: Simona Piattoni, University of Trento
Reconciling democracy and efficiency is a difficult balancing act. Yet, as societies have become more interdependent and complex, reaching agreement is increasingly challenging. Delegating authority to more informal and shielded settings only containing a subset of key actors can therefore be deemed a fruitful mechanism for building trust and flexibility to solve differences and reach compromise among decision-makers. But whereas shielded settings might be good for building trust among decision-makers, such settings remove decision-making processes even further away from and in many ways disconnects citizens from their elected representatives. The panel discusses both theoretical-conceptual and empirical issues, addressing the circumstances for if and how democratic representation and accountability can be reconciled with decision-makers’ urge to delegate important parts of decision-making to publicly more or less inaccessible settings and non-democratic representatives.
Legislative transparency and accountability
Chair: Christine Reh, University College London
Discussant: Guri Rosén, ARENA Centre for European Studies University of Oslo
In the EU, informal meetings have become the standard way of making decisions and reaching agreement. For instance, in co-decision, the overwhelming majority of dossiers are concluded after the first reading to ensure speedier processes. Whereas informal meetings such as these often are defended as an efficient tool to reach agreement, the legitimacy of such practices has been questioned due to its impermeable nature excluding citizens from accessing relevant documents and debates about decisions that affect their daily lives. Even though measures to remedy these accusations of transparency and accountability deficits have been taken, the European institutions are nevertheless still associated with opacity, lack of public accountability and elitism. The panel seeks to further nuance our knowledge on how the processes through which EU legislation passes from initiative, via negotiations and adoption in the legislative houses to implementation by bodies and agencies at European, national and local/regional levels actually unfold in practice. What do they tell us about the possibilities for ensuring efficient and accountable decision-making beyond the state?
Transparency, oversight and parliamentary powers in external relations
Chair: Vigjilenca Abazi, Maastricht University
Discussant: Anne-Elizabeth Stie, University of Agder
Access to information is vital to the exercise of democratic scrutiny. At the same time, some democratic policies require secrecy. Particularly in the realm of security policy, to ensure that democratic principles are heeded, parliaments are informed behind closed doors. In the area of foreign policy, some parliaments choose to refuse access to secret information to retain their freedom to debate matters openly, whilst others have established ‘gangs’ of various sizes that get privileged access to information, but with heavy strings attached. This panel aims to analyze the practice and consequences of closed oversight, but also questions pertaining to transparency and parliamentary involvement in external relations in general. What characterises procedures for parliamentary involvement, what causes variation, and how does closed procedures impact on the ability and willingness of actors to exercise scrutiny and control?
Expertization of policy-advice: Institutional variation and normative responses
Chairs: Johan Christensen, Leiden University and Cathrine Holst, University of Oslo
Discussant: Kathia Serrano-Velarde, Heidelberg University
What is the role of academic expertise in different channels of policy advice? Some argue that the previous dominance of academic expertise in policy advice has been replaced by more “pluralist” and “hybrid” advice arrangements. Others argue that governance relies extensively and perhaps even increasingly on academic expertise. Is policy advice becoming more or less reliant on academic expertise? How does the increasing role of experts in policy-making affect and challenge transparency, accountability and representation? What does expertization – or alternatively hybridization – of policy advice imply for democratic legitimacy and the quality of policy-making? The panel seeks to explore, explain and/or assess developments and variation in policy advice, with a particular focus on the role of academic expertise and experts and implications for democracy and governance.
||Closed and Coopted? Parliamentary Oversight when Security is at Stake
View Panel Details
||Expertization of Policy-advice: Institutional Variation and Normative Responses
View Panel Details
||How does Transparency Impact on the Relationship between Representation and Accountability?
View Panel Details
||Trilogues: Internal and External Accountability in the European Parliament and the Consequences for Representation
View Panel Details