Putting limits on accountability avoidance
Political theorists tend to argue one-sidedly in favour of more democratic accountability (Ross 1952; Kielmansegg 1977; Spitz 1984; Abromeit 2002; Lewin 2007). When the EU is in question, however, arguments for less accountability must be considered as well. Otherwise, we will fail to understand that the existing Union is the result of two contrary strivings. On the one hand, the sphere of national decision-making is subject to democratic control. On the other, ‘we the people’ are bound by a suprastate beyond electoral reach. As a matter of pure logic, accountability avoidance is the opposite of
accountability promotion. In real politics, however, the inconsistency between these two ambitions is overcome on the basis of the notion that ‘output’ legitimacy can compensate for a lack of ‘input’ legitimacy. This is another way of describing the everyday distinction between substance and procedure. It is the idea of government ‘for’ the people – rather than ‘of ’ or ‘by’ them – that supposedly makes such a double standard acceptable (Scharpf 1999: 6-28; Bartolini 2005: 165-76). The notion of output legitimacy raises an important problem. According to
this idea, an order is accepted on account of ‘its capacity to solve problems requiring collective solutions because they could not be solved through individual action, through market exchanges, or through voluntary cooperation in civil society’ (Scharpf 1999: 11). Such a notion would seem, on the face of it, to be both reasonable and pragmatically sound. But if output legitimacy is such a good idea, how is it that accountability avoidance has not become the only game in town? Why do limiting procedural arrangements persist – arrangements defended on a basis ‘unrelated to any costs and beneﬁts calculations’? (Bartolini 2005: 168). The answer I oﬀer is close to common sense. Universal suﬀrage, freedom of
speech, and freedom of association were conquered in the aftermath of the French and American revolutions, and they remained contested in wars and political upheavals throughout the twentieth century. Therefore, output legitimacy cannot entirely compensate for the absence of opposition, or the lack of any opportunity to change oﬃce-holders and public policies. It is for this reason that accountability avoidance cannot always have the upper hand.