chapter  5
16 Pages

Irretrievable powers and democratic accountability


In one sense, it is obvious that international powers cannot be recovered by individual states: their exercise affects more than one state, so they cannot be international powers if they are contained within a single state. In recent years, however, scholars have increasingly employed a language which yields the impression that international powers can indeed be transferred from international or transnational institutions to states: the idea is that international powers are delegated by states.1 This would appear to imply, if words are given their conventional meaning, that said powers originate in these states and can ultimately be recovered by them. This slight divergence between conventional language and political reality

is not necessarily problematic. It could be that everyone knows what ‘delegation’ means when used in reference to international powers. The changing meaning of the term may even help scholars to name phenomena in international politics that would otherwise have been left unaccounted for. However, the mismatch between a certain use of language on the one hand, and political reality on the other, may be the result of a less conscious intellectual process, such that the meaning of the term is unclear when employed in a context of regional or global governance. The new language would in that case be worrying indeed, since it may create the impression that ‘international powers’ are recoverable by states in a way which in fact they are not. Moreover, such impressions may be correlated in turn with normative propositions that remain unquestioned – as long as the new language of ‘delegation’ in reference to international powers has not been decoded. To cast some light on this problem – the meaning and justificatory role of

‘delegation’ when used in a context of regional or global governance – I shall explore the way in which international powers cannot be recovered by individual states. In addition, I will consider the implications of this analysis for accountability in the EU. One consequence, as I see it, of the new meaning of ‘delegation’ indicated above is that the definitional requirements of accountability are significantly relaxed. This implication needs to be unpacked. Since accountability is often invoked as a guideline for political practice, any relaxation of its definitional requirements should be accompanied by an analysis of the normative considerations involved – an analysis typically absent

the shift of changes in the concept of accountability are actually implicated by a particular change in the concept of delegation. The chapter is divided into three parts. In the first, I trace the question of

the recoverability of delegated authority back to a procedural conception of democracy, and I describe some of the positions to be found in the literature on international institutions. In the second, I describe in greater detail the ability (or lack thereof) of democratic states to recover international powers. In the third, I explore the meaning of accountability as implied by the changing concept of delegation.