Taking accountability seriously
Accountability analysis is no isolated or self-contained academic island. An historic turning of the tide has occurred in this area. It took place twenty years ago, when the Berlin Wall was torn down. Prior to that time, there was not much discussion of the kind found in the preceding twelve chapters, or in three closely related volumes from recent years (Kohler-Koch and Rittberger 2007; Niznik and Ryabinska 2007; Curtin and Wille 2008). During the Cold War, the existence of an iron curtain cutting through
Europe determined how the EU’s accountability problem was perceived. The key concept was ‘permissive consensus’ (Lindberg and Scheingold 1970: 24978). According to this notion, citizens accepted European integration even though they were unable to hold its supranational decision-makers to account. The underlying rationale was that citizens, while not very interested in European integration, were nonetheless well-disposed to it – leaving decision-makers free to take the necessary steps towards an ever closer Union. Against the background, moreover, of the more ﬂagrant democratic deﬁciencies east of the iron curtain, the shortcomings in the West could be easily overlooked. However, after the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of
the Warsaw Pact, it was not possible to view the matter from such a broad geopolitical and historical perspective. Scholars, politicians, and opinionmakers were then faced with a problem which they had never before encountered. Now that the Cold War had suddenly disappeared from the historical scene, what could induce citizens to accept an executive, a legislature, a central bank, and a court of justice beyond electoral reach at the supranational level? Why should they accept such a political order?