chapter  3
12 Pages

Accountability and democracy

ByHEIDRUN ABROMEIT

In this chapter, I criticise the way in which the twin problems of accountability and democracy are discussed in recent research on the European Union. I take particular exception with the assumption, frequently made, that ‘working’ systems of accountability can serve as a satisfactory surrogate for democracy. Thus my first point is that the concepts of accountability and of democracy are by no means identical, and that treating them as interchangeable requires a fair amount of concept-stretching. My second point is that European political scientists, with rare exceptions,

take an overly narrow view of democracy, by restricting it to its electoral form. The European political system presents too many obstacles – namely its ‘multiple demoi’ and its complex institutional structure – to be rendered democratic by means of elections alone. More will be needed if the EU is to be democratised: first of all an inventive mind; second, clarity about the ‘why’ of democracy and about its essence. The argument unfolds in four steps: first, I describe the EU’s ‘democratic

problem’, which is not one that gradually and inevitably evolved; rather, it resulted from deliberate action on the part of national political leaders whose object was to evade the constraints of democracy. Second, I highlight the difficulties experienced even by ‘experts’ from different national backgrounds in trying to agree on the essentials of democracy, which mean quite different things to them. Hence, the failure to come to grips with the European democratic problem is rooted, at a theoretical level, in the lack of an ‘all-European’ understanding of democracy. Third, I analyse what accountability has to do with democracy, and what conditions must obtain if a given arrangement for ensuring accountability is to qualify as ‘democratic’. And fourth, I suggest a plausible way of identifying the essence of democracy (understood as a system of collective decision-making): by searching for that objective which can be achieved by democratic means alone, and which cannot be achieved by autocratic means. That objective is individual self-determination. For it to be given effect, however, these democratic means (i.e. participatory instruments) must fit the societal and political context, and vary along with it. In conclusion, finally, I argue that what is needed to render the EU truly democratic is a mixture of electoral and direct-democratic elements.