EU research project asks if traditional accountability is suited for modern times
Public accountability has long been considered a cornerstone of European societies. Access to public officials' records and publicly traded companies' bank statements is considered such an ordinary concept that we hardly give it much thought. Yet, with today's overlapping layers of government coupled with a near-constant flow of information through numerous channels of communication some European researchers wondered what the traditional concept of public accountability means for contemporary Europe. Indeed, the rejection of the EU constitution was due in part to a lack of confidence in European public officials. For a closer look at such issues, the EU funded PubAcc, an FP6 project aimed at understanding public accountability within a contemporary context.
The international team of researchers carried out 21 case studies covering the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, Portugal and the UK. For the purposes of their study, researchers related public accountability to science and technology policy and decision-making processes, the dynamics of social mobilisation, and wider public sphere discourse.
Through interviews and literature and media analysis they discovered,
perhaps unsurprisingly, that the mere phrase “public accountability”
had no exact equivalent in a number of European languages. They
also noted that defined public accountability played out differently
in practice across borders.