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Europe’s bank and Europe’s citizens: Accountability, transparency – legitimacy?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-67
Number of pages18
JournalMaastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law
Volume26
Issue number1
Early online date29 May 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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Abstract

Since the Eurozone crisis, critique of the European Central Bank (ECB) has centred on the Bank’s lack of acceptance by Europe’s citizens. One prominent strand of the debate argues that such acceptance can be enhanced by ensuring higher levels of compliance with the democratic standards of accountability and transparency. This article critically assesses this ‘standards-support nexus’ and its underlying assumptions. We suggest that three conditions need to be fulfilled for the argument to hold: (i) citizens are aware of the ECB and its design; (ii) citizens prioritise democratic standards over alternative motivations for acceptance; and (iii) citizens are able to differentiate between the ECB and the European Union’s wider multilevel system. Drawing from the established literature on support for European integration and trust in the ECB and from descriptive Eurobarometer data, we conclude that these three conditions are unlikely to bear out empirically. Moreover, increasing the ECB’s accountability and transparency in times of crisis and heightened politicisation could adversely affect the Bank’s policy-performance and public image. Hence, whilst not questioning the normative desirability of accountability and transparency, we caution against assuming too easily that such democratic standards alone will enhance citizen support, and against assuming that they come without trade-offs.

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