Comparative European Politics

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 464–481 | Cite as

Strengthening the accountability of independent regulatory agencies: From performance back to democracy

  • Giorgia Nesti
Original Article


The autonomy of independent regulatory agencies (IRAs) raises concerns about how to keep them accountable. Remarkably, the process of Europeanisation has led to the emergence of a multilevel regulatory system linking IRAs to national and supranational actors but, on the other side, this process has influenced the capacity to make IRAs accountable. The literature about the accountability deficit of IRAs has tried to address this question, but the interplay between delegation, ‘multi-levelisation’ and accountability has not been thoroughly investigated yet. Notably, theoretical analysis of IRAs’ accountability in multilevel regulatory environments is still scarce. This article is aimed at contributing to the debate by pointing out that any theoretical discussion about the accountability of IRAs should be framed in normative terms and, precisely, should reconsider a crucial dimension neglected so far, that is, the goals accountability is expected to achieve. The article, in fact, argues that in multilevel regulatory environments the impact of devices adopted to improve the accountability of IRAs is generally weakened by the presence of a ‘neutral’ idea of accountability, which dilutes its power. The only way to strengthen the effect of accountability is to bring politics and democratic values back into the regulatory process.


independent regulatory agencies accountability multilevel regulation principal–agent model accountability pitfalls democratic goals 



The research for this article was funded by the University of Padova (CPDA 11535/11 and 60A16-1482/10). I am grateful to Paolo Roberto Graziano and the anonymous reviewers for their very useful comments. All errors are my own.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science, Law and International Studies, University of PadovaPadovaItaly

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