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Exercising Accountability in European Parliamentary Debates on Statements: An Argumentative Perspective

Part of the Argumentation Library book series (ARGA,volume 32)


In this chapter, I examine the argumentative discursive process through which accountability is exercised in debates that follow statements by Commissioners in the European Parliament (EP). The accountability practice is characterised as an activity type (van Eemeren in Strategic maneuvering in argumentative discourse: Extending the pragma-dialectical theory of argumentation. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 2010), based on a careful examination of the institutional setting and combined with the analysis of actual debates. The characterisation highlights the conventionalised elements of the practice, offering us some indications on what to look for when examining the argumentative pursuit of accountability in these debates. In the characterisation, I pay special attention to the linguistic indicators associated with different argumentative aspects of the process. Following van Eemeren et al. (Argumentative indicators in discourse: a pragma-dialectical study, Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2007), I take it that identifying argumentative indicators is in principle fruitful as it refines the analytic tools used to examine argumentative practices. However, as the examination in this chapter shows, as a result of the highly institutional nature of the practice, the multiple purposes it has and the consequent indirectness and implicitness, argumentative indicators are less straightforward than they are in other practices. The examination of EP debates on statements suggests we may need to think of different types of indicators to help us navigate more complex institutionalised argumentative practices.


  • Accountability
  • Activity type
  • Argumentative indicators
  • European parliamentary debates
  • Institutionalised argumentation

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  1. 1.

    The literature on political accountability identifies three aspects of accountability practices: (i) putting an agent under the obligation to provide information about her conduct, i.e. monitoring, (ii) putting the agent under the obligation to justify the conduct and (iii) imposing sanctions on agents whose conduct is not satisfactory, i.e. enforcement (Tsai 2011). While in its complete form, accountability involves all three aspects, scholars recognise that “certain instances of accountability do not include aspects of answerability [i.e., monitoring and justification], while others go without elements of enforcement” (Schedler 1999, p. 18). The understanding of accountability as an argumentative activity applies mainly to the view of accountability as answerability rather than to the view of accountability as enforcement.

  2. 2.

    For examples of the intertwinement of accountability and deliberation in EP debates on statements, see Mohammed (2013, 2016a, d).

  3. 3.

    See Mohammed (2016c) for a discussion of the rationale underlying such a reconstruction of the disputed position in accountability practices.

  4. 4.

    The complete texts of treaties, legislation, case law and legislative proposals can be viewed using the EUR-Lex database of EU law available at

  5. 5.

    In the rules of procedure for the 7th term, these are rules 110 and 111.

  6. 6.

    This is a simplified version of the scheme. See Mohammed (2016c) for an elaborate version and for the discussion of it.

  7. 7.

    So far, none of the eight motions of censure brought before Parliament has been adopted. In 1999, the Santer Commission stepped down before Parliament forced its resignation.


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I would like to thank the editors of this volume and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. This work has been supported by grants of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT): SFRH/BPD/76149/2011 and PTDC/MHC-FIL/0521/2014, as well as by an exploratory grant for international projects, awarded by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (FCSH), Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

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Correspondence to Dima Mohammed .

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Mohammed, D. (2018). Exercising Accountability in European Parliamentary Debates on Statements: An Argumentative Perspective. In: Oswald, S., Herman, T., Jacquin, J. (eds) Argumentation and Language — Linguistic, Cognitive and Discursive Explorations. Argumentation Library, vol 32. Springer, Cham.

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