By Ilaria Graceffa and Maia Ignatenko
On 11-13 April, a TARN Workshop and Dialogue session took place in Brussels on the topic of ‘EU Agencies: Problem-Solving, Performance & the Accountability Overload: Squaring the Impossible Circle?’.
Academics and practitioners participated in several panels to discuss a variety of current topics related to problem-solving, operability and accountability overload of EU agencies and take a closer look at the current challenges which EU agencies are facing in their operations and to ask the complementary question of whether we must modify the legitimating concept of ‘agency accountability’ in order to facilitate complex agency operations. The workshop and dialogue session also investigated the potential for further institutional innovations within the context of EU operation, asking whether instruments other than the agency. The workshop consisted of four sessions, chaired by Michelle Everson (Birkbeck College) and Ellen Vos (Maastricht University).
The first session, held on 11 April, addressed accountability and issues of institutional overload. Merijn Chamon (Ghent University) presented on the constitutional value of accountability in agencies’ institutional design. The existence of legitimacy concerns in the Commission’s decision to create the three European Supervisory Authorities was explored by Cleo Davis (University of Edinburgh). Letizia Gianni (EUI) discussed the costs and benefits in EU administrative practice on the basis of the ESMA example. The presentations were followed by comments of Andreas Eriksen (ARENA) and Chara Vlachou (University of Orléans) and a fruitful discussion among the participants.
The second, third and fourth sessions were held on 12 April. The second session focused on different aspects of scientific knowledge building. Alessia Monica (University of Pavia) put forward the notion of protecting third parties in EU scientific advisory agencies as a tool to boost accountability. This was followed by two presentations addressing the controversial aspects of scientific studies based on the example of studies on the use of glyphosate. Natassa Athanasiadou (Maastricht University) addressed this in her presentation entitled ‘Towards public control of scientific studies? Revisiting the independence of expertise in the glyphosate era’, followed by Vesco Paskalev (University of Hull) who spoke on the topic ‘Accountability or Taking Things into Account: The Case of Glyphosate’. Comments by Sabrina Röttger-Wirtz (University of Tilburg) and Ellen Vos (Maastricht University) as well as other participants concluded the second session. Among numerous comments, it was suggested that studies addressing problems of accountability should specify the problem which they aim to solve, which will help determine the proper mechanism of accountability. Possibilities of more flexibility for agencies were also discussed. Lastly, more criticism towards the studies discussed was encouraged.
The emphasis of the third session was on the key words crisis, innovation and stability. Islam Jusufi (Epoka University) discussed the institutional design of the EU agencies on the basis of the case of the European Agency for Reconstruction. Marko Milenkovic (Johns Hopkins University – CCSDD Bologna) presented on the topic ‘Western Balkans and differentiated integration – the potential role of the European Union agencies’, followed by comments of Merijn Chamon (Ghent University) and Andrea Ott (Maastricht University) and a plenary discussion.
The fourth session (innovation, problem-solving and institutional design) featured four presentations. The session began with a talk given by Oleksandr Moskalenko (University of Turku) entitled ‘The European Parliament and EU Foreign Policy agencies: quid pro quo’. Tobias Tesche (EUI) discussed the move towards new public accountability in the context of Fiscal Councils, followed by a presentation by Bernardo Rangoni (EUI) on the topic ‘Retelling the European banking union: experimentalist governance in hierarchical disguise’. Lastly, Andreas Eriksen (ARENA) explored the facts of administrative accountability. All presentations were followed by comments and reflections by commentators Martin Weinrich (EUI) and Michelle Everson (Birkbeck College).
The event was concluded on 13 April witha Dialogue Roundtable with the aim to draw up an agenda for institutional reform, chaired by Michelle Everson and Ellen Vos. Building on the discussions held during the workshop sessions, this final plenary session was aimed at preparing conclusions and identifying purposes for the future. Next to the outcome of the workshops, the following conclusions were drawn in this session.
The main theme of the discussion was the issue of ensuring that agencies are not overloaded with accountability, at the same time maintaining stakeholder participation and transparency. It was noted that there is a struggle to maintain efficiency for agencies while complying with the (potentially) disproportionate accountability requirements to different ‘masters’. Arguments were put forward for the redefinition of the mandate of the management board in response to broader social mandates, but concrete mechanisms for doing so would require further research. In addition, political simplification in general, in the form of either removal or reform of the management board, was discussed. However, drawbacks of removal, especially the lack of a body to take strategic decisions, were also discussed. It was noted that one could even say that the removal of the management board is today a ‘failed debate’.
Apart from issues connected to management, the implications of science decisions were highlighted as a huge burden on EU agencies. Advantages and disadvantages of the politicisation of these acts were discussed. Furthermore, stakeholder input, its impact on the agencies’ accountability (overload) and the purpose of stakeholder consultations in general were addressed. It was also noted that the stakeholder involvement should at least be meaningful and take place at an appropriate time.
With regard to EU agencies and their perception of the success of their work, it was emphasised that reputation plays a big role in the work of agencies. Therefore, at least in part success is measured in how their work is received politically and how it plays out in the media, as well as epistemic academic communities and among stakeholders. An idea was put forward that reputation might be one of the proxies for accountability, not necessarily a driver for action by EU agencies. It was concluded that further research is needed to discern the relationship between trust, reputation and authority of the agencies and how these notions impact the potential accountability overload. It was also agreed that agencies should be held accountable, but in a proportionate manner, without this accountability impacting on the internal control mechanisms.
Ilaria Graceffa is from Italy, she completed a Master in EU Public Law and Governance at the European Law School – Maastricht University and she is currently doing an Internship at the legal service of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Maia Ignatenko is currently completing a Master’s programme in European Law with a specialisation in Market Integration at Maastricht University. She is also doing a traineeship at the Maastricht Centre for European Law and teaching multiple courses of the Bachelor’s programme European Law School at Maastricht University.