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Accountability and Multi-level Governance: An Analytical Framework

Gijs Jan Brandsma

Multi-level governance structures are mushrooming in the European Union to the extent that some nowadays speak of a European administrative "space" or "system". There is a whole range of administrative arrangements that include a fusion of both national and European level administrators. It is often argued that settings like these lack accountability.However, it proves remarkably hard to observe empirically whether this really is the case. Much of the research on this matter is of a theoretical-analytical nature, and exclusively focuses on either European or national lines of accountability, more or less ignoring the essence of multi-level governance: its fusion of administrative layers. This feature requires a more sophisticated analytical framework in order to empirically capture the accountability of the full governance arrangement. This paper aims to make a first cut at this highly salient issue. It takes stock of existing approaches in the field, and demonstrates which features of multi-level governance systems are overlooked by these. Then it works towards an analytical framework inspired by principal-agent analysis that is capable of capturing accountability structures and practices. In doing so, this paper makes a significant contribution to the challenge of identifying and analyzing accountability in multilevel administrative settings. When applied, its results directly feed into theoretical debates on the nature and legitimacy of multilevel governance settings.

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