Agency Accountability: Management of expectations or answerability to mandate?
European agencies are subject to many kinds of control mechanisms and analysts worry that they often suffer from an ‘accountability overload’. This paper argues that such diagnoses are typically set without any explicit demarcation criterion for identifying accountability practices and separating them from mere instruments of political control. The paper argues that the concept of an accountability practice cannot be reduced the ‘management of expectations’. Rather, it should be restricted to procedures that track the mandate of the agency. This requires defence of the idea that there is such a thing as a coherent mandate as opposed to a mere heap of conflicting standards. The concept of a ‘multi-directional mandate’ is therefore introduced as a hermeneutical device for thinking about the coherence of different kinds of considerations. It is argued that neither account-givers nor account-holders can treat different aspects of the mandate in isolation; there is no accountability without sensitivity to the intertwinement of the different dimensions.