Christine Reh looks at how the ECB can better shore up acceptance by EU citizens.
Accountability and transparency have long been considered essential for the European Central Bank to win the hearts and minds of the general public, especially in the wake of the Eurocrisis. But under what conditions does the nexus between standards and legitimacy actually hold? Christine Reh, Professor of European Politics and Dean of Graduate Programmes, and Christel Koop, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at King’s College London, delve into this question in their article “Europe’s Bank and Europe’s Citizens: Accountability, transparency – legitimacy?”, published in May 2019 in the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law.
The authors suggest that improved standards of governance only lead to increased legitimacy under three conditions: citizens are aware of the ECB and its design; citizens prioritise standards over alternative motivations for acceptance; and citizens are able to differentiate between the ECB and the wider system of the European Union.
Critically assessing the logic of the nexus and using Eurobarometer data as illustration, the piece concludes that these conditions are unlikely to hold empirically. Accountability and transparency are key to the good functioning of modern democracies, but the authors caution against assuming too easily that governance standards alone will shore up acceptance. In fact, enhancing transparency and accountability under conditions of crisis and contestation may even be counter-productive for the ECB’s policy performance and public image.