Having Your Cake and Eating It, Too: Can Regulatory Agencies Be Both Independent and Accountable?

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Abstract

Independent regulatory agencies (IRAs) were created in various sectors and on different governmental levels to implement liberalization policies. This paper investigates the link between IRAs' independence, which is said to promote regulatory credibility and the use of technical expertise, and their accountability, which is related to the need for controlling and legitimizing independent regulators. The literature on the regulatory state anticipates a positive relation between the independence and accountability of IRAs, but systematic empirical evidence is still lacking. To tackle this question, this paper measures and compares the independence and the accountability of IRAs in three differentially liberalized sectors in Switzerland (telecommunications, electricity and railways). With the application of Social Network Analysis, this piece of research shows that IRAs can be de facto independent and accountable at the same time, but the two features do not necessarily co-evolve in the same direction.

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