Accountability and democracy in Poland and Spain

by Anna Sroka (Author)
©2017 Monographs 348 Pages


This book is a response to the need for scientific research on one of the components of quality of democracy, id est accountability. The author analyses thoroughly in cross-section the accountability mechanisms in Poland and Spain. This approach required that each of the issues under investigation be reviewed synthetically, and only the aspects meaningful for the notion of accountability have been explored. This book may be a starting point for further, more in-depth analyses of accountability, not only in Poland and Spain but also in other countries.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Theoretical foundations
  • Chapter 1. Accountability in studies on quality of democracy
  • 1.1. The conception of quality of democracy
  • 1.2. Accountability as a component of quality of democracy
  • 1.3. Key concepts and definitions
  • 1.4. Research strategy
  • Part II. Horizontal accountability: balancing institutions and mandate agencies
  • Chapter 2. The executive
  • 2.1. Poland
  • 2.1.1. The President
  • 2.1.2. The Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister
  • 2.2. Spain
  • 2.2.1. The monarch
  • 2.2.2. The Government and the Prime Minister
  • Chapter 3. The legislative
  • 3.1. Poland
  • 3.1.1. The plenary forum of the Sejm
  • 3.1.2. Parliamentary committees
  • 3.2. Spain
  • 3.2.1. The plenary forum of the Congress of Deputies
  • 3.2.2. Parliamentary committees
  • Chapter 4. The judicial and mandate agencies
  • 4.1. Poland
  • 4.1.1. The normative dimension
  • 4.1.2. Political practice
  • 4.2. Spain
  • 4.2.1. The normative dimension
  • 4.2.2. Political practice
  • Part III. Vertical accountability
  • Chapter 5. Determinants of vertical accountability
  • 5.1. The electoral system
  • 5.1.1. Poland
  • 5.1.2. Spain
  • 5.2. The territorial structure of the country
  • 5.2.1. Poland
  • 5.2.2. Spain
  • 5.3. The party system
  • 5.3.1. Poland
  • 5.3.2. Spain
  • 5.4. The type of government
  • 5.4.1. Poland
  • 5.4.2. Spain
  • Chapter 6. Economic voting as an expression of vertical accountability
  • 6.1. Studies on vertical accountability in light of rational choice theory – operationalisation of economic voting
  • 6.2. Poland – economic voting in the elections of:
  • 6.2.1. 1997
  • 6.2.2. 2001
  • 6.2.3. 2005
  • 6.2.4. 2007
  • 6.2.5. 2011
  • 6.3. Spain – economic voting in the elections of:
  • 6.3.1. 1982
  • 6.3.2. 1986
  • 6.3.3. 1989
  • 6.3.4. 1993
  • 6.3.5. 1996
  • 6.3.6. 2000
  • 6.3.7. 2004
  • 6.3.8. 2008
  • 6.3.9. 2011
  • Conclusion
  • Annex
  • References
  • Index of Tables
  • Index of Charts
  • Index of Figures
  • Index of Names

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For years, discussions concerning the issue of young democracies centred on the conditions necessary for successful democratic transitions to be conducted. Next, they revolved around the issue of consolidation. In the past decade, a new expression has arisen in studies on democratic systems: the concept of “quality of democracy”. One of the primary elements in most conceptions of quality of democracy, whether in the quantitative or the qualitative dimension, is accountability.

This term is eagerly employed not only by researchers focused on quality of democracy, but also by journalists and politicians. In spite of the increasing presence of the concept of “accountability” in both political science analyses and political discourse, there is no generally accepted definition of the concept. It is most frequently used as a sort of “umbrella” term, with a range of definitions underneath. Accountability is constantly intermingled with other concepts: transparency, effectiveness, responsibility and efficiency. Accountability is also applied as a synonym for good governance, both in the public sector and the private one. The multiplicity of meanings assigned to the concept of accountability, which dilutes its analytical value, is a consequence inter alia of the absence of a deeper conceptualisation and operationalisation of that idea grounded in global scholarship. The majority of studies concerning quality of democracy (in which accountability plays a role) are of a quantitative character. In their essence, they consist in developing quality of democracy barometers without a detailed conceptualisation of its particular elements. On the other hand, qualitative studies most frequently concern only selected aspects of accountability.1

When considering the foregoing, an attempt at conceptualisation and operationalisation of accountability as one of the elements in quality of democracy would seem to be most justified. The results presented in this book are innovative, and contribute to filling a discernible research gap concerning one of the most important elements in quality of democracy: accountability. Accountability is understood according to the definition given by O’Donnel. Horizontal accountability is based on a system of checks and balance. The essence of this system is ensuring a separation of interdependent powers based on the functions they perform within the system, and providing them with autonomy so that they can exercise oversight and control functions in respect of one another’s activities. Horizontal ← 9 | 10 → accountability also includes public mandate agencies, e.g. those with both legal authority and the operational capacity to engage in activity, running from standard oversight to criminal law sanctions. Vertical accountability consists in ensuring that citizens have not only the potential to select their representatives, but also to observe and to sanction them in situations when selected representatives take decisions inconsistent with the expectations of the voters.

The primary objective of the research is to determine at what moment and in what field the creation occurs of elements of changes which in one country stimulate positive effects, while in another result in the emergence of numerous delays and growth in negative post-transformation phenomena concerning accountability in Poland and Spain. In order to explain the causes of existing differences and similarities, there will be an examination of the link between institutional solutions, policies implemented, and the time that passed from the moment of consolidation of both systems and the impact of these variables on accountability mechanisms.

The book is composed of three parts: I. Theoretical foundations; II. Horizontal accountability; III. Vertical accountability. In Part I, the discussion will centre around the concept of quality of democracy and the primary strands in research on quality of democracy. Next, there will be a presentation of the links between quality of democracy and accountability, including a discussion of selected conceptualisations and operationalisations of quality of democracy and accountability. This will facilitate portrayal of the issue of operationalisation of democracy, as quality of democracy is associated with accountability; it will also draw attention to the types of accountability and manners of operationalisation. At the end of the first chapter a research plan and the main assumptions for empirical analysis to be conducted in further parts of the work are presented.

Part II (Chapter 2) will address the executive authority in the system of horizontal accountability. There will be an examination of the capacity of the government and head of state to shape the legislative and decision agenda of parliament, including a discussion of informal mechanisms influencing the work of parliament. The analysis will take into consideration procedural conditions and the support enjoyed by governments in the lower house of parliament. Additionally, regarding the head of state in Poland and Spain, alongside procedural conditions attention will also be paid to situations of cohabitation. This structure for the chapter will facilitate finding an answer to a range of more detailed research questions. The first regards the strength of the executive in both systems and its capacity to influence the legislative and decision agenda of parliament. The second concerns to what extent the impact of the government on the legislative and ← 10 | 11 → decision agenda of parliament is conditioned by institutional architecture and by the “political balance of power” in the parliament. The third is about whether the time that has passed from the moment of consolidation of the political system leads to strengthening of the executive within the system of horizontal accountability or not.

The third chapter is dedicated to the legislative branch within the accountability system. Here as well, procedural conditions will be one of the determinants captured in research on the functioning of the legislature within the system of horizontal accountability. The second determinant will be the support enjoyed by particular governments in successive parliamentary terms, as alongside procedural conditions it is precisely this support which has the largest significance for the dynamics of the accountability tools employed. This will also facilitate the search for answers to the following questions: which of the determinants has the greatest influence on the use of instruments of accountability in Poland and in Spain? To what extent does the time elapsed from the moment of consolidation of the political system affect institutionalisation of the control exercised by the lower chamber of parliament?

The fourth chapter will be dedicated to the judiciary and mandate agencies. Similarly to the case of the executive and legislative powers, in this case as well attention will be paid to procedural conditions and the type of government and support it enjoys in the lower house of parliament. The objective of this chapter is to answer the following questions: are we dealing with a fully independent judiciary and mandate agencies which should work to protect the rule of law and counteract abuses? Is the level of independence enjoyed by the judiciary and mandate agencies more dependent on procedural conditions, or rather political constellations? How does parliamentary support for the government influence the independence of the judiciary and mandate agencies? Does the time that has elapsed from the consolidation of the political system lead to greater independence of the judiciary and mandate agencies?

In Part III (Chapter Five) there is a discussion of the impact of various determinants on the functioning of vertical accountability mechanisms at the level of the electoral decision, both in respect of the procedural dimension and in reference to final effects. These determinants have been divided into two groups. The first includes the type of electoral system and the territorial structures of the state. The second includes the type of party system and government. This structure makes it possible to answer a primary research question: do institutional factors disrupt the functioning of vertical accountability mechanisms in Poland and in Spain? ← 11 | 12 →

The sixth chapter contains a study of whether and to what extent economic voting was used by voters as a measure of vertical accountability. In other words – if and how much voters in Poland and Spain are motivated by the desire to reward or punish ruling parties. In this portion of the work a quantitative analysis based on the multinomial logistic regression model. The primary research question that will be answered is: can we speak in Poland and Spain of retrospective economic voting, which is considered the gauge of electoral accountability?

At the end, it is worth adding that the ambition harboured by the proposed strategy is to analyse accountability captured holistically. The phenomenon of accountability will be portrayed in cross-section, in the context of almost the entire political situation of Poland and Spain. This approach requires a synthesis to be performed in respect of each of the discussed issues and the selecting of only those aspects that are significant for the matter of accountability. The difficulty of such a task stems from two aspects. Firstly, the existing scientific literature in this area has not yet seen operationalisation of accountability at the qualitative level. Secondly, analysis of a political system in respect of one of its specific elements, id est accountability, requires the adoption of a new perspective on the functioning of that political system. We may take the example of changes in electoral law. From the perspective of effectiveness of a political system, it is well-understood that frequent changes do not contribute to the proper functioning of the political system, as voters can begin to feel “disoriented”. Nevertheless, from the perspective of vertical accountability this is a very beneficial arrangement. It works to limit the creation of party and ideological links, which in turn leads to voters applying reward/punishment mechanisms. Therefore, voters do not vote based on ideology, but rather on the basis of assessment of the previous governing group’s activities. In spite of these difficulties and limitations resulting from the adopted research strategy, the author retains hope that this work will contribute to the expansion of knowledge and the development of research in the field of quality of democracy, with particular attention paid to accountability.

This book would not have been possible without the assistance of institutions, friends, family, and many others. Support from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which awarded funding for the project “Accountability as one of the elements in quality of democracy on the example of Poland and Spain” (no. 1172/B/H03/2010/39), made it possible to engage in the empirical portion of the study. These funds, combined with support from my parent research institution, the Institute of Political Science of the University of Warsaw, made it possible to present particular portions of the work at conferences and seminars both domestically and abroad. This facilitated critical assessment of the theoretical assumptions and the ← 12 | 13 → correctness of the methodology employed, as well as the first research results. This is also why I would like to thank the Institute of Political Science of the University of Warsaw, and in particular its director, Professor Stanisław Sulowski. During the conceptualization and operationalization phase of the book I received invaluable assistance from prof. Leonardo Morlino, prof. Fernando Vallespína Oña, prof. Andrzej Antoszewski, prof. Konstanty Adam Wojtaszczyk, prof. Gonzalo Angulo Núñez, prof. Mikołaj Cześnik, and dr. Michał Kotnarowski, for which I would like to extend my sincerest thanks. Thanks to my mother, Grażyna Sroka, who was the first critical reader and editor of this book, as well as my brother Daniel for reviewing one chapter. I would especially like to thank dr. Małgorzata Kaczorowska, dr. Aleksandra Moroska-Bonkiewicz, dr. Marta Witkowska, dr. Marta Żerkowska-Balas and dr. Agnieszka Bejma, who not only provided me with substantive support while writing the book, but also helped me in moments of doubt as to the sense of my work. I would also like to thank Borja Polo de la Morena for his help, patience, and the dignity with which he has borne my frequent absence.

Anna Sroka
June 2016

1 A detailed description of the state of research on accountability in studies on quality of democracy will be presented in the first chapter.

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Part I. Theoretical foundations

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Chapter 1. Accountability in studies on quality of democracy

The concept of quality of democracy emerged from studies on transition and processes involved in consolidation of democracy. The results of research on countries engulfed by the third wave of democratisation indicated that the majority of those regimes succeeded in maintaining democratic stability. Scholars conducting research on young democracies within a comparative framework have concluded that their primary dependent variable – i.e. the stability of political regimes, which has previously been the primary plane of conventional studies – has declined in importance. By the same token, this variable has ceased to be attractive. In recent years this situation has made it necessary for these researchers to seek answers to new and more nuanced questions about the conditions of democratic consolidation. They have sought these answers through analysing more detailed institutional characteristics of new democracies. This has led to the development of interest in the quality of democratic experiences. Numerous attempts at conceptualising quality of democracy have been undertaken. Interest in the issue of quality of democracy within political science is attested to by, the number of studies conducted around the world related to this new field of knowledge, which demonstrates the explanatory strength of this new concept. At present, the relevant subject literature contains a rich collection of theoretical conceptualisations and operationalisations of quality of democracy. The majority of authors approach the issue from a quantitative perspective, but there are also quantitative treatments of the issue.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
Horizontal and vertical accountability Quality of Democracy Economic Voting Poland Spain
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 348 pp., 5 b/w ill., 28 b/w graphs, 45 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Anna Sroka (Author)

Anna Sroka is Assistent Professor and head of the Graduate Programme in Security Studies at the University of Warsaw, Institute of Political Science. She is also a member of the board of the IPSA «Quality of Democracy» scientific committee, coordinator of the Polish–Spanish Scientific Research Network, and a member of the ECPR Executive Committee.


Title: Accountability and democracy in Poland and Spain
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350 pages