Making informal networks democratically accountable

Making informal networks democratically accountable 22 March 2012

Wanting to be more effective, today's leaders tend to avoid the formal procedures of international organisations and treaties. Researchers found ways to ensure that we can follow and influence what they do, although accountability in international law making remains a major challenge. 

International lawmaking has changed dramatically. In comparison to each decade since the 1950s, in the last decade the number of treaties deposited with the UN dropped by 40%. However, whereas treaties and formal international law stagnate, new informal processes are thriving. These are transnational governance networks. They are composed of state actors such as central bank presidents and national regulatory agencies. They make and enforce rules in such areas as finance, labour standards, health and economic regulation. This is referred to as informal international law-making (IN-LAW) - no treaties, no secretariat and no formal membership. They produce non-binding rules. In practice third parties cannot but follow. Could any country actually ignore the non-binding standards set by the Financial Stability Board? The fact that transnational regulatory regimes impact the lives, interests and freedoms of participants and outside stakeholders raises questions of democratic accountability, just like any norm-setting system does.

Through an analysis of 30 case studies, HiiL research established, that with respect to the participants these informal processes, often requiring consensus, have a higher degree of democratic accountability than traditional international law-making. In regard of domestic institutions, notably national parliaments, and third parties deficiencies have been established. Since the outcomes are not legally binding most constitutions do not provide for an obligation to inform national parliaments. Often participatory procedures for third parties do not exist. Accountability is hard to achieve here.

The researchers suggest that objectives of meetings should be more transparent. Reasons for decisions should at least be published, as well as those for rejecting alternatives. The position of countries and stakeholders not involved can be improved by publication of the proposed decision and an invitation to send in comments.

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