Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics, and the Academy

By Marilyn Strathern | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Accountability, anthropology and the European Commission

Maryon McDonald

The material on which this chapter draws has been gained through fieldwork inside the European Commission and the European Parliament, mainly during the years 1992-4 and 1998, just prior to the eruptions of 1999. In 1999, the European Commission apparently excelled itself, reaching the supposed acme of confirmation of one of its most common public stereotypes-as a corrupt, overpaid, complacent and irresponsible organization. This is what a report published in early 1999 and requested by the European Parliament, together with the press commentary surrounding it, seemed to suggest. Under apparent pressure from a European Parliament that was seeking a high profile and a new public image of its own just prior to the 1999 elections, the entire College of Commissioners then resigned as a result.

Thereafter, external commentary on the Commission, encouraged by spokespersons from within the Commission itself, took shape within familiar demands of 'accountability'. There were in fact two critical reports produced during 1999 at the request of the Parliament. 1 Both suggested that reforms were essential and phrased them within managerialist notions of accountability. Both reports were written by a Committee dominated by professional auditors. The first report brought certain Commissioners to task for a lack of probity, acknowledging in the process the authors' own debt to the standards established for public service by the 1995 work of the Nolan Committee in the UK. The second report claimed to be talking of the Commission services more generally and, from within a framework of value-for-money audit and a more general managerialism, noted the general inadequacy of the Commission's internal 'culture'. These reports, initially demanded by sections of the European Parliament to substantiate accusations of 'corruption', of

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