Parliamentary accountability: a matter of ethics or politics?

“Parliamentary responsibility is a fundamental concept for the smooth functioning of any representative democracy,” Michele Nicoletti (Italy, SOC) said, introducing a joint seminar on parliamentary accountability organised by the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, together with the Italian Chamber of Deputies, in Rome on 18 May.

Addressing the issue of imperative mandates, Nicolò Zanon, judge of the Italian Constitutional Court, stressed that “every bond is de facto admissible, but these bonds lack legal guarantees; they are neither protected by law nor can they be enforced by a judge. In other words, every member of parliament is as free to vote in compliance with political party instructions as he is not to, without undergoing any legal consequences. However, he might be sanctioned and be excluded from his party’s list for the next elections, but this is a question of political not of legal accountability.”

For Gdansk University professor Krysztof Drzewicki, parliamentary accountability is not only a matter of ethics or politics, but a matter of ethics, politics and law. “Every MP disposes of a series of methods of protracting procedures, not for one but for seven, eight years,” he said, underlining the necessity for parliaments to dispose of instruments to prevent such conduct.

As for Javier Ballarin Iribarren, Legal Counsellor to the Spanish Senate, what is at stake is the compliance of the behaviour of certain members with the rules and the possible consequences for their parliamentary mandate. “When it comes to the lack of compatibility with other public functions, a conflict of interest etc, the arrangements in France and in the United Kingdom, both of which were largely influential on other countries in this field, went beyond the stage of self-regulation as the bodies that apply the rule are not internal bodies,” he said.

“I personally believe that public opinion calls for that type of method, with a view to punishing those whose behaviour is not in line with the code of conduct, especially when it comes to conflicts of interest,” he concluded.