Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance

Transparency as Organized Hypocrisy?

The case of the EU Legislative Process

26Nov2013 13:00 - 14:00


Since the 1990s, several rules have been adopted to increase the transparency of the EU legislative process. Stéphanie Novak from the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, explores the effects of the different transparency rules on the accountability of the actors and presents the findings of an empirical study.

In her presentation, the speaker will put forward three possible effects of transparency rules: (1) transparency rules do increase accountability; (2) they do not have effects on accountability because they are decoupled from the actors' practices, which generates a situation of organized hypocrisy; (3) their effect is opposite to their official goal because publicity leads the actors to withdraw behind closed doors when they have to act and make decisions (what is called the “realist common wisdom”).

She examines the implementation of the different transparency rules on the basis of 70 semi-structured interviews and document analysis. The empirical study shows a relative failure of transparency rules, partly because the actors benefit of a high degree of discretion in the enforcement of rules.

However, Novak argues that the organized-hypocrisy theory and the realist common wisdom do not accurately account for the effects of transparency rules because they underestimate the complexity of the implementation of rules. She claims that more than evading the rules, EU decision-makers tend to implement them strategically, that is, to redirect them toward more beneficial effects. Even if an increased control by an external actor (such as national parliaments) could increase transparency and accountability, making transparent a process that is intrinsically based on negotiations amounts to squaring the circle.

The speaker

Stéphanie Novak is a Roman Herzog Research Fellow at the Hertie School of Governance (Berlin). She previously worked at the EUI, the Collège de France and Sciences Po Paris. Her research focusses on EU institutions, institutionalism, informal politics and decision making. Her latest publications include Majority Decisions: Principles and Practices, co-edited with Jon Elster, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming and ‘The Silence of Ministers: Consensus and Blame-Avoidance in the Council of the EU’, Journal of Common Market Studies, forthcoming.


Attendance is free of charge. For organizational reasons, please sign up for the meeting by sending an email to

Published by  ACELG