states, the purposes for which they were established, and evolving standards of benefits and harms.
The criticisms of these organizations on grounds of accountability refers not to lack of accountability per se, but to weaknesses in democratic accountability (Dahl, 1999). Even then, often the version of democratic accountability that is contrasted with actual institutional practice is a highly idealized one. As Andrew Moravcsik argues with respect to the European Union:
“Most critics compare the EU to an ideal plebiscitary or parliamentary democracy, standing alone, rather than to the actual functioning of national democracies adjusted for its multi-level context. When we conduct the latter sort of analysis, we see that EU decision-making procedures, including those that insulate or delegate certain decisions, are very much in line with the general practice of most modern democracies in carrying out similar functions.” (Moravcsik 2002: 621-22.)
If we focus not solely on democratic accountability, but on accountability more broadly, we can see that supervisory accountability, with states as the accountability holders, is quite strong for multilateral organizations. So is fiscal accountability, since multilateral organizations depend on subventions from states. Multilateral institutions are, indeed, highly constrained by accountability mechanisms.14
NGOs are often seen as the entities to which power-wielders such as the World Bank should be held accountable. In this view, they are the “virtual representatives” of publics adversely affected by other global power-wielders. Increasingly, NGOs are formally represented at international meetings, often with specific rights and privileges. However, international NGOs are not legitimated by ties to a defined public. In practice,
14 This is not to say that accountability is perfect by any means. Fox and Brown (1998), Woods (1998) and Woods (2001).