The project team has recently produced two new papers, one of which, ‘Truth Commissions after Economic Crises: Political Learning or Blame Game?’, was presented at the annual conference of the Council for European Studies in July. The paper has been accepted for publication by Political Studies.

The first paper, co-authored by Iosif Kovras, Shaun McDaid, and Ragnar Hjalmarsson, examines the truth-seeking strategies that political elites in three European countries chose to deal with the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2008. In particular, the authors explore the significance of the truth commissions (TCs) that three countries – Iceland, Greece, and Ireland – undertook following the crisis.

The paper addresses two puzzles. The first concerns the timing of the truth commissions. The Icelandic TC was initiated much earlier in the unfolding of the crisis than the respective TCs in either Greece or Ireland. The second, related puzzle is that the Icelandic TC was successful in its capacity as a learning instrument, whereas the Greek and Irish TCs became too politicised to play a role in shaping reforms that would help to prevent future crises. The authors develop the distinction between an ‘institutional’ logic of learning and an ‘instrumental’ logic, and find that existing levels of trust in institutions influence political elites’ capacity to establish TCs. Countries with higher levels of trust in institutions can establish TCs using ‘institutional logic’, and thus can create a body whose legitimacy permits genuine political learning. However, in countries with lower levels of trust, elites tend to use ‘instrumental logic’ when establishing TCs, resulting in more politicised outcomes and ‘blame games’.

The second paper, co-written by Stefano Pagliari, Iosif Kovras, and Nadia Hilliard and entitled ‘Individual Accountability and Economic Crisis’, was presented at the annual conference of the Council for European Studies in July. In the paper, we argue that two conceptual distinctions are crucial to understanding the political dynamics following economic crisis: first, the distinction between prospective (forward-looking, or regulatory) accountability and retrospective (backward-looking, or punitive) accountability; and second, the distinction between individual and collective accountability.

The paper offers a preliminary mapping of individual accountability measures for financial crimes as they have been used and developed by international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and offers some preliminary propositions to explain why prospective forms of accountability have dominated the post-crisis agenda. The material and political costs of retrospective accountability mechanisms, coupled with their uncertain effects, can make them a more risky alternative for policy makers than prospective, regulatory changes as responses to crisis conditions.