In much of the current literature on global and European governance, “public accountability” has come to mean accountability to national executives, to peers, to courts, and even to markets. I argue that such a re-conceptualization of “public accountability” as an umbrella term blurs a crucial dimension of the original concept: the critical scrutiny of citizens and the collective evaluation of government through public debate. In this article I critically discuss the advance of managerial and administrative notions of accountability that accompanied the steep rise of the governance concept. I advocate a return to a conception of public accountability as accountability to the wider public. I investigate the prospects for such public accountability beyond the state, which depends upon the emergence of a transnational public sphere, consisting of media and organized civil society. The function of such a transnational public sphere is to put pressure on governance institutions in case of massive maladministration, and to make sure that emergent political concerns and demands are recognized in the process of international policy making.
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