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Truth, Accountability or Impunity?

Accountability after Economic Crisis

How do nations deal with the origins and consequences of economic crises? Why were some countries more successful in prosecuting those held responsible for the 2008 meltdown? What explains the different outcomes?

Examining the mechanisms of accountability that political elites use to restore trust in democratic institutions and politics is an important but understudied topic in an area dominated by Economics.

Using the concepts of transitional justice – using law and politics to deal with the past – this project looks at the role of law in promoting accountability, responsibility and political learning from economic crises.

The research is ongoing, but it is already attracting attention from national and international media, and international policy makers as well as academic journals and conferences.

What did we explore and how?

The researchers explored puzzling variations in the adoption of accountability mechanisms in six European countries (Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus) in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession.

While Iceland set up a very proactive accountability policy, marked by dozens of convicted bankers and a highly efficient truth commission, other countries refrained or were less successful.

Researchers Iosif Kovras, Sally Wheeler, Neophytos Loizides and K McEvoy wanted to find out why, despite similar background conditions, these societies formulated different policy responses, their strengths and limitations, and what can be learned for use in, or to avoid, future crises.

The project is based on a unique database that collects the political, legal, criminal and regulatory policies formulated in each country after the crisis, as well as incidents of political polarization and governmental instability.

The researchers use the data to investigate how the six countries’ differing approaches have affected their political stability.

They are expanding their understanding through interviews in each country with politicians, lawmakers, bankers and others as well as with representatives of international bodies who responded to the economic crisis, such as the International Monetary fund.

2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the "Great Recession". Many European politicians […] want – quite understandably – to forget the years of austerity and concentrate on the future.

But have we learned enough to avoid future crises? Do we know the reason why our institutions turned out to be so ineffective the last time? Do we really consider that they will do better in the future?”

Iosif Kovras (Principal Investigator) in

Benefits and influence of the research

Comparing the experiences of societies who experiment with policy mechanisms can help to design better policy responses for future crises. That could reduce social upheaval, boost political legitimacy and pave the way for meaningful institutional reform.

The team are using their research and analysis to shed light on how the economic crisis has influenced constitutional amendments in Greece and Italy, and to examine the role of Central Banks in continuing or easing inequality.

They are exploring how international accountability standards, as promoted by the IMF, shape national decisions about economic policy. And they are drawing attention to the importance of using the lessons of the past to inspire citizens’ confidence when nations reform their institutions.

The researchers

  • Iosif Kovras (Principal Investigator)
  • Sally Wheeler (Co-Investigator)
  • Neophytos Loizides (Co-Investigator)
  • K McEvoy (Co-Investigator)

More about this research

  • School of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Related academic: Dr Iosif Kovras
  • Status: Ongoing
  • Topics: Law, Politics and international studies, Sociology
  • Industry/sector: Banking and financial services
  • Funder: ESRC
  • Project partners/stakeholders: City, University of London, United Kingdom (Lead Research Organisation), University of Kent, and Queen’s University, Belfast.
  • Publication link: External link