Crisis and Punishment? Explaining Politicians’ Appetite for Retribution in Post-Crisis Europe

Occupy Wall Street March 16, 2012. Author Mike Fleshman. From Wikimedia Commons


This paper investigates the politics of holding bank executives accountable for banking crises. The aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis was characterized by a significant variation in the extent to which European countries endorsed this type of retributive justice. In particular, while some countries established special prosecutorial bodies and took steps to facilitate prosecutions, others seemed to consider the crisis “business as usual” and relied on the existing investigative and prosecutorial mechanisms to seek out wrongdoing. We explore the experiences of two European countries, Iceland and Cyprus. We argue that the way a financial crisis unfolds plays a significant role in shaping the appetite of politicians for promoting an agenda of retributive justice. With a banking collapse, politicians will be most proactive, as voters’ demand for justice is high and the risks for the banking industry are minimal. With a severe yet negotiated crisis following a bailout/bail-in, politicians are more reluctant to endorse policies that may risk the recovery of the fragile banking sector.

Comparative Politics, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp. 595-615, DOI: 10.5129/001041521X16026878142074