Softening the surface but hardening the core? Governing renewable energy in the EU

Jonas Schoenefeld, Michèle Knodt

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Soft law and governance captured the attention of scholars in the 2000s, andnew policy challenges and the novel introduction of‘harder’elements now drivea (re)turn to these discussions. This article explores the extent to which dynamicsleading towards‘harder soft governance’(HSG) appear in the EU’s renewableenergy governance by comparing the 2020 and 2030 Renewable EnergyDirectives. Document analysis and interviews reveal a surface-level softeningbecause the new 2030 directive contains no binding national targets for theMember States. An entrepreneurial Commission has been seeking to introduce‘harder elements’at the core by focusing on implementation, allowing for poten-tially deeper influence on the national energy mixes though the Energy Union.Two main factors drive these changes: the evolving international context of cli-mate change governance, as well as re-configurations of the actors in the EU.Future research should explore the effectiveness of emerging HSG in detail
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-71
Number of pages23
JournalWest European Politics
Issue number1
Early online date19 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2021


  • Energy Union
  • European Union
  • Soft law
  • harder soft governance (HSG)
  • policy monitoring
  • renewable energy
  • soft governance

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