The Emerging Harder Soft Governance of the EU Renewable Energy Expansion

Deploying renewable energy technologies is a key way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the EU’s own Environment Agency warned in late 2019 that current policy efforts are insufficient to reach the 2030 renewable energy targets.

In a new open access paper, COST Action ENTER member Jonas Schoenefeld and COST Action ENTER chair Michèle Knodt show that the EU’s 2020 Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) requires that the Member States must collectively achieve 20% of their energy consumption from renewables by 2020 and sets binding, country-level targets. By contrast, the new 2030 Renewables Directive (2018/2001) no longer allocates targets to individual countries. How can the EU reach its renewable energy target without individual Member State targets?

The EU has turned to “harder soft governance” (HSG) in order to address this problem. Late in the negotiations of the new Energy Union, a formula appeared in the annex (II) of the new regulation (2018/1999), which allows the Commission to calculate indicative Member State renewable energy targets. Member States must also periodically submit National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) to the Commission under the new Energy Union, detailing how they will proceed in the areas of energy and climate change policy. In addition, the high-level State of the Energy Union reports contain a growing amount of information on renewable energy, another source of public pressure on the Member States.

The emerging HSG reflects EU ambitions to lead the global renewable expansion, but also the ambivalence among the Member States about the precise direction of travel. These new governance tools matter: both the EU’s international credibility, and the future sustainability of natural systems depend on the continued growth of renewable energy in Europe.

Schoenefeld, Jonas J.; Knodt, Michèle (2020): Softening the surface but hardening the core? Governing renewable energy in the EU, in: West European Politics,