While various forms of soft governance have been long in the making, there is a growing introduction of new policy elements in order to ‘harden’ soft governance arrangements. These new forms of ‘harder’ soft governance (HSG) vary in the degree of hardness in different settings. This special issue aims to derive lessons for the EU climate and energy policy on HSG by looking across other policy fields and institutions where such ‘hardening’ has emerged, including in climate policy monitoring, the EU Energy Union, the UNFCCC, the OECD, the Open Method of Coordination, the European Semester, and policy surveillance in transnational city networks. Bringing the contributions together, this introduction reviews soft governance approaches, including their hardening. It then develops a framework for diagnosing HSG, including indicators such as obligations, justification, precision, ‘blaming and shaming’ opportunities, the role of third party actors, bundling, enforcement by policy field coupling, and sanctions. The introduction then identifies driving factors of HSG, including the role of the EU Member States, a strong need for coordination, policy entrepreneurs and institutional opportunities. The lessons from this special issue provide a useful yardstick for the future development of climate and energy governance, and the use of HSG in other policy fields.

The contribution of COST Leader Michèle Knodt and colleagues on “Harder’ soft governance in the European Energy Union” shows the manifestation of this new development within the European energy policy. In 2016, the Commission proposed an ambitious governance strategy in order to further the transformation of the European energy system towards the Unions’ 2030 climate and energy targets. Therein the EU adopted the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union in 2018 to harden its otherwise soft governance. This contribution firstly aims at characterizing the ‘hardness’ of this soft governance. The analyses showed the introduction of harder elements to soft governance to at least a certain extend. Secondly, it explains the degree of hardness from actorcentred institutionalism perspective by analysing the trilogue of the co-legislators and the Commission. The analysis shows a successful entrepreneurial role of the Commission in those questions where it was backed by the European. The Parliament performed strongly due to powerful support of its joint committee, experienced negotiators and a wide majority voting in the plenum. In contrary, the Council showed a divided opinion in many points and was confronted with a weak presidency during the dialogue. As a result, harder elements were introduced in questions, where Commission and Parliament argued along the same lines an could even go beyond the Commissions’ proposal, where Parliament and Council found points of common interest.

The contribution of Jonas Joenefeld and Andrew Jordan look at looks at the changing nature of policy  monitoring, a quintessentially soft governance mechanism. It focuses on climate change, a dynamic site of policy expansion and experimentation in which the EU has historically been an international frontrunner. This paper finds that a range of ‘harder’ elements have been added to the EU’s climate policy monitoring over time, including more explicit legal provisions, greater external publicity, and more concrete links to other policy processes. These changes have emerged from politically sensitive negotiations between many actors, principally the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Environment Agency (who together have generally favoured greater hardening), and Member States (some of whom preferred softer governance) in the context of changing international opportunities and constraints. Moving forward, this paper highlights the need for more research on the efficacy of policy monitoring, especially with respect to the EU’s significantly more ambitious long-term decarbonisation targets.

Michèle Knodt and Jonas J. Schoenefeld (2020): Harder soft governance in European climate and energy policy: exploring a new trend in public policy, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Volume 22, Issue 6 (2020), https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cjoe20/22/6?nav=tocList