EU governance is experiencing a shift towards soft governance frameworks that incorporate ‘harder’ elements. Using a qualitative case study approach and an original set of elite interviews, we examine two policy areas – health and energy – where similar such architectures – the European Semester and the Energy Union Governance Regulation – are now core governance tools. Three research questions are addressed: (1) What mechanisms are employed to harden these governance frameworks? (2) What is driving this shift? And, drawing on the more extensive experience of the Semester, (3) What lessons can be drawn for energy policy? We establish the experimentalist nature of these two governance architectures and identify a mix of ‘harder soft governance’ (HSG) mechanisms used in both cases. We show that, although similar in structure, the shift towards HSG frameworks is driven by different factors in each case. The more extensive experience of the Semester in health points to the importance of concrete implementation practices; the power of specificity to strengthen soft commitments; the role of policy coupling as a lever for implementation; the potential influence of strategic entrepreneurs; the role of politicisation in pressuring change; and the significance of periodic revision as windows of opportunity for incremental change.

Pierre Bocquillon, Eleanor Brooks & Tomas Maltby (2020) Speak softly and carry a big stick: hardening soft governance in EU energy and health policies, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 22:6, 843-856, https://doi.org/10.1080/1523908X.2020.1792860