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The Role of the Commission in Soft Energy Governance: Stronger than it Appears?

Courts
Europeanisation through Law
Judicialisation
Policy Implementation
Policy-Making
Michele Knodt
Technische Universität Darmstadt
Michele Knodt
Technische Universität Darmstadt
Jonas Schoenefeld
Institut Wohnen und Umwelt GmbH (IWU)

Abstract

Extant literature generally envisions a weak role for the European Commission in ‘soft’ governance arrangements in the European Union. At best, scholars argue that its contribution remains confined to activities such as information provision and reporting in order to stimulate coordination via transparency, peer review and, in some cases, ‘naming and shaming’. This paper will challenge this conventional wisdom by arguing that in the area of energy policy, the Commission may play a more active role in soft governance than would be expected from earlier experience. Energy governance in the European Union is characterized by severely limited EU-level competencies and a lack of competences in respect to the national policy mix (Art. 194 TFEU). The last 10 years of European energy governance have been defined by a confrontation between the Central and Eastern European (CEEC) and the Northern and Western EU Member States, which has put the brakes on the EU’s decarbonization strategy. In order to avoid a deepening of this cleavage and achieve the 2030 climate and energy targets, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, converted EU energy policy into a European Energy Union. In the corresponding Governance Regulation (within the Winter Package 2016) the Commission reverts to soft governance mechanisms known from the "Open Method of Coordination" (OMC) but equipped these mechanisms with ‘harder elements’ which allow potentially deeper influence over the national energy mixes. This paper will (1) carefully review existing literature on the role of the Commission in ‘soft governance’ and then (2) test insights from the literature against the empirical case of the emerging Energy Union. The findings suggest a pivotal and so far under-appreciated role for the Commission in ‘hardening’ soft governance at the EU level.