Boosted by the 2001 Commission White Paper on Governance and the 2010 Lisbon Strategy, ‘soft law’ is present in nearly every EU policy. The term captures a multitude of instruments such as recommendations, guidelines, notices or communications that are not legally binding, but produce important legal and practical effects. While it is generally acknowledged that soft law is an essential tool of EU policy-making, difficult questions concern its nature and scope of effects. Furthermore, the procedures through which soft law instruments are issued allegedly lack legitimacy safeguards. With most of the research focusing on these challenges at the EU level, there is little analysis of the way in which EU soft law is received in Member States.
This lack of attention is problematic for many reasons. First, the uncertainty surrounding EU soft law in national settings can endanger the principles of legal certainty, transparency and legality. Second, ambiguity may negatively affect the effective and uniform implementation and enforcement of EU law, if national administrations and judges, who are key actors interpreting soft law instruments nationally, are unsure if and how to apply soft law documents. Third, soft law may also have positive effects, but its potential to contribute to legitimate European governance remains unexplored and underexploited.
The objectives of the SoLaR Network are threefold. First, it brings together scholars researching soft law in order to determine whether and how soft law is used by national administrations when implementing EU policies and by national courts when ruling in cases falling within the scope of application of EU law. Second, SoLaR aims at stimulating a debate between academics and practitioners regarding the national role of soft law. Third, SoLaR formulates policy guidance intended to support national actors.
An empirical, comparative law analysis, consisting of documentary case law research and interviews with judges and civil servants, will be carried out with respect to a representative selection of legal systems (Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the UK) and of policy areas (environmental law, social policy, competition and State aid law, and financial regulation).
SoLaR will start its activities with an opening event. This is followed by four workshops where the results of the investigation in each of the selected policy fields will be compared and discussed. There will also be a final event to launch the book, produced from these findings, and discuss follow up activities. Furthermore, the SoLaR foresees teaching across the participating universities and a series of training sessions for national judges as well as European and national administrations.
The academic added value of SoLaR lies in the fact that no systematic and comparative research has ever been undertaken on the use of soft law before national administrations and courts. By creating links between scholars from different jurisdictions and disciplines the SoLaR enables an investigation into a topic which is too broad to be examined by a single individual, and requires a wide array of linguistic and legal knowledge. At the same time, it promotes European studies by providing comparative data collection in the form of a database of national courts’ rulings (with an English summary) on EU soft law and new interview data among national judges and civil servants.
The academic outputs of SoLaR will be a series of articles to be published in a peer-reviewed Working Paper Series to be set up in an open-access website administered by the Network, and a book edited by the Academic Coordinators, summarising and systematising the results of the SoLaR.
SoLaR is committed to maximising impact and engaging stakeholders. The creation of a website and a blog, together with the database, and the Working Papers Series, as well as the teaching and training activities, serve as indicators of achievement and of the commitment with which the SoLaR strives to ensure relevance and visibility of its results vis-á-vis political and societal stakeholders. In addition to these deliverables, SoLaR will produce policy recommendations that are specifically tailored to support European and national policymaking. The knowledge generated within SoLaR will be freely accessible during and after the completion of the project, and the platforms are intended to remain in place to encourage further research.
SoLaR provides recognised young researchers with an opportunity to become internationally leading authorities on soft law. Structurally, SoLaR is committed to gender equality and promoting leadership for female researchers.