The European Commission White Paper on adaptation: appraising its strategic success as an instrument of soft law

Original Article


The European Union took its first strategic step on the topic of climate adaptation in 2009 with publication of a White Paper on Adaptation. Since its publication, many researchers and analysts have criticized the White Paper for its lack of concrete and enforceable actions. In this paper, we analyse the White Paper as an instrument of soft law. First, we provide background on the theory of soft law, its terms of applicability, and the standards by which to judge its success. Second, we analyse the content and context of the White Paper according to soft law principles. We find that the conditions under which the White Paper was adopted were exactly those suited to a soft law approach and highly determined by the European multi-level governance context. As such, the White Paper has managed to achieve several of the common objectives of soft law in particular in setting up processes allowing information-sharing and subsidiarity. However it has failed to achieve several others especially in fostering the commitment of the states, and in moving the European Union in the direction of binding regulation. Further strategy development will be required to fix these deficiencies.


Adaptation Climate change European Union EU White Paper Legal analysis Soft law 



Funding for this research came from the Mediation project, coordinated by the University of Wageningen, of the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for research and cooperation. We would like to thank our colleagues Stefan Pfenninger and Susanne Hanger for valuable support and comments. All remaining errors of fact or interpretation are those of the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Advanced StudiesUnited Nations UniversityYokohamaJapan
  2. 2.International Institute for Applied Systems AnalysisLaxenburgAustria

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