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Soft Law Implementation in the EU Multilevel System: Legitimacy and Governance Efficiency Revisited

Part of the Comparative Territorial Politics book series (COMPTPOL)


Soft law instruments such as recommendations, guidelines or communications do not entail jurisdictional control, but produce important legal and practical effects. The literature on soft law frequently praises these instruments for enhancing governance efficiency through flexible problem solving. On the other hand critiques stress a lack of legitimacy as soft law is typically adopted outside the legislative arena. Yet, relatively little is known about concrete effects it takes at the national level. On the basis of case study evidence from Germany, this chapter shows that despite being non-binding, EU soft law is frequently implemented. Comparing implementation of nine soft law instruments in financial market regulation, social and environmental policy the chapter highlights that actors implement soft EU instruments either in the form of soft or hard law. Efficiency gains are frequently a main driver of implementation, while legitimacy and accountability become a concern where responsibilities are blurred during implementation.


  • Accountability
  • European union
  • Implementation
  • Legitimacy
  • Soft law

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-05511-0_11
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Graph 11.1


  1. 1.

    To assure anonymity they are referred to as interviews D1, D2 etc.

  2. 2.

    Adjustment of Reports Regulation on Short Selling (Leerverkaufs-Anzeigeverordnung) and of Remuneration Ordinance for Institutions (Institutsvergütungsverordnung) & German Banking Act (Kreditwesengesetz).

  3. 3.

    Higher Regional Court Frankfurt WpÜG 1/08, WpÜG 3/08 (22 January 2009), Federal Administrative Court, judgment 7 C 6/10 (24 May 2011) and Federal Court of Justice 5 StR 532/16 (10 Januray 2017).

  4. 4.

    The national instrument is more outspoken on addressing remuneration (in relation to collective agreements and statutory minimum wage), a possible effect of the CJEU Rüffert ruling (C-346/06).

  5. 5.

    BVerwG 9. Senat, 9 A 20/05 on a bypass near the town of Halle (17 January 2007), BVerwG 4. Senat, 4 C 12/07 on the extension of a runway at the airport of Münster/Osnabrück (9 July 2009) and BVerwG 9. Senat, 9 C 6/12 on the construction of a bridge crossing the river Elbe near Dresden (Waldschlösschenbrücke, 6 March 2014).

  6. 6.

    BVerwG 7. Senat 7 A 2/15 on Elbe dredging to allow larger freighters to reach the port of Hamburg (2 October 2014 and 9 February 2017), BVerwG 9. Senat, 9 A 18/15 and 19/15 (joint decision) on an Elbe tunnel north of Hamburg (10 November 2016) and BVerwG 7. Senat, 7 CN 1/14, on abolishment of a drinking water protected area (26 November 2015).


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I wish to thank Jörg Broschek, Andreas Hofmann and Michèle Knodt for exchange and comments, Tobias Hübler for excellent research assistance and the interviewees for freely sharing their time and expertise with me.

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Correspondence to Miriam Hartlapp .

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Hartlapp, M. (2019). Soft Law Implementation in the EU Multilevel System: Legitimacy and Governance Efficiency Revisited. In: Behnke, N., Broschek, J., Sonnicksen, J. (eds) Configurations, Dynamics and Mechanisms of Multilevel Governance. Comparative Territorial Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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