CANCELLED - Soft Law in EU and China

Course content

In recent years, soft law, or “rules of conduct which, in principle, have no legally binding force but which nevertheless may have practical effects and also legal effects” (Stefan 2017), has been increasingly important in both the European Union (EU) and China. For instance, recommendations are used very often by the European Commission, while opinions are employed a lot by the central government in China. Both are good examples of soft law tools in comparison to hard law tools such as regulations and directives.


The compliance of soft law, however, poses a challenge. For instance, in EU, the implementation record of recommendations is relatively poor, while in China, policy implementation is often a tug of war, including many soft law tools. Paths to compliance, nevertheless, remain hotly debated. On the one hand from the IR theorists, the enforcement school competes with the management school. On the other hand in regulatory studies, the strategy of sanctioning and compliance are also generating ambiguous results. Still, these debates will shed light on the compliance of soft law in EU and China, which has so far been under-researched.


In general, this course will address the following questions: what is soft law? What is its role in the European integration and the Chinese governance? Why is it becoming increasingly important in the governance of EU and China? What is the challenge of soft law compliance and why is there a challenge? What are the compliance strategies? How does each strategy work to improve soft law compliance? Are these strategies effective? Basically, this course aims to provide a fresh look into EU-Member States relations and the Chinese central-local relations from a soft law perspective.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome

Knowledge: Students will get to know the broader development of soft law governance in EU and China, the compliance theories of enforcement vs management in the IR debate, and the debate of deterrence vs compliance in the regulatory studies. More broadly, students will have a better understanding of EU-Member States relations and the central-local relations in China.

In EU, the European Semester will be a key case study, which has been at the heart of the EU economic and social policy coordination since 2011. In China, students will get to know the case of the Five-Year Plans, the anti-corruption campaign, as well as other social and economic reforms by way of soft law.


Skills: Students will be able to identify: 1) whether or not a policy tool is soft law; 2) the main compliance strategies of soft law; 3) how to study the compliance strategies of soft law (methods like process-tracing, CLMM model will be introduced).


Kompetences: Students will be able to apply the theories of compliance strategies from IR and regulatory studies to many other cases of soft law in EU and China, as well as other international regimes. Students will also be able to apply process-tracing to study many other causal mechanisms.

Lectures, group discussions, and student presentations.

Abbott, K. W., & Snidal, D. (2000). Hard and soft law in international governance. International organization54(3), 421-456.

Beach, D., & Pedersen, R. B. (2016). Causal case study methods: Foundations and guidelines for comparing, matching, and tracing. University of Michigan Press.

Braithwaite, J. (1985). To punish or persuade: Enforcement of coal mine safety. SUNY Press.

Burns, J. P., & Zhiren, Z. (2010). Performance management in the government of the People's Republic of China: Accountability and control in the implementation of public policy. OECD Journal on Budgeting, 10(2), 7.

Chayes, A., & Chayes, A. H. (1998). The new sovereignty. Harvard University Press.

Coman, R & Ponjaert, F. (2016). From one semester to the next: towards the hybridization of new modes of governance in EU policy. P32-56

Dinah L. Shelton, Soft Law in handbook of international law (Routledge Press, 2008)

Donaldson, J. (2017). Assessing the balance of power in central-local relations in China (Routledge contemporary China series 154). London New York: Routledge.

Downs, G. W., Rocke, D. M., & Barsoom, P. N. (1996). Is the good news about compliance good news about cooperation?. International Organization, 50(3), 379-406.

Edin, M. (2003). State capacity and local agent control in China: CCP cadre management from a township perspective. The China Quarterly, 173, 35-52.

Guan, X., & Xu, B. (2011). Central–local relations in social policy and the development of urban and rural social assistance programmes. In China's Changing Welfare Mix: Local Perspectives (pp. 20-35). Taylor and Francis.

Gunningham, Neil. "Enforcement and compliance strategies." (2010): 120-145.

Hartlapp, M. (2007). On enforcement, management and persuasion: Different logics of implementation policy in the EU and the ILO. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies45(3), 653-674.

Hawkins, K. (1984). Environment and enforcement: Regulation and the social definition of pollution.

Heidenreich, M., & Zeitlin, J. (Eds.). (2009). Changing European employment and welfare regimes: The influence of the open method of coordination on national reforms. Routledge.

Luo, H.C & Song, G.D. (2013). Soft Law Governance: Towards an Integrated Approach. William S. Hein & Company.

Li, H., & Zhou, L. A. (2005). Political turnover and economic performance: the incentive role of personnel control in China. Journal of public economics89(9), 1743-1762.

Li, L. C. (2006). Differentiated actors: central–local politics in China's rural tax reforms. Modern Asian Studies, 40(1), 151-174.

Mörth, Ulrika. Soft Law in Governance and Regulation, an Interdisciplinary Analysis. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2004. Print.

O'Brien, K. J., & Li, L. (1999). Selective policy implementation in rural China. Comparative Politics, 167-186.

Savage, J. D., & Verdun, A. (2016). Strengthening the European Commission's budgetary and economic surveillance capacity since Greece and the euro area crisis: a study of five Directorates-General. Journal of European Public Policy, 23(1), 101-118.

Senden, L. (2004). Soft law in European Community Law. Hart Publishing.

Snyder, F. (1994). Soft law and institutional practice in the European Community. The construction of Europe197-225.

Ştefan, O. (2017). Soft Law and the Enforcement of EU Law. In The Enforcement of EU Law and Values (p. The Enforcement of EU Law and Values, Chapter 12). Oxford University Press.

Tallberg, J. (2002). Paths to compliance: Enforcement, management, and the European Union. International Organization, 56(3), 609-643.

Terpan, F. (2015). Soft Law in the European Union—The Changing Nature of EU Law. European Law Journal, 21(1), 68-96.

Trubek, David M., & Trubek, Louise G. (2005). Hard and Soft Law in the Construction of Social Europe: The Role of the Open Method of Co‐ordination. European Law Journal, 11(3), 343-364.

Wu, C. (2016). Regulating government ethics: an underused weapon in China’s anti-corruption campaign. Cambridge University Press. Chapter Four, p132-229.

Yeo, Y. (2016). Complementing the local discipline inspection commissions of the CCP: empowerment of the central inspection groups, Journal of Contemporary China, 25:97, 59-74.

Zeitlin, J., & Vanhercke, B. (2014). Socializing the European Semester? economic governance and social policy coordination in Europe 2020.

Zhu, X. (2016). Dynamics of central–local relations in China’s social welfare system. Journal of Chinese Governance, 1(2), 251-268.

The course will enable the students to have a more detailed and nuanced understanding of soft law governance in both EU and China. Moreover, students are expected to have a solid grasp of the compliance strategy theories, and then apply these theories. Lastly, students will be inspired by process-tracing and other methods to study soft law compliance.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam with a synopsis
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28