Does Soft Law Trigger Differentiation and Disintegration?

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Table of Contents: I. Introduction. – II. Basic assumptions regarding crises, soft law and differentiation. – III. The dynamics of soft law, differentiation/disintegration: Three scenarios. – III.1. Soft law, territorial differentiation, disintegration. – III.2. Soft law, territorial differentiation, integration. – III.3. Soft law, uniformly applied, integration. – IV. Factors making these scenarios more or less likely. – IV.1. Factors inherent in the soft law instrument. – IV.2. Factors related to the system of the EU. – V. Conclusion.

Abstract: The purpose of this Article is to provide a framework that helps to analyse the relationship between soft law, differentiation, and the prospects of integration/disintegration. More specifically we aim at developing a typology of scenarios in order to show how soft law contributes to our understanding of differentiation and to the overall discussion about integration/disintegration in the European Union, in a context of crises. Section II presents and discusses three main assumptions: the EU is facing a context of political and economic turbulences; territorial differentiation has increased since the 1990s; EU policies more and more rely on soft law. Against this backdrop, we seek to capture, in section III, the dynamics between soft law, differentiation and integration/disintegration, by using three main scenarios (soft law leads to more territorial differentiation; soft law leads to differentiation but then results in more integration; soft law triggers integration). Section IV is dedicated to the factors making these three scenarios more or less likely to occur. Two types of factors are distinguished: those which are inherent in the soft law instruments and those related to the EU system of governance. In the end, we argue that further investigation is needed in order to verify whether the legal and political EU system is strong enough to prevent normative and territorial differentiation from escalating, and preserve the integration-through-law narrative.

Keywords: soft law - differentiation - integration - disintegration - crises – implementation.

European Papers, Vol. 7, 2022, No 3, pp. 1229-1242
2499-8249 - doi: 10.15166/2499-8249/609

* Senior Lecturer in European Law, University Grenoble Alpes, Sciences Po Grenoble-UGA,
** Professor of Political Science, University Grenoble Alpes, Sciences Po Grenoble-UGA,


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