PhD candidate Legal opportunities and obstacles towards a sustainable expansion of offshore wind energy in the North Sea (1.0 FTE)

PhD candidate Legal opportunities and obstacles towards a sustainable expansion of offshore wind energy in the North Sea (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
12 May 9 Jun Utrecht

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We are seeking a candidate for a four-year PhD project on how the legal framework can promote the sustainable expansion of offshore wind in the North Sea⁠.

Job description

As a PhD candidate at Utrecht University, you will conduct research for four years, under the guidance of various colleagues of the Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law from Utrecht University to generate relevant results for the Dutch society and the legal community. The subject of your PhD dissertation, focusing on the international, EU and domestic legal framework regulating offshore wind energy in the North sea, falls within the NWA-funded project ‘Ecosystem-based Adaptive Management for Renewable Energy in a Sustainable North Sea’ (Ecoamare). The PhD will be embedded within the School of Law, department International and European Law. The candidate will also be a member of the Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability law (UCWOSL – one of the research groups of the School of Law) and the UU strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability. The precise focus of the project will be agreed in consultation with the supervisors dr. Nikolaos Giannopoulos, prof. dr. Alex Oude Elferink and prof. dr. Chris Backes.

The intended starting date of the position is 1 September 2023.

The subject of the PhD research:

Motivated by their international and EU climate commitments and in line with the recent European Green Deal and RePower EU Plan, European North Sea coastal States have recently announced their increased ambitions for the expansion of offshore wind energy installations. In that regard, 9 North Sea countries, united in the North Seas Energy Cooperation have agreed to jointly build 300 gigawatts of wind power capacity in the North sea by 2050. They have also agreed to work closely to increase interconnections and ensure a more robust energy system for all countries bordering the North Sea. However, the North Sea is already one of the most intensively use marine regions in the world. In that context, the projected proliferation of wind energy installations is expected to put additional strains on the North Sea ecosystem, whose dynamics are currently only partially understood. Therefore, the scheduled proliferation of offshore wind farms in the North Sea requires strategic consideration of its impacts both on other existing offshore (non) uses and the cumulative effects on the interconnected marine ecosystems.

Currently, knowledge on the ecological effects of offshore wind energy remains largely fragmented, with notably cumulative and long-term effects of various uses of the North Sea ecosystem being understudied. From a legal point of view, the existing legal framework (at international, EU and domestic levels) does not sufficiently address cumulative effects of such activities nor the possibility for adaptive management, while providing little guidance on how scientific uncertainty is regulated, for instance, concerning the role of the precautionary principle. These are crucial challenges in a context where the legal and policy frameworks have traditionally taken a reactive approach, responding to new environmental challenges following the accumulation of the robust scientific knowledge. However, the anticipated large scale of offshore wind energy and its unknown ecological impacts require a proactive approach that deals with the existing scientific and technological uncertainties.

In that context, the PhD researcher will -among others- engage with the following questions:

  • To what extent is the current international, European and domestic legal framework fit for assessing the ecological risks (including cumulative impacts and uncertainty) of the projected expansion of offshore wind energy in the North Sea?
  • How is the applicable legal framework enabling or hindering a) the interface between scientific and technological knowledge and policymaking, and b) the balancing of the offshore wind expansion with other offshore (non) uses?
  • How is the EU and international legal framework interpreted and applied in some selected EU member states? Can the results of this comparative analysis of the interpretation and application of the EU and international legal framework in other EU member states contribute to finding smart solutions for policy and legal frameworks in The Netherlands?
  • How can legal and policy frameworks be improved to accommodate economic and social interests to operate within the ecological boundaries as required by international and European law?
Your letter of motivation should ideally express what appeals to you about this subject, and the ideas you have about the execution of the PhD research (such as research question, methodology, suggestion for case studies, normative and/or critical theoretical framework).

In addition to setting up and conducting your own research, you will also devote some of your time to sharing knowledge by participating in internal and external research meetings with the rest of the participants in the Ecoamare project and by helping to organise such meetings. A portion of your working hours will also be set aside for training and development, for example by attending courses for PhD candidates. A small percentage of your time will be allocated to gaining teaching experience.


Utrecht University


We seek a candidate who:
  • enjoys being part of a team, and expresses that by being open to various types of collaboration, sharing knowledge and experiences, and contributing to a collegial, open and inclusive work environment; 
  • has excellent verbal and written communication skills in both Dutch and English, because the research involves the analysis of international, EU and domestic legislation and policy instruments and requires regular conduct with EU and Dutch stakeholders;
  • is interested in the EU rules on the energy transition, offshore wind farms, (marine) environmental protection, as well as various legal issues related to sustainability;
  • has the ambition of conducting innovative and thorough research with practical and societal relevance and earning a PhD based on that research within four years;
  • has good research skills, and is open to sharpening them further with the help of the supervisors’ feedback;
  • is willing to teach for part of the contractual working hours;
  • has earned a university degree in Law. Knowledge and interest in European, energy, (marine) environmental protection and sustainability law is required for this position.

Conditions of employment

You will be offered a temporary position (1,0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period.

The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, professional development, (partly paid) parental leave, sports and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


Sharing science, shaping tomorrow. A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

The Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance (LEG) is a faculty at the heart of society, with a strong focus on social issues. Our subjects of Law, Economics and Governance give us a strong mix of academic disciplines that complement and enhance each other. This is a unique combination and a mark of our faculty's strength.

The Utrecht University School of Law has provided quality research and education for more than 350 years. Constant innovation has enabled the School to maintain its leading position. Top-ranking research is conducted in all important legal fields: private law, criminal law, constitutional and administrative law, EU law, public international law. Researchers collaborate intensively with foreign partners, mainly from the angle of European and comparative law. The School of Law also conducts contract research and consultancy for other organisations. The extensive educational programme is based on academic research conducted within the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance. Students are trained to be highly qualified, internationally-oriented lawyers on the basis of modern didactical principles. 


  • PhD
  • Law
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1209711



Newtonlaan 201, 3584 BH, Utrecht

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