William A. Bull’s PhD Defense on “Optional Instruments of the EU”

WAB PhD Defense Invitation


  • Maastricht University – Minederbroedersberg (Aula)
  • 12 May 2016 at 14:00

Summary of the Thesis:

This rise of a particular kind of European Union legislation known as the ‘optional instrument’ is a novel trend in the context of EU law, and one that until now has not been comprehensively mapped or explored. This study examines and discusses existing and proposed EU Optional Instruments (OIs) in different fields of European law, including company law, intellectual property law and procedural law (such as the European Company, the Community Trade Mark and the European Small Claims Procedure, respectively), as well as contract law. The study identifies the core elements that define Optional Instruments of the EU and distinguish them from other kinds of EU legislation, especially so-called approximating measures. It provides a detailed overview of a total of twelve OIs in the aforementioned policy areas, charting their development, characteristics and (where appropriate) usage in practice. It investigates the case for and against the use of optional instruments as an alternative means of EU law-making, by analyzing and evaluating the principal arguments in the debate surrounding the use of this legislative method. Finally, it offers an explanation of the varied degree of ‘success’ of EU OIs already in existence, by identifying possible factors that play a role in this respect and testing the significance of these factors with reference to available empirical data. In doing so, the author provides a framework for future research into this developing phenomenon, as well as guidance for the elaboration of future Optional Instruments of the European Union.

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The Comparative Contract Law Course in Maastricht seen through Chinese Eyes

As a MEPLI PhD researcher coming from China, a country whose legal education is almost completely received from the West, it is a pleasure to give comments on a first year course taught in the Maastricht European Law School curriculum. I  attended all lectures and tutorials and was thus fully exposed to the comparative and the ‘Problem Based Learning’ approach in this course. Coming from Tsinghua University, whose law school is one of the best law schools in China and also the 26th in 2012 QS Law School Ranking, I want to share a short ‘comparative study’ of teaching private law in Maastricht and at Tsinghua. I will discuss four aspects.

First of all, the students of Maastricht University attending this course are first year students in their first term – which is surprising to me. At Tsinghua, freshmen will only take fundamental courses like ‘Introduction to Law Science’, ‘Chinese Legal History’ and ‘Constitutional Law’ in their first period; courses on ‘General Principles of Civil Law’ and ‘International Law’ only come later. Moreover, these courses are not comparative, but about Chinese law. They are given by the best professors in Tsinghua Law School in order to inspire the students. The course on ‘Foreign Civil Law’ is only attended by interested students. So to expose freshmen to comparative law from the start is an impressive innovation for Maastricht University.

The second aspect concerns lecturers and reading materials. The course of ‘Foreign Civil Law’ at Tsinghua University is largely influenced by the specialist knowledge of the lecturers. They will focus more on their fields of expertise. The students attending this course in different periods learn different things. At Maastricht University, the content is equal for every student. The Ius Commue Casebook used in the course is undoubtedly excellent, but also a great challenge for freshmen as every student has to get acquainted with law in four countries within eight weeks.

The third aspect is about the teaching method. As is well known, Maastricht University is famous for its ‘PBL’, which is ‘Problem Based Learning’. In the Comparative Contract Law course, students have to solve cases in four different jurisdictions; they do so in small groups guided by a tutor. At Tsinghua University, such case studies are optional in some courses, which means that only the interested students will take these courses. Some students complain that courses with only lectures are too theoretical and that they do not know how to apply the law when they enter legal practice.

The last aspect is about how demanding the courses in the two law schools are. It is clear that a distinguished feature of the Comparative Contract Law course is that it is highly demanding. The students have to make a real effort to pass the exam. However, this is also related to one of the functions of the first year in Maastricht: to select students. In comparison with the cruel Chinese college entrance examination, it is much easier to enter a university in the Netherlands. Therefore, it is understandable that good universities will heighten the elimination rate to guarantee the level and quality of their graduates. From the perspective of the students, some of them told me that they come here because of the broader prospect and international mindset they acquire, while they would have become parochial lawyers if they had remained in their own country and learnt law in their mother tongue.


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