PhD position on Legal opportunities and obstacles for sustainable agriculture in the EU (1.0 FTE)

Do you want to investigate the legal opportunities and obstacles for the adoption of a circular or regenerative agricultural system in the EU? Apply now.
  • WO
  • Tijdelijk
Utrecht University


As a PhD candidate, you will conduct research for four years under the guidance of various colleagues to generate relevant results for Dutch society and the legal community. The subject of your PhD dissertation, focusing on sustainability in the agricultural sector, falls within the RENFORCE research programme and the UU strategic theme Pathways to sustainability and will be organised in consultation with the supervisors, dr. P.S. (Pauline) Phoa, dr. N. (Nikolaos) Giannopoulos and prof. dr. S.A. (Sybe) de Vries.

The agricultural sector is a key contributor to climate change, and is at the same time deeply affected by it: dry spells cause bad harvests, creating scarcity and high food prices. The EU agricultural policy has recently aimed at limiting the environmental impact of farming whilst ensuring food supply. However, in the face of the current climate crisis, merely limiting environmental damage is not sufficient: an environmentally neutral, or even positive effect is now desirable. A system of circular or even regenerative agriculture can contribute to improved soil health, relatively low-cost climate change mitigation (such as carbon sequestering), increased biodiversity and better air and water quality - all without compromising yield.

This development raises questions about how EU laws and policies can be shaped so as to effectively and coherently support Member States’ agricultural sectors in the transition to sustainable agricultural practices. The PhD research will engage with this question, identifying the legal opportunities and obstacles for the adoption of a circular or regenerative agricultural system in the EU. Many different EU legal instruments affect the agri-food sector, such as the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), various EU environmental and health & safety norms, and various EU Green Deal instruments, such as the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies as well as the expected ‘Carbon Farming' regulatory framework. The transition of the agricultural sector to a circular or regenerative system is, however, also connected to larger trends towards sustainability and circularity globally (such as the SDGs and the Paris and Basel agreements) which also need to be taken into account to provide a coherent normative framework. 

Your letter of motivation should ideally express what appeals to you about this broad 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). After we complete the selection interviews, we will discuss the options for the research topic together with the chosen candidate.

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 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.


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 good verbal and written communication skills;
  • is interested in EU agricultural law and policy, as well as various legal issues related to sustainability;
  • has the ambition to conduct innovative and thorough research, and earn a PhD based on that research within four years;
  • has good research skills, and is open to improving them further with the help of your supervisors feedback;
  • is willing to teach for part of your contractual working hours;
  • has earned a university degree in Law. Knowledge of, and interest in European and agricultural and/or sustainability law is required for this position;
  • has English language proficiency at the C1 level (CEFR), as well as some proficiency in the Dutch language, and who is at least willing to develop Dutch language proficiency to at least the B1 CEFR level.


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. You can watch the Utrecht University Campus Tour to get an impression of our university.

The Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance 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. 

We work with a diverse group of employees and students. We highly value a work environment where everyone is acknowledged and appreciated, dares to speak out, and is treated with respect. We ask all of our employees to contribute to an open and inspiring work- and learning environment for students and staff members from every background. Together we ensure that everyone feels welcome and has the opportunity to develop their full potential. Therefore, the School of Law strives for diversity among its employees and students and is committed to creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone, as can be read in Utrecht University's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy.


This is an appointment of 1.0 FTE for the duration of 18 months. Following a positive evaluation the employment will be extended to 4 years in total. The gross salary starts with € 2,395 per month in the first year and increases to € 3,061 per month in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Employment Agreement of the Dutch Universities) 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.

Meer informatie

For more information about this position, please contact: dr. P.S. (Pauline) Phoa (assistant professor EU Law) via p.s.phoa@uu.nl