Bread and butter or bread and circuses?
Politicisation and the European Commission in the European Semester
Does domestic contestation of European Union legitimacy affect the behaviour of the European Commission as an economic and fiscal supervisor? We draw on theories of bureaucratic responsiveness and employ multilevel and topic modelling to examine the extent to which the politicisation of European integration affects the outputs of the European Semester: the Country-Specific Recommendations. We develop two competing sets of hypotheses and test these on an original large-N data set on Commission behaviour with observations covering the period 2011–2017. We detect a twofold effect on the Commission's recommendations: member states that experience greater politicisation receive recommendations that are larger in scope but whose substance is less oriented towards social investment. We argue that this effect is best explained as an outcome of the Commission's institutional risk management strategy of regulatory ‘entrenchment’. The supranational agent issues additional recommendations while simultaneously entrenching on a stronger mandate substantively, which allows it to maintain its regulatory reputation and signal regulatory resolve to observing audiences.