Hardening and softening of country-specific recommendations in the European Semester

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This article conceptualises and illustrates hardening and softening trends in country-specific recommendations (CSRs) that are part of the European Semester. It proposes an analytical framework that meets the specific characteristics of CSRs: its adaptable and non-uniform norms, which are co-determined by actors operating across governance levels. It proposes three elements to analyse hardening and softening of CSRs, adding the degree of ‘centralisation’ to the often used elements of ‘obligation’ and ‘enforcement’. Then it illustrates the framework with trends in CSRs given to Belgium and the Netherlands on pensions and wages. Both countries and topics show hardening as well as softening trends regarding the degree of obligation, enforcement and centralisation. The article suggests that a complete analysis of hardening and softening of CSRs requires assessing the degree of centralisation as well. Looking at obligation and enforcement alone could misinterpret the hardness or softness of CSRs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWest European Politics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020


  • European Semester
  • EU governance, EU social policy, economic governance
  • Pensions
  • Wages
  • social partners

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