Platform addresses Constitutional Affairs Committee
Social Platform Intervention before Constitutional Affairs Committee,
Dirk JarrÃ©, Vice-President, 25 November 2004
The Social Platform is the alliance of 40 representative European federations and networks of non-governmental organisations active in the social sector.
The Social Platform is also a member of the Civil Society Contact Group, bringing together NGOs from many different sectors, which have worked together during the Future of Europe debate.
Two issues will be addressed within this brief intervention:
- what is the view of social NGOs on the changes within the Constitutional Treaty?
- What should be the role of NGOs within the ratification debates at national level and what could be the role of NGOs in implementing the Treaty once ratified?
At the start of the Future of Europe debate, and throughout the Convention and IGC processes, the Social Platform argued strongly for three key objectives to be enshrined in a new Treaty:
i) to base the EUâ€™s policies, programmes, and actions upon the fundamental rights of its citizens;
ii) to strengthen the well-being of its citizens through the European social model;
iii) and to increase the participation of citizens in the decision-making of the EU and in the implementation of the Constitutional Treaty
We can give our views on these three key areas, however the Social Platform does not take a position on the totality of the Constitution. It will not campaign in favour of ratification, but rather will promote informed debate amongst its members on the issues of interest to social NGOs. A constitution is very important step, but it needs a general debate amongst citizens.
Does the Treaty achieve these three key goals?
1) Fundamental Rights
The incorporation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights marks a clear step in this direction, and is to be welcomed, together with the accession of the EU to the ECHR, and the clear reference to the European Social Charter. The incorporation of the EU Charter makes fundamental rights an integral part of the Treaty.
However, we were disappointed with last-minute attempts to limit the scope of the EU Charter, through changes to the horizontal clauses. Furthermore, the text of the Charter itself is still not sufficiently comprehensive and strong.
Our verdict: a major step forwards.
2) The social model
The values and objectives of the Union (Articles I-2 & 3) do contain many positive words which commit the EU to basing itself upon social values and goals, and, for the first time, to the goal of full employment. Even so, the impact of Articles 2 & 3 is legally very limited, and the wording is disappointing to many social groups â€“ for example the failure to make gender equality and non-discrimination, full values of the Union, but rather the weaker principles which guide its actions.
The failure to secure QMV for non-discrimination measures (Article III-124) is a serious weakness. Discrimination remains one of the greatest challenges facing the EU, and the lack of simpler decision-making to tackle discrimination is a major disappointment.
However, the horizontal social article (III-117), and the horizontal non-discrimination article (III-118) (along with the maintenance of gender equality mainstreaming (III-116) give the potential for the EUâ€™s actions to be linked much more closely to its social goals, as in future these concerns must be taken into account in all decision-making under the Treaty.
Furthermore, social rights have equal status with other rights within the EU Charter which emphasises the indivisibility of rights; the incorporation of the Charter can therefore have a positive effect on the European social model.
Our verdict: not much change in the decision-making processes, but the Treaty commits itself to social objectives and values, and the incorporation of the Charter gives social rights a place at the heart of the Union.
3) Participation in decision-making
From the Social Platformâ€™s point of view, one of the most significant advances within the new Treaty is the recognition of the importance of participatory democracy, as a complement to representative democracy. Article I-47 recognises the important role of civil society organisations, and creates the â€˜citizensâ€™ initiativeâ€™ which can encourage participation of citizens by bringing petitions to the EU. Increasing the participation of citizens within the Union through their organisations is also likely to strengthen the content of the policies adopted by the EU.
The strengthening of the European Parliamentâ€™s powers is also to be welcomed. The Parliament is the only directly-elected EU Institution, and as such its greater role can help to strengthen democracy.
Our verdict: the recognition of participatory democracy is a significant step forwards towards broadening participation in the EU.
The final issue to address is the role of civil society within the ratification campaigns. We note the draft resolution of the Parliament calls upon the Commission and Council to draw up a campaign and communication strategy in relation to ratification. The first litmus test for the new Constitutional Treaty is the extent to which citizens are actively involved in the ratification processes.
Whilst the EU Institutions must play a role within the ratification processes, we suggest that the use of civil society networks to reach citizens will be a more effective and credible means of engaging and informing citizens than a European Commission information campaign. Social NGOs do not seek to become cheerleaders for the Constitutional Treaty, but rather to promote a debate amongst the millions of citizens engaged in civil society concerning the actual impact of the Treaty upon their concerns. Such a debate is more likely to engage citizens than simplistic campaigns in favour or against the Treaty.
We therefore propose the following addition to the draft resolution, as proposed by the Civil Society Contact Group:
â€˜The Parliament calls upon the Commission and Member States to recognise the role of civil society within the ratification debates, and to make available sufficient support to enable such organisations to engage their networks in these debates across the EU.â€™