Conference calls for the EU to ratify the European Social Charter

On 12-13 February the Belgian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe held a Conference on the Future of the Protection of Social Rights in Europe. The conference followed last year’s conference in Turin on 17-18 October, where discussions took place about how governments and the EU can be better equipped for the crisis and ensure that macroeconomic measures they adopt do not violate social rights. Some of the suggestions reiterated from Turin were to urge the EU and member states to sign and ratify the revised European Social Charter and accede to the Protocol on collective complaints – so far only 14 member states have accepted the procedures involving NGOs.  Social Platform participated in the conference, with our Director Pierre Baussand invited as a speaker.

In a roundtable discussion, Mr Baussand remarked that social rights were not respected even before the crisis and therefore it is not enough to aim to go back to the pre-crisis situation before 2008. Despite the Europe 2020 social targets we have more poverty today than in 2010. We have to reverse the narrative because it is not growth that leads to employment, which results in social inclusion – it’s the opposite. We should ensure that member states ratify the European Social Charter and enable NGOs to put forward Collective Complaints, but for this civil society also need resources to contribute to supporting victims and changing policies (read Mr Baussand’s editorial on the topic). Rebecca Smith (Business Europe) commented that high unemployment levels are not new in the EU; there are structural weaknesses in the European labour market which were there before the crisis, therefore the aim of growth should be job creation.  Stefan Clauwaert pointed out that while some countries resisted better than others from an economic perspective, from a social rights perspective even ‘good’ countries are doing badly in terms of e.g. inadequate minimum wages.

An interesting reflection coming from the audience was how the European Social Charter was adopted in 1961, a time when there were strong convictions that the social model and its standards would grow. This is no longer the reality of the 21th century. These rights and are still being interpreted by new member states, as well as emerging issues; for example, today’s European Convention on Human Rights considers LGBT rights as human rights, while this was not the case in 1953 when the Convention was endorsed. Even if the EU has neither signed the European Social Charter nor acceded the European Convention on Human Rights, the Social Charter is still normative for the Lisbon Treaty (Art 151 TFEU) and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, and an inspiration for almost all social rights laws in the EU. Professor K. Lenaerts, Vice President of the Court of Justice of the EU and Professor J. Kenner from the University of Nottingham provided several examples for this.

Professor Olivier De Schutter called for an EU closer to its people by moving further towards integration of member states through mutual competence. Voices from the audience shared testimonies that so far the EU has not adequately taken into account the participation of the most vulnerable groups.