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High-level panel discussion marking the 60th anniversary of the European Social Charter (18.10.1961 – 18.10.2021) and the 25th anniversary of the revised Charter - 18 October 2021, Strasbourg – video link


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Council of Europe was founded to guarantee the respect for peoples’ fundamental freedoms and rights. Today, we mark a very special day in that regard – as we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the European Social Charter.

Besides the European Convention on Human Rights, the Social Charter is a fundamental part of the Council of Europe’s human rights protection architecture, guaranteeing a vast arrange of rights related to education, health, employment, and housing, among others.

As we are reminded in our Statutes, the aim of the Council of Europe is not only to achieve a greater unity between its member States, but also to facilitate “their economic and social progress”.

The Social Charter is the embodiment of this mission.

The 60th anniversary of the Social Charter is an important milestone, and it should serve as a moment for us to reflect upon the social progress we have achieved during these 60 years. But at the same time, we must also face the current challenges, making sure that the Social Charter is set for the 21st century. This, I believe, is especially important considering the
new generation of fundamental human rights that are emerging – not the least that of the right to a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

In other words, let us now optimise the potential of the Social Charter in order to advance prosperity, wellbeing, and socio-economic rights across all of Europe.

Looking back at the last decade, we need to be honest and admit that the austerity policies our member States pursued after the 2008-2009 financial crisis did a lot of harm to our social protection systems. Socio-economic inequalities in society have grown larger, both within and between States, and our resilience to external shocks has weakened, something that became especially visible during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the Parliamentary Assembly, we have been debating and adopting resolutions and recommendations to this very end. During the Spring session of this year, our Assembly adopted a resolution detailing our view on the Council of Europe’s strategic priorities for the future. In it, we explicitly called for all member States to ratify the revised Social Charter and its protocols. Indeed, it is very important that the Charter reaches full coverage across the Council of Europe.

I am happy to say that some progress has been made to this end, as both Germany and Spain have joined the Social Charter this year. We encourage other member States to follow and ask all parties to lift their reservations on the Charter’s provisions.

While the last years have been hard for Europe and Europeans - to say the least - that is no reason to put our commitments under the European Social Charter on hold. Instead, as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has stressed on several occasions, our member States need to improve the implementation of social rights and strengthen the effectiveness of the Charter system. They can do so, for instance, by giving stronger political support to the Charter and by investing more in upholding social rights.

Our Parliamentary Assembly stands ready to support such efforts.

Besides our own member States, I believe it is essential that all European institutions are united in the effort to secure social freedoms and rights – in particular the European Union. In fact, as we have the European Union’s high representatives among us today, let me seize this opportunity to reiterate that the Parliamentary Assembly “considers it of great importance to promote the European Union’s accession to the European Social Charter system”.

Why? Because it is in both institutions’ interests. It would not only enhance synergies at the European level and promote policy coherence across member States, but it would also boost opportunities under the Charter and the European Pillar of Social Rights - which would help in delivering tangible results to European citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Social Charter is a living instrument - able to gradually embrace new socio-economic developments in member States.[1]

In my view, social rights and environmental protection go hand-in-hand. Indeed, a healthy environment is a precondition for human life and must therefore be a part of all fundamental protection mechanisms – including, of course, the European Social Charter.

The recent autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly addressed this matter head-on. In demanding a paradigm-shift, one of our key adopted recommendations is that the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment should be considered as a human right by the drafting of an additional protocol to the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as to the European Social Charter. Being adopted unanimously, we now look forward to the Committee of Ministers addressing this matter.

Finally, in the context of expanding the reach of the Social Charter, let me also mention that the Parliamentary Assembly has expressed concern with regards to a legal void, or loophole, that exists in the Charter and affects some of the most vulnerable groups in society. As of now, working migrants who come from countries that are not bound by the treaty are excluded from the application of certain provisions – even if they work in states that in fact are a party to the charter. In other words, we need to make sure that existing social rights apply to all persons living in States under the jurisdiction of the Social Charter.[2]

In conclusion, dear colleagues, I believe that we have a lot to be proud of during these 60 years of the European Social Charter. The Charter has been a game-changer for social protection. However, much remains to be done.

To my mind, the most pressing issue is making sure that the Charter reflects the challenges of the 21st century and, especially, the new generation of human rights that are emerging. In particular, the Parliamentary Assembly strongly believes that the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment should make its way into the Charter.

Let us pursue this collective effort and waste no time: socio-economic rights need to be protected as much now as they needed 60 years ago.

Thank you!

[1] PACE Recommendation 2205 (2021) on “Overcoming the socio-economic crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic” (Rapporteur: Mr Andrej Hunko).
[2] PACE Resolution 2384 (2021) and Recommendation 2205 (2021) on “Overcoming the socio-economic crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic” (Rapporteur: Mr Andrej Hunko).