Luis Jimena Quesada
Luis Jimena Quesada

Social rights in ‘flexible’ Europe

In this Spanish language interview with Sara Paz of humanrightseurope, Luis Jimena Quesada, President of the European Commitee of Social Rights discusses the Social Charter, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Quesada assesses the impact of the charter and underlines the importance of preserving individual social rights as Europe moves towards greater “flexibility” in employment.

The Essential

Video : The Impact Of The Social Charter

Factsheets: Social Rights – Country By Country Profiles

Information: Newsletter of the European Committee of Social Rights

Parliamentary Assembly: Europe’s Social Dimension

Webfile: Human Rights In Daily Life

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Transcript: Interview Luis Jimena Quesada

How would you assess the 50 years of the Social Charter? Do you think it is well known by European citizens?

Not so much. This is the opportunity for people to know it better. It is the mot important Social Charter – equivalent to the Charter of Human Rights. I believe we have to take advantage of this anniversary to work for freedom and teach human rights culture through media and in other fields.

In some universities they still confuse the Social Charter with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, when we are talking about the Council of Europe, a completely different institution. The Social Charter is the most important pan European treaty, which integrates both eastern and western countries. We now share identical visions and the same rights.

What are the grounds on which complaints can be made to the European Committee of Social Rights?

The mechanism is through collective complaints. We call them collective because they can’t be made by a particular person but by an NGO, an association or a union. It can be made in very different areas, not only to protect workers – an important issue during crisis times- but also to protect people with special needs, such as children, teenagers, elderly or disabled people and minorities such as Roma people.

What power of enforcement does the European Committee of Social Right have once a complaint against a member state is upheld?

Once a complaint is made, the committee will examine the admissibility and will communicate the facts to the affected government so that it can answer. If the complaint is admissible, there is a evaluation where it is decided if there is a violation of social rights. To illustrate this with an example, last year the committee called on Croatia to change the text books in public schools as their content included a homophobic reference. This fact affected the right of a healthy and impartial education free from prejudices, regarding the right which protects health. The Croatian government changed the books’ content.

How do you respond to the view that social rights are the first victims of economic downturn?

I am afraid it does and this happens for many reasons. Protecting social rights is considered to be very expensive, when other civil and political rights also need great amounts of money to be protected, like for example, security issues in a demonstration, or judiciary assistance, interpreters for citizens who don’t speak the language, etc.

It is important to work for social rights not during crisis times but during normal times, as the situation only gets worse during the crisis. Last year, the committee had to confront a measure propose by the Bulgarian government trying to end unemployment aid. The committee said this fact was completely against the Social Charter. Finally, the Bulgarian government took the committee’s advice and parliament modified the law to coordinate it with the aim of the European Social Charter

Are the rights protected in the Social Charter threatened by “flexibility” or “employer-friendly” reforms to the labour market?

It depends. We should look case by case. But it is true that there have been some changes which affect workers. We have just recorded two complaints regarding the Greek anti-crisis law. This would have to be examined by the committee but is true that during times of crisis, states and enterprises use flexibility as a tool to take rights from workers. There is a logical danger is this kind of behavior. social rights should be protected by the progressive principle, written in the charter, which means that the rights protected would only increase, as we are talking about human dignity.

Is the aim of the Social Charter essentially to create a social Europe?

Of course. I believe it has already been created over the past 50 years but it needs to be consolidated. It is now necessary that every state within the Council of Europe accepts the Charter, as today’s Europe stands on three fundamental pillars : Democracy, which also means social democracy, Human rights, which also means social rights and a state based on the rule of law, which also means a social state.

Why is the Social Charter good for Europe, given that there are still 4 Council of Europe member states who have not ratified the Social Charter or the Revised Social Charter?

Of course! The Social Charter is a fundamental social agreement and it is inadmissible that some countries have not signed it. The four countries are Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Switzerland. Ratifying the Social Charter should be an obligation to participate in the Council of Europe, as it happens with the European Convention on Human rights. We are now in an universal Europe without divisions and differences. Different speeds have not any sense.

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