In this German language interview, Monika Schlachter, Vice-President of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), discusses the importance of social rights in Europe.
English Version of the Transcript of the
Interview with Mrs. Schlachter on the European Social Charter
Micaela CATALANO (interviewer): Welcome, Mrs. Schlachter. You are the vice president of the European Social Charta, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. What has been accomplished so far in these past 50 years? How would you assess these results?
Monika SCHLACHTER (interviewee): I think the results are quite impressive, but there is definitely still potential for further development. Therefore, we should take this 50th anniversary as an incentive to be able to achieve even more in the future than we have managed to accomplish so far.
Micaela CATALANO: In your opinion, why is the harmonisation of economic and social rights on the European level so important?
Monika SCHLACHTER: We probably need to differentiate this a little bit. It is not primarily about harmonisation. We wish for a common minimum standard and we have high hopes of course that as many countries as possible will do more. This means, the minimum standard is certainly necessary to prevent a huge slipping down and with it a further drifting apart of society.
Micaela CATALANO: How can this be controlled? On what concrete basis can complaints be made to the European Committee for Social Rights, because we need a control procedure to implement it, of course?
Monika SCHLACHTER: Yes. There are basically two control procedures that apply to the European committee. But both of them are not accessible by individuals. One is the procedure of the state reports, in which the governments present the measures they have taken to implement the articles of the charter.
And the other one is the collective complaints procedure. As the name already suggests, only collectives are entitled to issue a complaint; this includes, for example, employer associations, labour unions other non-governmental organisations.
However, this second way is not permitted to be used by or against every state, but just against those states that accepted this procedure. Therefore, this does not mean that all members of the Council of Europe, not even those that have ratified the Social Charta, allow this. There are just a few.
Micaela CATALANO: How can the Committee for Social Rights in case of a complaint against a state prevail? Does it have instruments of power? Which instruments of power does it have at its disposal when a complaint against a state is maintained?
Monika SCHLACHTER: Actually, it barely has any instruments of power, despite, of course, that a negative resolution against a state, especially in a collective complaints procedure, attracts an enormous amount of public attention. This also implies that all the organisations, which have initiated the procedure, are of course able to go public with the results and, in this way, are able to exert pressure.
Furthermore, there is the possibility, of course, that we request the states, in follow-up state report procedures, to explain to us what they have undertaken to improve the situation. But we are not a court in this sense that we could impose sanction payments or anything like that. This is not the case.
Micaela CATALANO: No sanctions…
Monika SCHLACHTER: Hmmhm
Micaela CATALANO: Ok… In your view, is there a right to work? This is currently a very relevant question…
Monika SCHLACHTER: Yes. The right to work is such a striking term. You might answer this question in the affirmative, if you make the restriction that it cannot be the state that guarantees employment. That is, in a modern economic system this cannot be the case. This means, the right to work in the sense that you can sue your home country, because you are unemployed, will not work. But, and this should be emphasized, the right to work in the sense that the states should aim to take mobilising measures within the framework of their labour market and social policy as intensively as possible and to enable the people, who are able and willing to do so, to participate in the labour market.
Micaela CATALANO: It is often said that the influence, which the Social Charta might have, is a sign that the labour unions and organisations, that civil society has very little influence on governance in the Council of Europe member states. What is your opinion on this?
Monika SCHLACHTER: That is probably a little too critical, but it is not entirely wrong. Because the influence of the labour union can always be just as wide as the rate of unionisation is high, that is, how big the interest of the population is to organise itself in these groupings.
And we experience in many member states – not in all of them, but in many of them – a steady decline, especially of the organisation in labour unions, but also in employer associations. And this represents of course a decreasing solidarity, a decreasing cohesion. And if this does not work through self-help anymore, it is oftentimes the case that such domains become subject to regulation. And in certain ways we are also an expression of this phenomenon.
Nevertheless, one has to keep in mind, 50 years of European Social Charter… when it was founded this was basically not talked about. It is not like we would welcome or even accept it, if we were perceived in contrast to the self-help organisations, but we hope to fulfill a complementary function, which is seized as actively as possible, by both sides.
Micaela CATALANO: Is it actually the objective of the Social Charter – the absolute objective – to create a social Europe? Could you say it like this?
Monika SCHLACHTER: Absolutely! That is the objective. Although one has to be aware of the only limited possibilities for the achievement of this objective. But if you do not have high ambitions, you will not achieve anything. So you have to get it started at least.
Micaela CATALANO: How do you reply to the criticism, which comes up time and again, that the Social Charter is out-dated and is above all an instrument – as it is often said – for “backdoor socialism”?
Monika SCHLACHTER: When the Social Charter was out-dated the member states decided to introduce a revised Social Charter. Of course it is right that over the decades the social problems in Europe have changed during the validity of this instrument; and when the problems change, the legal reality has to be adapted to them. But I also think that the member states are definitely willing to do this and that it will be going to happen.
As for the other term… well… you have to approach social rights with a certain social understanding. If one principally believes that social rights are merely expensive and, thus, have to be omitted due to considerations of economic efficiency, then one would not be engaged in a Social Charter. This, however, was not forced on the member states, but rather they have signed it [voluntarily]. And if you do not want to say that all member states are secret socialists, then this does also not apply for the Social Charter.
Micaela CATALANO: You have just mentioned a point that I wanted to address with my last question. There are still four Council of Europe member states that have not yet ratified neither the Social Charter nor the revised version of the Social Charter. How can you explain that? To what extent can you actually say that it is important for all of Europe to have the Social Charter and that it has truly significant effects?
Monika SCHLACHTER: Well, how can you explain it? There is a lack of political will. This is actually a little bit astonishing, because the Social Charter – just like the European Convention on Human Rights, whose sister event it actually is – belongs to the fundamental realities in Europe and, in principle, there should be a clause introduced – just like in the European Convention on Human Rights – that all Council of Europe member states have to ratify the Social Charter as well.
This has not happened so far. One could speculate if this might be due to feared follow-up costs, but I do not want to do that, because I do not know it for sure.
Micaela CATALANO: We have mostly looked backwards so far. I still have one last question. The future of the Charter – in your view, what does the future of the Charter look like? How would you assess it? What is essential? Why is the Social Charter probably more important today than it was 50 years ago?
Monika SCHLACHTER: The Social Charter is essential as a social counterpart to possible severely divergent economical developments.
The more we have the problem – for example, as a consequence of the economical crisis – that there are groups that are in danger of being excluded, that are in danger of falling behind, the more important it is to recognise under the aspect of a social Europe, a European identity that we do not want that to happen; that we imagine a counter-model to a purely market-oriented, purely efficiency-oriented formation of states; but that we are downright proud of having developed something different in Europe and that we should develop it further, because it gives us the opportunity to create a better solidarity and also to strengthen this aspect of solidarity, which has always been very important in the concert of human rights.
Micaela CATALANO: Thank you very much for this really interesting talk, Mrs. Schlachter. Thank you.
Monika SCHLACHTER: Thank you.