Photo: Walter Luttenberger, Caritas Switzerland
Wed, 09/11/2016 - 09:02

The main goal of the Council of Europe, with its seat in Strasburg, France, is to defend human rights. The best known aspect of the 47 member states’ strong organisation is probably the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Europe rightly considers economic and social rights as human rights and has agreed on instruments to guarantee them.

The European Social Charter is a Council of Europe Treaty that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights as a counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights, which refers to civil and political rights. The Charter guarantees a broad range of everyday human rights related to employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare. It requires that enjoyment of these rights be guaranteed without discrimination.

No other legal instrument at pan-European level can provide such an extensive and complete protection of social rights as that provided by the Charter, which also serves as a point of reference in European Union law; most of the social rights in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights are based on the relevant articles of the Charter. The Charter is therefore seen as the Social Constitution of Europe and represents an essential component of the continent’s human rights architecture.

The European Social Charter and its reporting mechanism is of particular importance to Caritas Europa as a key instrument in our advocacy efforts to fight poverty and social exclusion and for more social justice in Europe. The European Social Charter guarantees a broad range of human rights with respect to everyday essential needs related to employment and working conditions, housing, education, health, medical assistance, social protection, freedom of movement as well as protection against poverty. It lays specific emphasis on the protection of vulnerable persons, such as elderly people, children, people with disabilities and migrants. These groups of people systematically appear as most vulnerable members of society in Caritas Europa’s CARES country and European reports and its previous poverty reports and Crisis Monitoring Reports. And Caritas Europa considers the rights enshrined in the European Social Charter as fundamental building blocks for social models that are able to effectively address poverty and social injustice, as will be presented in our next publication “Social justice and equality in Europe is possible – The Caritas roadmap”, which will be launched on 23 November 2016.

International NGOs such as Caritas Europa have the right to make use of the European Social Charter reporting mechanism through the Collective Complaints Procedure. The Procedure allows Caritas Europa to directly apply to the European Committee of Social Rights for rulings on possible non-implementation of the Charter in the countries concerned, namely those states which have accepted its provisions and the complaints procedure.

Caritas Europa considers the European Social Charter and the Collective Complaints Procedure a very promising instrument to effectively achieve our goal to fight poverty and achieve more social justice in Europe. Caritas Europa therefore decided to invest more in awareness raising about the European Social Charter among its 49 members present in nearly all Council of Europe member states. Depending on the current situation in each Council of Europe member state, Caritas organisations are encouraged to advocate for the ratification by their country of the European Social Charter, to advocate for the acceptance of its key provisions, to advocate for the ratification of the Collective Complaints Procedure by all member states and to contribute to the reporting mechanism by providing the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe with data and information about non-compliance with the provisions of the Charter or to collect evidence as basis for a Collective Complaint.

Caritas Europa believes that, based on its CARES reporting system, the European Social Charter provides us with an additional and powerful tool to achieve more social justice on the European continent.

Written by Peter Verhaeghe, Caritas Europa Policy and Advocacy Officer responsible for social policies