The one and only substantial initiative concerning human rights in the Commission Work Programme 2015 is the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a process which has been ‘underway’ for several decades but never completed. Aside from first-generation civil liberties, which are enshrined in the ECHR, second‐generation social and economic rights, such as the right to work with fair remuneration, the right to protection of health, the right to social security, etc., are also an essential component of fundamental rights in general and are provided for under the European Social Charter. It is these very social and economic rights that are currently at risk of being sacrificed on the altar of financial ‘stability’, austerity, ‘structural reforms’, etc. This is the main reason why more and more citizens feel alienated from the EU and its policies.

1. Is the Commission aware of the dangers to social rights which are inherent to the economic policies currently being implemented?

2. Would the Commission consider proposing the EU’s accession to the European Social Charter?

Answer given by Ms Thyssen on behalf of the Commission

As underlined in the 2015 Annual Growth Survey(1), simultaneous action to boost investment, carry out structural reforms and ensure fiscal responsibility is critical to restore jobs and growth. At the same time, the AGS puts a clear focus on the social dimension of these policies and on the need to modernise welfare systems to more effectively and efficiently address social needs and to combat poverty, as well as to strengthen education and training systems to enhance people’s skills and capabilities, enable them to cope with risks and play a full part in the economy and society. To support this, country-specific guidance is issued in the context of the European Semester of economic policy coordination and the European Structural and Investment Funds finance a broad range of measures, including in employment, education and training, housing and health. Furthermore, actions falling within the scope of EC law are checked against the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes a number of social and labour rights.

While the EU has not acceded(2) to the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe, the Commission recalls that the Treaty(3) refers to that instrument and there is, in general, convergence between the latter and EC law. Likewise, there is case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union which refers to the European Social Charter.

(1)COM(2014) 902 final.
(2)Ref COM(2014) 910 final.
(3)Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.