Not by Selling off Dignity

On February 12 and 13, 2015, the Conference on the Future of the Protection of Social Rights in Europe took place in Brussels, chaired by the Belgian presidency of the European Council. Stakes were high here, as Europe is currently at a crossroads.

For some, up until now the majority, the economy has trumped social issues, seen as less important. The austerity required to “set things right” has meant reducing social rights, adjusting them in the margins of available budgets. These rights, drawn up when during a period of economic growth, have become too expensive during an economic crisis and in a more and more competitive world. For others, whose are starting to make their voices heard, these macro-economic measures, though necessary, must be taken while assessing the impact they have on social rights; proper application of these social rights supports economic development. Far from opposing one another, the economy and social rights go hand-in-hand, in a subtle but dynamic manner.

The economic crisis in whose name people question the basis of social rights, and collaterally, civil and political rights, has merely revealed the inadequacies of a model that disassociates the economy and social issues. Remedies to this have, to date, been inefficient. The model itself must be replaced by another one which unconditionally guarantees the indivisible bedrock of human rights. If not, all those with insufficient incomes to live a life that corresponds with human dignity have no real access to civil and political rights. They are no longer a part of the democratic process and become second-level citizens.

Mrs. Thyssen, the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, stated the disappointing results, to say the very least, of policies followed to date: the economic crisis has widened the gap between the rich and the poor, and has reinforced exclusions. The Commissioner has called for pro-active policies that guarantee social rights, as they are inseparable from civil and political rights. She defended the program of the new European Commission chaired by Mr. Juncker, saying that it aligns with this course of action.

The Brussels Conference was held at a key time in our European democracies: challenging measures must be taken, but dignity cannot be sold off in the name of economic austerity. It is thus urgent to better guarantee the respect and dignity of each and every person. ATD Fourth World joined other NGOs, political leaders, and academics who care about European cohesion. They demanded that Member States ratify immediately the European Social Charter (which guarantees social rights, and thus access to civil and political rights) as well as the collective claims procedure (which allows an NGO to introduce a claim against a defective State). They also requested that, over the long term, the European Union work to fully adhere to the Charter.

Read Georges de Kerchove’s entire speech to the Conference below.


Georges de Kerchove Human Rights Conference Report