Recommendation 1355 (1998)1
Fighting social exclusion and strengthening social cohesion in
1. Deeply concerned about the grave social problems arising in all the member states
and the resulting risk of a social explosion, the Assembly notes that persistent
unemployment, poverty and all the manifestations of social exclusion affecting a growing
number of individuals and families pose a threat to the social cohesion of European
2. In the countries of central and eastern Europe, the transition to a market economy
with its accompanying economic restructuring has gone hand-in-hand with the disappearance
of communist social policies. The ensuing dramatic social situations are insurmountable at
the present time because of inadequate and inappropriate health-care and social
infrastructures and the absence of appropriate legislation.
3. In the countries of western Europe, social protection policies are declining and
being called into question, with a concomitant massive disengagement of the state.
4. The traditional concept of poverty limits itself to considering the poor as those
with the lowest income levels. The Parliamentary Assembly underlines in its Recommendation
1196 (1992) on severe poverty and social exclusion: towards guaranteed minimum levels of
resources, that "severe poverty relates to the possibility of living and bringing up
children in minimally decent conditions", and is a cause for exclusion from normal
5. The concept of poverty refers to inadequacy or inequality of material resources,
whereas social exclusion goes well beyond participation in consumer society and includes
inadequacy, inequality, or total lack of participation in social, economic, political and
cultural life. Exclusion extends from social isolation to a total rupture with society.
6. However, certain specific groups are the victims of poverty, which is condemning a
considerable proportion of young adults, women, children, old persons, single-parent
families, large families, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as members of ethnic
minorities such as Gypsies, to social exclusion.
7. Poverty and exclusion must not be the price to pay for economic growth and
well-being. Today, social exclusion is no longer a marginal problem in Europe: it is a
painful and dramatic reality for millions of people.
8. Social exclusion not only offends against human dignity and denies people their
fundamental human rights; it also leads, in conjunction with social and economic
instability and worsening inequality, to phenomena of marginalisation, withdrawal or
violent reactions, thereby creating conditions which undermine the democratic foundations
of our societies.
9. Social exclusion clearly calls into question the principles underlying current
security and social protection policies and structures, and underscores their
10. Referring expressly to its Recommendation 1196, the Assembly notes that the
concerns it voiced at that time are unfortunately still topical.
11. It also draws attention to its Recommendation 1290 (1996) on the follow-up to the
Copenhagen Summit on social development, which sets out the undertakings made by the heads
of state and government to eradicate poverty through action at national level and
international co-operation, to achieve social integration and the participation of all in
society and to provide access for all to education and health care.
12. As industrial peace and a resumption of the social dialogue are prerequisites for
democratic stability in Europe, it is urgently necessary today to give fresh impetus to
the fight against exclusion and to take up the challenge of strengthening social cohesion.
13. In particular, social cohesion means promoting a Europe of social rights, these
being fundamental human rights on an equal footing with civil and political rights.
14. The Assembly fully endorses the wording of the final communiqué adopted by the
participants in the Colloquy on Social Cohesion, organised jointly by its Social, Health
and Family Affairs Committee and the National Council of the Slovak Republic and held in
Bratislava on 16 and 17 September 1997, and calls for a "better state" based on
a more just society and a new social contract.
15. Because it makes respect for human dignity and personal integrity paramount and
enables the social link between the individual and society to be restored, the best
response to the tragedy of exclusion that has struck tens of millions of Europeans is to
strengthen social cohesion. Given the upheavals in our societies and the risks of social
explosion, confidence and social tolerance must be restored if social equilibrium, an
essential element of democratic security in Europe, is to be maintained.
16. The Assembly welcomes the decisions taken by the heads of state and government at
the second summit, in Strasbourg on 10 and 11 October 1997, to reaffirm the Council of
Europes social dimension, and in particular that social cohesion now constitutes one
of the vital requirements of an enlarged Europe, an indispensable adjunct to the promotion
of human rights and human dignity. It notes that the Council of Europe is the sole
pan-European organisation capable of effectively proposing to all the countries of the
continent the necessary measures for taking on the challenge of strengthening social
cohesion in Europe as a factor of the continents democratic stability.
17. Consequently, it encourages the promotion of the key instruments of social cohesion
in Europe, and in particular the European Social Charter, the revised Social Charter and
the European Code of Social Security, among those states that are not yet parties thereto.
18. As it underscored in its Recommendation 1304 (1996) on the future of social policy,
it is essential to implement active employment policies at the same time, employment
playing a vital role as a factor for integration. However, economic growth and
technological progress constitute necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for
strengthening social cohesion.
19. Accordingly, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers invite the
governments of the member states to act and take the following measures:
i. give social rights the same priority as that accorded to human rights;
ii. reform existing social policies as a matter of priority, basing them on the
principle of solidarity, with the objective of apportioning aid to the most disadvantaged
in a more efficient, targeted and balanced fashion and protecting them more effectively
against social exclusion;
iii. promote policies to prevent poverty especially aimed at groups with the highest
iv. step up policies for the reintegration of marginalised or excluded persons, based
on the contractual principle, by means of occupational training, literacy campaigns and
the acquisition or updating of skills so as to restore their sense of social usefulness;
v. improve the process of participation and civil dialogue as a sine qua non of social
inclusion and citizenship;
vi. define rapidly and jointly effective policies to fight unemployment.
20. In particular, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers encourage
the governments of the member states:
i. in the field of town planning and housing:
a. to reinforce legal protection of tenants and sub-tenants who are victims of poverty;
b. to establish a mechanism for rent-rebate as well as assistance for basic utilities;
c. to stimulate the supply of low-rent housing and to develop programmes to build or
renovate welfare housing;
d. to adopt town planning policies that prevent ghettos and violence;
ii. in the field of education and training:
a. to put into practice positive actions to make up for the educational disadvantages
of the poor and excluded;
b. to promote training programmes for unemployed of all ages;
iii. in the field of health care:
a. to provide free medical care for the poor, with the aim of preventing serious
b. to fight pathological diseases prevalent among the poor, through special medical
iv. in the legal field:
a. to establish free legal assistance for the poor;
b. to set up legal advisory services for the socially excluded in need of immediate
help, for example, the homeless or unemployed.
21. The Assembly expresses its full support for the "Human dignity and social
exclusion project" begun in 1995, which has drawn the attention of governments to the
problems of exclusion and afforded a clear picture of the scale of the phenomenon. It
intends to be closely involved in the preparation and holding of the follow-up conference,
to take place in Helsinki in May 1998, and calls on the Committee of Ministers to pursue
22. The Assembly also invites the Committee of Ministers to create an observatory of
social cohesion in Europe, which could be set up on the basis of a Council of Europe
partial agreement, with the task of collecting information and statistics on poverty and
exclusion in the states parties and of producing, either at their request or as requested
by the steering committees or the Parliamentary Assembly, expert reports on questions
relating to social cohesion as well as opinions on national and European policies to
promote it. The Assembly takes note of the invitation of the Turkish Government to host
the observatory of social cohesion in Europe in Istanbul.
23. The Assembly welcomes the decision of the Committee of Ministers to launch a
campaign on "Global interdependence and solidarity: Europe against poverty and
exclusion", and hopes that the Council of Europes wide experience in the field,
in particular through the "Human dignity and social exclusion project", will
benefit the substance of this campaign. It asks the Committee of Ministers to include
representatives of the competent committees of the Assembly in the campaign as from the
24. Finally, aware of the current redefinition of the Council of Europes goals
and working methods in the social sphere, the Assembly urges the Committee of Ministers to
give practical effect to the decisions taken at the 2nd Summit of Heads of State and
Government, and to keep it informed of progress made in stepping up activities relating to
social cohesion, including the relevant restructuring within the Secretariat.
1. Assembly debate on 28 January 1998 (5th Sitting) (see Doc. 7981,
report of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mr Hegyi).
Text adopted by the Assembly on 28 January 1998 (5th Sitting).