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Committee on Economic Affairs and Development

26 November 2008

 

Statement on the financial crisis and the protection of citizens’ rights

 

(adopted by the Committee on Economic Affairs and Development at its meeting in Paris, 26 November 2008)


A long period of economic growth has turned into a recession which, it is feared, could be both deep and long. The causes of the crisis are clear. The period of growth was prolonged by interest rates that were kept too low. Unsound management practices became widespread. Incentives were set too high. Complex financial instruments lacked transparency. Risk management systems failed to operate effectively.

 

The deteriorating economic situation could lead to high unemployment, the loss of hard-earned property and higher indebtedness for those already in debt. At this time, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Economic Affairs and Development reminds the governments of Council of Europe member states of their responsibility to protect citizens’ social and human rights. It is essential that the economy should be redressed as soon as possible but that in the meantime social safety networks should counterbalance the economic downturn. Those countries that have maintained sound state finances during the growth years are now better positioned to guarantee the benefits of existing social safety networks for their citizens.

 

Accordingly, the committee is extremely concerned by the disastrous impact that this financial crisis and its economic consequences are having on the living conditions of the citizens of Europe and of the world, which could possibly threaten to undermine the very foundations of democracy.

 

The committee believes that the public authorities have failed in their duty of information and supervision regarding the creation, functioning and risks posed by the spread of increasingly more sophisticated financial instruments and have, accordingly, not protected citizens and financial players engaging in high-risk transactions.

 

The committee welcomes the holding in Washington on 15 November last of the summit of the 20 major economic powers in the world (G20) and the commitments entered into on that occasion by those attending. It fully endorses the summit’s recommendations designed to stimulate the economy, provide liquidity, strengthen financial institutions and protect savings.

 

The committee deplores the fact that this action plan makes no reference to protecting the social and economic rights of citizens in a period of crisis.

 

The committee is convinced that the reform of the global financial system can be successful only if it takes into consideration, among other things, the following principles:

 

- transparency of markets and financial products to enable savers to be better informed about the risks incurred;
- fostering a sense of morality and ethics in the behaviour of economic and financial players, particularly with regard to remuneration and benefits, and the adoption of an ethical code of conduct under which they should operate;
- more active involvement of parliamentarians at national and pan-European levels in order to monitor the application of rules and regulations;
- raising the level of employment by stimulating the economy;
- ensuring the stability of the financial markets by providing liquidity and guaranteeing the functioning of financial institutions;
- creating improved rules, including rules of accountability, governing the financial markets so as to ensure better coverage of the rule of law in this area;
- governments should be reminded that despite financial difficulties, citizens’ social and human rights must be respected.

 

The committee asks the Bureau of the Assembly to organise a current affairs debate during its January 2009 part-session with, as its subject, “The protection of citizens’ rights during the present financial crisis”.

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