Doc. 10395

12 January 2005

The Third Summit

Opinion1

Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Rapporteur: Ms Maria Eduarda Azevedo, Portugal, Group of the European People’s Party

I.       Proposed conclusions of the Committee

The Committee proposes to include the following text in paragraph 18.ii.a.C. of the operational section of the draft recommendation, after the words “social cohesion”:

“The Council of Europe legal instruments in the social field have defined social protection a fundamental right, with an international supervisory system. By means of its co-operation mechanisms and its activities, the Council should continue to assist member states in formulating and implementing a successful social cohesion strategy for the 21st century – with a specific focus on the fight against poverty and precarious life-situations.

To this end, the Assembly cannot but support the proposal by the intergovernmental sector of the Council to set up a “think tank” and expresses its wish to be involved in the activities of that group. This body should put forward a new vision for a socially cohesive Europe and devise responses to such contemporary challenges as globalisation or population ageing – without loosing the essential achievements of the European social economic model.”

II.       Explanatory memorandum

1.       Despite the considerable variations from country to country, the European approach to social issues is sufficiently distinctive when compared with other world regions. The “European social model” indeed reflects that during the twentieth century European states came to accept responsibility for achieving a balance between economic growth and social justice.

2.       Yet, this approach currently faces a series of questions and strains. The challenge is now to find ways of adapting these social policy achievements to changing needs and changing circumstances in order to make Europe’s social model sustainable for future generations. Moreover, in reply to intensifying global economic competition with other rapidly developing regions of the world, Europe will have to prove again and again the sustainability and prominence of its socio-economic model of development.

3.       The Heads of State and Government of the Organisation’s member states, meeting in Strasbourg in October 1997, identified social cohesion as “one of the foremost needs of the wider Europe and … an essential complement to the promotion of human rights and dignity”. As its member states now cover practically the whole of geographical Europe, the Council of Europe has a special and distinctive role in promoting social cohesion across the whole continent.

4.        Based on the Organisation’s two fundamental human rights instruments, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Revised European Social Charter, the Council of Europe has sought to develop a rights-based approach to social cohesion. Moreover, strengthening the Council of Europe’s commitment in the field of social cohesion is indeed a means of promoting democracy and stability in Europe.

5.       This approach implies a particular commitment to making a reality of the rights and needs of those individuals and groups in society which are at particular risk of becoming vulnerable. These include, for example:

-       children as defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Rights;

-       young people in general, who must play an essential part in any vision of social cohesion which is concerned for the welfare of future generations from the point of view of sustainable development;

-       families in precarious life-situations, especially single-parent families;

-       migrants and ethnic minorities, whose integration into society is of utmost importance to social cohesion;

-       people with disabilities, whose specific needs must be fully integrated into the pursuit of the welfare of all;

-       elderly people, especially those who are living alone or who no longer have the support of a family.

6.       The Rapporteur believes that the Council of Europe is the pre-eminent organisation to help bring about a united Europe in the social field: this presupposes assistance by means of pilot programmes or exchanges of experts in order to combat financial insecurity and poverty. It also implies enhancing the assistance programmes in the social field, particularly in the implementation of the Revised Social Charter and the setting up of a social rights monitoring system. The Revised Social Charter should indeed be one of the starting points for an effective social cohesion strategy. Moreover, enhancing equitable access to good quality health care for all European citizens and in particular for the most vulnerable groups should also be part of this strategy.

7.       The Council of Europe’s intergovernmental sector suggests to re-examine the traditional social model which has prevailed up till now in our Western societies and to update the old approaches. In this respect, the Rapporteur is in favour of the creation of a “think tank”, respecting geographical balance and equality of sexes, and would invite it to constructively examine current social models and put forward new and innovative ideas.

8.        In addition, the Rapporteur wishes to stress the following principles:

-       reflect on the notion of poverty which remains, more or less, unchanged. This notion should be rethought taking into account newly evolved social thought which allows us to clearly define remedies and solutions which could be effective in fighting the ever-growing number of marginalised people;

-       promoting a forum for co-operation in the social field, amongst other things by setting up a poverty threshold early warning system;

-       strengthening links with civil society, since the best way of improving access to social rights is to establish an efficient partnership with civil society;

-       implementing measures to combat corruption;

-       supporting the Development Bank of the Council of Europe in its lending activities for projects focusing on social cohesion and encouraging states to increase their voluntary contributions;

-       continuing the Council of Europe’s globally recognised work in the promotion of ethical principles and the protection of donors and recipients in the field of blood transfusion and organ, tissue and cell transplantation and pursuing and intensifying the introduction of the social, ethical and human rights dimension in its work on equality in access to good quality services and on delivery of health care for all European citizens.

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Reporting committee : Political Affairs Committee

Committee for opinion : Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Reference to committee : Doc. 10272, Reference No. 3034 of 23 November 2004

Opinion approved by the Committee on 17 December 2004

Secretaries to the committee : Mr Mezei, Mrs Nollinger, Mrs Meunier, Mrs Karanjac


1 See Doc. 10381 prov, report by the Political Affairs Committee (draft recommendation provisionally adopted on 14 December 2004).