Doc. 9047

20 April 2001

Future of the European Social Charter and additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning fundamental social rights

Recommendations 1354 (1998) and 1415 (1999)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 750th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (18 April 2001)

The Committee of Ministers has taken note with interest of Recommendation 1354 (1998) on the future of the European Social Charter. It has sought the views of the European Committee of Social Rights (then the Committee of Independent Experts) and the Governmental Committee.

The Committee of Ministers considers that the recommendation contains several concrete proposals for enhancing the Social Charter. They include important elements which the Committee of Ministers can support in principle. Comments on individual points are made in the Appendix to this reply.

It would also agree with the Assembly that, just as the European Convention on Human Rights is the point of reference in the field of civil and political rights, the European Social Charter should be one of the benchmarks for all the Council of Europe's activities in the social field. It reiterates the indivisible nature of all human rights be they civil, political or social, economic or cultural.

The Committee of Ministers recalls the statement made by the Heads of State and Government in the Action Plan following the 2nd Summit according to which they "undertake to promote social standards as embodied in the Social Charter and in other Council of Europe instruments, and call for the widest possible adherence to these instruments; they resolve to improve the exchange of good practice and information between member States and to intensify their co-operation in this field." Since then, 40 of the 43 member states of the Council of Europe have signed the Charter or the revised Charter and 28 have ratified. The Committee of Ministers expects further ratifications to mark the 40th anniversary of the Charter in October.

The Committee of Ministers fully agrees with the Assembly that the Social Charter is an important component of the European system of values, which has contributed to the strengthening of the European standards of social rights. It further agrees that this instrument should serve as a point of reference for an enlarged Europe and notes that the reference to the Charter made in the Amsterdam treaty is important in achieving this goal. In addition, it notes that the revised Social Charter served as a source of inspiration for the drafting of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

With regard to Recommendation 1415 (1999) on an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning fundamental social rights, the Committee of Ministers recalls that in March 2001, at their 745th meeting, the Ministers’ Deputies decided to ask the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) to give its views on the advisability and feasibility of launching a study with a view to updating the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”). In the framework of this exercise, it will be open to the CDDH to exchange views on various proposals put forward in Assembly Recommendation 1415, in particular paragraph 15.

Appendix to the reply

Ad paragraph 21

The Assembly's campaign to obtain a large number of ratifications of the Social Charter instruments before the Council of Europe's fiftieth anniversary, was an important and welcome initiative which the Committee of Ministers fully supported. The Committee of Ministers noted during periodic discussion that many states were actively preparing for ratification of the Charter, its Protocols and the revised Charter.

In the advent of the 40th anniversary of the Social Charter, the table of ratifications reflects the significant progress achieved over the last few years. 40 of the 43 member states have signed the Charter or the revised Charter. The 3 states who have not already done so (Armenia, Azerbaijan and San Marino) have either undertaken to do so shortly or are encouraged to do so. As far as ratifications are concerned, 28 of the 43 member states have ratified the Charter or the revised Charter. Other ratifications are expected in the next few months. The Committee of Ministers encourages states to finalise their ratification procedures before the 40th anniversary (October 2001).

As to the full implementation of the Turin Protocol and the Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints, the Committee of Ministers recalls that it has already taken several measures to ensure that the Turin Protocol is applied in so far as possible prior to its entry into force. The only outstanding point relates to the election by the Parliamentary Assembly of the members of the European Committee of Social Rights. The Committee of Ministers will look into this matter and keep the Assembly informed of the outcome.

As to the Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints (which entered into force on 1 July 1998), it has been ratified by eleven states and ratification procedures are well advanced in a number of other Parties. The Committee of Ministers takes note of the wish of the Parliamentary Assembly that Contracting Parties declare upon ratification or at a later stage that they recognise the right of representative national non-governmental organisations within their jurisdiction to lodge complaints according to Article 2 of the Protocol. It notes that Finland has already made such as declaration.

Ad paragraph 22 i.

The Committee of Ministers notes that both the European Committee of Social Rights and the Governmental Committee support the proposal for increasing the material and human resources in the Council of Europe's budget with respect to the secretariat. The European Committee of Social Rights has suggested drawing up a multi-annual plan to find a satisfactory solution to the difficulties arising from the present situation, with an increase in the number of Contracting Parties, growing complexity of the issues dealt with in national reports and the entry into force of the collective complaints procedure and the revised European Social Charter.

As for the Secretariat, the Committee of Ministers took the first step of strengthening the European Social Charter Secretariat by transferring as from 1 January 2001 the post of an A5.

Ad paragraph 22 ii.

The setting up of a network of independent correspondents in member states has been discussed on several occasions in the past and has not been favourably received. The Committee of Ministers considers that it is for Contracting Parties to determine the modalities of ensuring the follow-up on the national level of the European Committee of Social Rights’ conclusions, the Governmental Committee's reports and the Committee of Ministers' recommendations.

Ad paragraph 22 iii.

The Committee of Ministers supports an increase in the membership of the European Committee of Social Rights, which it observes is considered to be an urgently required step by the Committee itself. It further notes that an increase to fifteen members would enable the select nature of the Committee to be maintained while allowing the different European legal traditions to be reflected in its midst and in addition lead to a more rational division of its workload. Furthermore, such an enlargement would, as pointed out by the Committee itself, facilitate a more balanced representation of women and men on the Committee.

As far as the number of Committee members is concerned, obstacles that stood in the way of an increase since 1998 seem now to have been cleared and the process of electing new members of the Committee will soon commence.

Ad paragraph 22 iv.

The Committee of Ministers has already examined the question of how to ensure a linkage between the intergovernmental activity programmes and the conclusions reached under the Social Charter procedures within the framework of its review of the Council of Europe's intergovernmental activities in the social field. It considers that the findings of the supervision mechanism should form a natural basis for the intergovernmental activities of the Council of Europe and ensure that these activities are carried out in areas where the Organisation's competence is unique. Moreover, such a linkage could facilitate appropriate follow up to the Committee of Minister's recommendations as well as assist states in ratifying the Charter's instruments.

To this end, the terms of reference of the European Committee on Social Cohesion provide for consultation with the European Committee of Social Rights and with the Governmental Committee of the Charter.

Ad paragraph 23 i., ii.

The Committee of Ministers is not at this stage in favour of setting up a European court of social rights or of introducing an individual right to lodge complaints under the Charter. It shares the views of the European Committee of Social Rights and the Governmental Committee that priority should be given to ratification and implementation of the collective complaints procedure and the revised European Social Charter.

As to the inclusion of some of the rights contained in the Charter in the European Convention on Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers, while not excluding this possibility in due course, considers that priority should be given to consolidating the enhanced mechanisms of the Charter. In this context, it refers to the reply to Assembly Recommendation 1415 (1999)

Ad paragraph 23 iii.

The Committee of Ministers recalls that the obligations undertaken in the framework of the Social Charter are dealt with under a specific supervisory mechanism and that it is therefore unnecessary to include them in the monitoring procedures of the Council of Europe. It notes nonetheless that the Assembly decided, in Order No. 539 (1998), to include the Social Charter instruments in its own monitoring of compliance with commitments undertaken by member states. For its part, the Committee of Ministers will examine how the Charter rights and the conclusions of its supervisory mechanism could be used in its own monitoring procedures.

Ad paragraph 23 iv.

Regarding the proposal to make the “hard-core” articles of the Charter compulsory, the Committee of Ministers shares the Governmental Committee's wish to avoid additional difficulties for the current Contracting Parties as well as creating obstacles blocking further ratification of this instrument. Such a proposal could be studied later on, as well as the European Committee of Social Rights' idea of reviewing the contents of the hard core with a view to reinforcing it, and of resorting more regularly to the procedure of reporting on non-accepted provisions provided for under Article 22 of the Charter.

Ad paragraph 24

With regard to the creation of an organisational framework for an ongoing debate on the European Social Charter and the aims of European social policy with the International Labour Organisation, the OECD and the European Union, the Committee of Ministers considers that such dialogue could be useful for exchanging information and views between the various organisations concerned. Other organisations would be added to the list set up by the Assembly, in particular the WHO and OECD. It envisages instructing the Secretariat to organise periodic technical meetings with such organisations.