The Council of Europe actively promotes social cohesion. Its main objectives are:
- to promote the concept of social cohesion as defined in the Revised Strategy for Social Cohesion;
- to analyse social changes in the light of the definitions of social cohesion;
- to develop the concept of shared responsibility by the greater inclusion of civil society in promoting social cohesion;
- to guarantee an adequate level of social protection;
- to analyse developments in employment and its role in social integration, and questions of training and changes to workers’ rights;
- to provide protection for the most vulnerable groups in society and review the policy instruments relating to their well-being;
- to promote equality of access to rights whilst respecting differences;
- to combat exclusion and discrimination in all its forms.
A social cohesion strategy
Improving access to fundamental social rights as laid down in the Revised European Social Charter for all members of society is at the core of the social cohesion strategy.
This goal is to be achieved by developing intergovernmental activities in the following areas:
- Social protection: efforts are being made to extend coverage of the standards laid down in the European Code of Social Security and the European Code of Social Security (Revised) in all member States which are in a position to accept them;
- Social services: recommendations were designed to ensure that social services staff become more efficient in meeting the complex needs of people at risk of social exclusion;
- Employment: work is concentrated on promoting equal access to employment while taking account of changes to the employment market and within employment services;
- Housing: work is in progress on access to housing, particularly in member states with acute housing problems;
- Children and family: efforts in this area are aimed at developing an integrated approach to children’s rights in accordance with the Council of Europe conventions and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The emphasis is on the role of the parents in the full and well-rounded development of children in modern society.
Developing social cohesion
The Revised Strategy for Social Cohesion defines the main lines of work of the Social Cohesion Development Division. Current activities include developing useful indicators and other conceptual and methodological tools to promote social cohesion and the Division organises an annual open Forum to debate aspects of social change which affect it. The analysis of the debate is published in the “Trends in social cohesion” series and the electronic newsletter Social Cohesion Developments describes the various initiatives in detail.
European conventions for the protection of social rights
The Revised European Social Charter and its protocols guarantee a number of fundamental social rights (see chapter on “Human rights: protection, promotion and prevention”). The European Code of Social Security and its Protocol guarantee minimum levels of protection, including medical care, sickness benefit, employment injury compensation, maternity, unemployment, invalidity and survivors’ benefits, family allowances and pensions.
The following agreements facilitate international mobility for workers and their families, their integration into host countries without loss of cultural identity and their legal protection and welfare provisions:
- The European Convention on Social Security. This is based on four fundamental principles: equal treatment, uniformity of applicable legislation, conservation of rights and payment of benefits abroad. The convention covers all legislation concerning sickness, maternity and invalidity benefits, retirement pensions, survivors’ pensions, benefits for occupational injuries and diseases, life insurance payments and unemployment and family benefits.
- The European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance is based on equal treatment. Contracting parties undertake to ensure that nationals of other contracting parties who are lawfully present in their territory are entitled to the same social and medical assistance as their own nationals.
- The European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers enshrines the principle of equal treatment for migrant workers and nationals of the host country and guarantees the right to family reunion. A consultative committee monitors its application.
Bilateral and regional social security co-operation
The Council of Europe has an extensive bilateral and regional assistance programme for member states in central and eastern Europe. Its objective is to help them to implement national social security legislation which is compatible with the minimum standards of the European Code of Social Security and its Protocol. The Council also promotes social security co-ordination by encouraging links between member states, using its own relevant legal instruments. These guarantee equal access to social security for migrant workers and their families, especially when they have worked in two or more countries.
People with disabilities
The Council of Europe advocates a clear policy for people with disabilities, with particular emphasis on rehabilitation, social integration and full participation in community life. Its policy model eliminates exclusion of any nature: psychological, educational, family-related, cultural, social, professional, financial or architectural; it promotes independent living and full citizenship and helps to bring it about through several European initiatives and by urging national legislative reform.
The Council of Europe’s work in this field focuses on the reasons for migration, migrants’ legal status and on integrating migrant and refugee populations. The Council’s policies emphasise integration and provide guidelines to improve community relations, to encourage cohesion and tolerance and to guarantee migrants’ social rights. One recommendation, for example, promotes access for non-nationals to jobs in the public sector.
Irregular migration being a major concern, the Council has adopted a migration management strategy, based on the protection of migrants’ human rights, promoting dialogue and partnership between the countries of origin, transit and destination. One of its tasks is to examine the regulations and practices affecting the legal status of foreign residents and other persons admitted to the territory of member states.
Roma and Traveller communities
The Council of Europe helps member states to improve the situation of Europe’s Roma and Traveller communities through assistance programmes, for example the joint programme with the European Commission on Roma in South East Europe. The Council emphasizes two essential aspects - the need for comprehensive national policies and the need to involve these communities in drafting them and putting them into action, particularly at local level. The Group of Specialists on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers is drawing up guidelines and policy recommendations on the access to fundamental rights for these communities. The Co-ordinator of Activities on Roma has close contacts with the European Roma and Travellers Forum, an international association set up in Strasbourg in 2004 to give a voice to these populations throughout Europe.
Population and demographic developments
The report “Recent demographic developments in Europe” published annually provides the latest information on population developments in the 47 member states: size of population, rate of increase, migration, marriage and divorce, fertility, mortality and foreign population. It is available in printed form, including a CD-Rom.
The Council of Europe Development Bank
The social development bank in Europe
The CEB was set up in 1956 under a Council of Europe partial agreement and has 40 members at present. Its priority is to provide financial assistance to member states facing social problems arising from the presence of refugees, displaced persons, migrants and victims of natural or ecological disasters. Today, the CEB’s action extends beyond its priority objectives to new social and economic goals, in particular, to improving living conditions for vulnerable social groups such as abandoned children, the disabled, ethnic minorities and those below the poverty line.
With these priorities in mind, the CEB contributes to the financing of social projects in three major areas:
- Strengthening social integration, in particular by providing aid to refugees and migrants, increasing social housing, improving living conditions in urban and rural areas and fostering job creation and preservation.
- Responsible management of the environment through preventive action and aid to regions hit by natural or ecological disasters, the construction or rehabilitation of water supply infrastructure, the treatment of liquid and solid waste, the production of clean and renewable energy and the protection and rehabilitation of the heritage.
- Developing human capital through projects in the education, vocational training and health sectors.
The CEB has set up a “Selective Trust Account” through which it channels a share of its annual profits into subsidising interest rates and exceptional donations for projects with a particularly high social content in its more needy member countries.
The CEB has granted loans of over € 20 billion since it was established and the annual lending volume stands at about € 1.6 billion. At 31 December 2008 its total own capital was € 4 718 shared beetween its 40 member states.
For the period 2005-2009 the CEB aims to increase its action in member countries, particularly those in central and south eastern Europe.
The North-South Centre
The European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity (the North-South Centre) was set up in Lisbon (Portugal) in 1990 as a Council of Europe partial agreement, following a European Campaign on North-South interdependence and solidarity which the Council organised in 1988.
The Centre has two objectives: to raise public awareness of North-South interdependence and solidarity and to develop links with governments, local authorities, NGOs, parliamentarians and the media worldwide in order to promote human rights, pluralist democracy and global education.
This is why the North-South Centre is often described as the Council of Europe’s window on the world; its purpose is to assert the values upheld by the Council beyond the European continent.
Bringing together, promoting dialogue, informing
Through its workshops, forums, seminars, educational material, publications and other activities, the Centre seeks to bring together the partners of the quadrilogue (governments, parliamentarians, local and regional authorities, civil society organisations) to pool and discuss ideas, to inform people about globalisation issues and to promote global co-operation and solidarity.
The North-South Centre’s activities come under two units:
Global education and young people
The unit promotes global education for sustainable development, human rights, peace, conflict prevention and intercultural dialogue. It provides a youth training programme and is developing a global and regional networking.
The Centre is working to co-ordinate global education at a pan-European level to improve its quality and impact through European peer review processes and collaborates with the European Union’s new member states to reinforce it in these countries.
The youth dimension aims to extend, improve and give visibility to the role of young people and their organisations as agents of development and global interdependence.
Dialogue and capacity-building for solidarity in an interdependent world
The Council provides platforms for dialogue between Europe’s nations and Southern Mediterranean and African countries on policies to be implemented for democracy, human rights, social cohesion and capacity-building. The main objective of this Unit is to promote the Council of Europe’s values and to enlarge the existing North-South networking.
The Transmed programme promotes dialogue on intercultural and inter-religious subjects, women’s rights and the advancement of democracy and the rule of law in southern Mediterranean countries.
Europe-Africa Dialogue aims to facilitate dialogue and the exchange of experiences between European and African partners (particularly among parliamentarians) on issues such as human rights protection, good governance, conflict prevention and immigration.
These programmes are assisted by the Multimedia Unit, the Centre’s communication sector which oversees the North-South Centre’s publications, in particular the Newsletter “The Interdependent”, its website and public relations.