50th Anniversary of the European Social Charter: proposals for reform
Helsinki Conference, 8 February 2011

The first event held to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Social Charter took place on 8 February 2011 in Helsinki where a Seminar on the reform of the Charter was organised at the initiative of the Finnish government. After the opening of the Seminar by the President of the Republic of Finland, Mrs Tarja HALONEN, the Deputy Secretary General, Mrs Maud de BOER-BUQUICCHIO, outlined the evolution of the European Social Charter and its monitoring mechanisms. She considers that the collective complaints procedure is an absolute priority and that its acceptance should be regarded as a priority by every European democracy.

In the course of this Seminar, several practical and more immediately feasible proposals emerged, in particular: 

- The reinforcement of the collective complaints procedure

The participants stressed the need for other states to accept the procedure so that gradually all member states will be bound by it. The participants also expressed the wish to ensure a better follow-up to the decisions pronounced by the European Committee of Social Rights on the merits of complaints and to do away with the four month period during which these decisions are under embargo.

- Increase in the number of ratifications

Three aims were mentioned: ratification by all member states, ratification of the Turin Protocol by the four remaining states and progression from the 1961 Charter to the Revised Charter by the states concerned.

- Raising the political profile of the Charter in the activities of the Council of Europe

The rights guaranteed by the Charter are at the very heart of the statutory mission of the Council of Europe and contribute to the realisation of the Organisationís priorities. In this regard, the role of the Committee of Ministers in ensuring the follow-up to the conclusions and decisions of the European Committee of Social Rights could be reinforced.

- Development in the reporting system

There is a need to strengthen the impact and political relevance of the Committee's annual conclusions and to ensure a wider dissemination of these conclusions at the national level. Adapting the existing methods of examining national reports might be a means to achieve these goals inter alia by concentrating the examination on situations of major significance, whether because they raise manifest problems of conformity or because they relate to important evolutions in the way social rights are applied in the countries concerned.

- Prospect of the accession of the European Union to the Charter

It might be useful to launch a reflection and research work on the perspective of EU accession to the Charter once accession to the European Convention of Human Rights has been achieved.

- Procedure for election of members of the European Committee of Social Rights

Pursuant to the decision of the Committee of Ministers of 11 December 1991, the amending Protocol to the Charter (which has not yet entered into force) is being applied, except for a provision stating out that the members of the Committee are to be elected by the Parliamentary Assembly, and no longer by the Committee of Ministers. It may be feasible at present for the Committee of Ministers to apply this provision as well.

Another proposal was a form of dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly to develop a procedure involving the two organs of the Council of Europe in this process of election.

More information on the Helsinki Conference
50th Anniversary Web Page