As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
President of the Congress of INGOs,
Distinguished fellow speakers,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the past fifteen years, Europe has gone through one crisis after another.
A financial crisis.
A global pandemic.
And now Russia’s completely unacceptable invasion of Ukraine.
This is a defining moment for Europe – and we need to be firm and resolute in our support for Ukraine – and uphold our values.
Each of these events has taken a terrible toll.
Many people have suffered.
And our thoughts go today to the brave Ukrainian people and their leaders.
But the financial crisis, the pandemic and the current crisis – have also caused massive disruption to European economies, with soaring price-increases, higher interest rates and unprecedented electricity and energy costs.
It constitutes a major challenge to all European countries – and to individuals – and governments.
It is about the capacity to bring in money and provide for those in need.
For many people, this has meant falling into poverty.
And for many more who were already poor, it has brought even deeper anguish and insecurity.
We know that when economies struggle and turn down, it is too often those who have least that suffer most.
And in the weeks and months ahead – as inflation bites and energy costs soar – it is those in poverty who are again at most risk.
Our answers to these problems are not new.
Ten years ago, the Council of Europe’s bodies issued a Joint Declaration on “Acting to Eradicate Poverty in Europe”.
It pointed the way.
But not enough has been done at the national level.
And the need to apply those solutions is more pressing that ever in today’s Europe.
Article 30 of the Revised European Social Charter obliges States Parties to protect individuals and families against poverty and social exclusion.
However, there are many reasons why people do not get the social security, and other entitlements, that are rightfully theirs.
A lack of information or awareness.
Fear of being stigmatised simply because they need help.
Then there are the physical, administrative and technological barriers that often require a level of funding, know-how and internet access that is simply not available to everyone.
But there are ways to solve these problems.
Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, made that point in his recent report on this subject.
So too did the International Conference of INGOs in its Recommendation on Access for all to Social and Medico-social Services, published just last year and whose insights will feature again in this afternoon’s seminar.
And the European Committee on Social Rights gives specific guidance on what governments must do, proactively, to ensure social rights, maintaining, for example, non-digitalised services, so that those without digital skills can access the support they need.
Progress is possible, and it is very much needed.
Let us start today – all of us – civil society, governments, and international organisations to better engage and discuss how we can help those in poverty to access the health, housing, education and social security that will ease their pain –
And pave the way to a better future.
Economic and social rights are human rights –
And human rights must be more than noble words. They define our way of life, the endurance of our societies – especially – in the roughest and toughest of times.
This is our challenge and I am sure we will be able to tackle it.
Thank you for your attention.