Remarks by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Commissioner for Human Rights,
EU Special Representative for Human Rights,
Permanent Representative for Sweden,
President of the European Committee of Social Rights,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here with you and to mark 25 years of the European Social Charter’s Additional Protocol for Collective Complaints.
A collective complaints procedure that was designed to give greater effect to social rights on our continent.
I am sure that I do not need to convince you of the absolute importance of that aim.
Social rights are the very foundation of a decent society.
They guarantee access to:
Housing and healthcare –
Education and employment –
And protection against poverty and social exclusion.
These rights are fundamental to our human dignity.
And where they are delivered, we see stronger, inclusive and sustainable democracies –
Societies we can take pride in.
It is of course enforcement that ensures rights.
And that was always the purpose of the Collective Complaints Procedure –
To establish a more effective and efficient system –
With trade unions and civil society organisations able to challenge national laws and practices.
That mechanism has delivered.
It has brought the Charter closer to European citizens.
It has raised the Charter’s profile with an unprecedented level of media coverage –
And it has done more to ensure the Charter’s impact than any other single development.
Just think about the outcome of some of the cases that have been heard by the European Committee of Social Rights on the basis of the collective complaints procedure.
Corporal punishment of children has been banned explicitly in several countries.
Homophobic statements have been removed from school curricula.
Adults and children have had their rights to care, assistance and healthcare affirmed while present in a member state without due authorisation.
Equal opportunities, not least equal pay between men and women, have been advanced.
The list is long.
And these cases – all of them – have had a positive effect, transforming lives for the better. And this is what we must aim for.
We have also been able to identify the systemic and structural problems that stand between individuals and their social rights –
And help member states in resolving and removing them.
So, after 25 years, should we be happy with where we are?
We should certainly be happy with what the collective complaints procedure is delivering.
But we should aim higher – and do more.
Only 16 member states have accepted the procedure so far.
At our recent Summit of Heads of State and Government in Reykjavík, European leaders underlined that social justice is crucial for democratic stability and security.
And the impact of rolling economic crises –
The 2008 financial crash, COVID-19, and the slowdowns, inflation and recessions caused by Russia’s illegal and totally unacceptable war in Ukraine –
All of these threaten social rights and they especially heighten the risk of poverty, with people left to suffer.
So, it is up to you – all of us – to make the positive case for the collective complaints procedure –
And expanding its circle of ratifications.
We should do this not only by citing the impact of the cases that it has dealt with so far –
Vital though these are –
But also, by pointing out how measured and effective the system has proven to be.
There were those who said it would be flooded by complaints.
But this has not been the case.
Over the past 25 years, there has been a total of 225 complaints lodged –
That’s fewer than 10 per year.
A reason for this is of course that the procedure was designed to ensure that only serious matters and systemic problems are brought before the European Committee of Social Rights –
And experience shows that trade unions and civil society organisations lodge complaints only after very thorough consideration –
Exactly as intended.
After a quarter century of experience, we should be grateful for the way in which the collective complaints procedure is helping the European Social Charter put down deeper roots –
The question now is how we can persuade more countries to take the opportunity of ratifying it –
For the benefit of their citizens – for all of us.
I hope that today’s event is therefore an opportunity both to celebrate and reflect.
Thank you for your commitment to our social rights, our human rights –
And thank you also for your commitment and hard work.