The Charter in four steps
The treaty system of the European Social Charter is an integrated set of international standards concerning social rights and a mechanism for monitoring their implementation within the States concerned.
This treaty system:
- guarantees a broad range of human rights with respect to everyday essential needs related to employment and working conditions, housing, education, health, medical assistance and social protection;
- lays specific emphasis on the protection of vulnerable persons such as elderly people, children, people with disabilities and migrants. It requires that enjoyment of the abovementioned rights be guaranteed without discrimination;
- is aimed at applying the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 within Europe; for this reason, it is linked to the United Nations’ Human Rights Treaty System and the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights;
More information on the relationship between EU law and the European Social Charter
- is based on the principle of universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of human rights, as set forth in the United Nations’ Vienna Declaration of 1993, which confirms that social rights are human rights on an equal footing with civil and political rights;
- complements at pan-European level the safeguards contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, which specifically refers to civil and political rights.
More information on the relationship between the European Social Charter and European Convention on Human Rights
- is at the heart of the Council of Europe’s statutory goals: human rights, rule of law and democracy, which cannot be realised without the respect of social rights.
The evolution of the European Social Charter
In this framework, while taking into account the evolution which has occurred in Europe since the European Social Charter (ETS No. 35), adopted in 1961, the Revised European Social Charter (ETS No.163), adopted in 1996:
- embodies in a single instrument all the rights guaranteed by the 1961Charter and its Additional Protocol of 1988 (ETS No. 128),
- adds new rights and amendments adopted by the Parties.
The Revised Charter is gradually replacing the initial 1961 treaty.
Signatures and ratifications
Today, the Charter treaty system is one of the most widely accepted human rights set of standards within the Council of Europe. The widespread support for social rights is assured by the fact that 43 out of the 46 member States of the Council of Europe are parties to either the 1961 Charter or the Revised Charter.
Only Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Switzerland have not ratified either of these treaties.
The Charter is based on a ratification system, enabling States, under certain conditions, to choose the provisions they are willing to accept as binding international legal obligations. They are encouraged to progressively accept all the Charter’s provisions.
Enforcement of the Revised Charter is submitted to the same monitoring mechanism as the 1961 Charter, i.e. the reporting system; this system was further developed and strengthened in 1991 by an Amending Protocol (ETS No. 142), which is applied on the basis of a decision taken by the States concerned.
For the States parties which have accepted it, the reporting system is complemented by the Additional Protocol of 1995 providing for a system of collective complaints (ETS No. 158).
In this framework, the honouring of commitments entered into by the States Parties is subject to the monitoring of the European Committee of Social Rights.
This body monitors compliance under the two existing monitoring mechanisms:
- through collective complaints lodged by the social partners and other non-governmental organisations (collective complaints procedure),
- through national reports drawn up by States Parties (reporting system).
Insofar as they refer to binding legal provisions and are adopted by a monitoring body established by a binding treaty and the relevant protocols, decisions and conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights must be respected by the States concerned, even if they are not directly enforceable in the domestic legal systems. They set out the law and can provide the basis for positive developments in social rights through legislation and case-law at national level.
The Committee of Ministers intervenes in the last stage of the Charter’s monitoring mechanism through the adoption of Resolutions and Recommendations. It ensures the follow-up of the conclusions and decisions adopted by the European Committee of Social Rights. Relevant decisions of the Committee of Ministers are prepared by the Governmental Committee of the European Social Charter and the European Code of Social Security.
Ultimately, it falls to the European Committee of Social Rights to determine whether the situation has been brought into compliance with the Charter by the State Party concerned. This is done by the Committee in the framework of the reporting system or the collective complaints procedure.