Séminaire sur la Charte sociale

Strasbourg , 

Opening speech by Mrs Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Check against delivery

Minister, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

• It is a great pleasure for me to open this seminar on the role of the margin of appreciation as it applies under the European Social Charter.

• The seminar is held in honour of three prominent members of the European Committee of Social Rights who will leave the Committee at the end of the year after having served for the maximum two terms of office: Mr Jean-Michel  BELORGEY , a former President and currently the General Rapporteur of the Committee, Ms Csilla KOLLONAY LEHOCZKY and
Mr Andrzej SWIATKOWSKI, a former Vice-President.

• And let me make it clear right away (on this I will allow no margin of appreciation!): these three members have served with distinction and excellence during this first decade of the millennium which has seen a virtual transformation of the Charter, not only in terms of its operation, but especially in terms of its visibility and impact.

• During their tenure in the Committee the number of States Parties to the Charter grew dramatically to the 43 we have today and it is especially noteworthy that the Revised Charter, which entered into force just shortly before they joined the Committee, has now been ratified by 32 States Parties with more to come in the near future.  I know that Mr BELORGEY, Ms KOLLONAY LEHOCZKY and Mr SWIATKOWSKI will not lay claim to sole responsibility for these important developments, but I have no doubt that their tireless efforts to promote the Charter in their home countries, during numerous missions to other member states as well as here in Strasbourg count for something.

• Their election to the Committee coincided with the entering into operation of the collective complaints procedure and they have played a key role in nurturing this procedure into what it is today: a procedure that is becoming increasingly attractive for civil society organisations, a procedure that is rendering groundbreaking human rights decisions on a very wide range of rights and a procedure that is basically the epitome of what the CoE does best.

• They have from day one fought valiantly for the principle of the indivisibility of human rights, that social rights are human rights and that they are justiciable as such. And not only are social rights human rights, they are absolutely crucial to the CoE's mission of promoting democracy and the rule of law.

• To cut a long story short: their work for the Committee has been of inestimable value to the CoE, to the Charter and, in the final analysis, to the populations of Europe. I can only hope that the new members that were elected by the Committee of Ministers just last week will be able fill the void their departure creates.

• Let me now briefly touch upon the topic of today's seminar. The margin of appreciation doctrine applied by the Court when interpreting certain provisions of the Convention is well known, I believe. It is perhaps less well known under the Charter, but it is no less important, if anything it is even more comprehensive, and this is why I am particularly interested in the results of the discussions this afternoon.

• As we know it for the Convention, "margin of appreciation" under the Charter refers to the room for maneuver that States enjoy in fulfilling their obligations under this treaty.

• There is no doubt that the deeply-rooted diversity of social policy systems in Europe, including not least their industrial relations component, must induce caution on any international judicial body when assessing national situations. Moreover, the common concern of European States for respecting individual rights makes it natural to allow a certain margin of appreciation.

• I do not intend to go into any details with the Committee's use of the margin of appreciation doctrine. I am confident that this afternoon's speakers will be able to do this much better than I and so will enable us to gain a fuller understanding of how this doctrine operates under the European Social Charter.

• Nevertheless, I would like to state my view that the Committee in its conclusions and decisions shows a healthy respect for national traditions and for principles such as subsidiarity duly acknowledging that national institutions are often better placed to judge than a Strasbourg body. However, the Committee never loses sight of the fact that the Charter was adopted to protect the rights of people, nor of the principle that the Charter provisions must be interpreted so as to give life and meaning to fundamental social rights in order to achieve the objectives of the treaty.

• In conclusion, on behalf of the CoE, let me once again thank
Mr BELORGEY, Ms KOLLONAY LEHOCZKY and Mr SWIATKOWSKI for their distinguished service. I wish them the best of luck as I do for today's seminar which may be taken as a small token of our gratitude.